Sunday, 27 April 2008

Editing and horror films

This is going to be a confusing post. Stills from The Shining, general chitchat about editing photoessays and a review of The Orphanage. Sorry about that.

Last week I saw The Orphanage (El Orfanato). It's a ridiculously good Spanish horror film, that works in several subtle layers and has that classic buildup tension that good -and nowadays fairly rare- horror films have. Actually, there are not that many really frightening moments in the film, but they are sometimes so tightly knit together, and others they are so unexpected that they make a great film. On the background you have this strange arousal... all the time something is a bit wrong about the whole film but there you sit watching. Is probably these moments in which nothing scary really happens that makes the film stand out. If it was all the time bang bang, ghost here, ghost there, people dying, etc. it would have been crap. Instead, it's an extremely well paced and thought film. Exactly like editing pictures, at least for me.

With editing pictures... selecting and arranging a photoessay, I find that the best way of describing my modus operandi is some sort of horror film. You start by hinting that something is going to happen or something is slightly wrong or crooked about all this. It doesn't require a strong internal logic, just something ambiguous, worrying. Then you try to get into the stronger shots by building up tension to them. Some things that you want to cover with the images don't somehow work together (last edit I did managed to contain two portraits, I still don't know how I pulled that one), so somehow the sequence should lean in their direction without losing the main track. Once you get into the particular strong shot, you can sometimes follow with another very strong shot, a bit like those shocking aftershocks of horror films, but doing it too often creates too much of an expectation. It's all about guiding the viewer's state of mind through the images... to play with that theoretical observer that might look at the sequence, hopefully being absolutely naive by when they start.

Of course it's not all frights. The Orphanage contains that little bit of drama that reminds you that the characters are still human beings after all, that you could be one of them. It opens with a happy and long scene, that just makes you more worried on your seat, as you expect the awful to happen, but not. There the orphanage is, back in the fifties, probably, and all this kids that nobody really wants are playing in the garden, chasing each other. You barely need this in terms of the story itself, but it's setting the mood. It's like a backdrop that you get back to when you are viewing the rest of the story. Half way through the film there's a big pause. The whole story moves forward by six months and sort of resets. It had got to one of its peaks in terms of horror, the plot had advanced suddenly, your nerves don't take it much more. Then the pause comes and gently everything resets a bit. All the paranormal lightens and you get back into reality and into the characters. You sort of need this to take another good dose of horror.

A tight pace, a sequence of images without bumps, up and down, an "easy" ride for the viewer. Reaching the peaks and playing with expectations. Sudden but announced shocks every now and then. A coherent whole that goes around hitting very different images. Hide the repetitions, don't put them together... returning to some motives gives it a beat. Not too obvious either, just hinting to things that will come and reminding of things seen. Of course there are lots of exceptions, not all sequences are horror films, but I do love horror films. Damn.


aNaY said...

Funny to read about these horror movies and editing right now, as I just printed some contact sheets with all the series of photographs for my next exhibition. Don't have to "build" a photoessay but I want some coherence in the exhibition...
Oh God, this is a real horror movie! There are many directors and horro movies. But only few are good....

Flavio said...

Oh well, selecting it's the hardest part for a photographer. It takes lot of time and usually you get yourself let down with an awful sense of low self esteem! Or not! lol

Massive congrats for your blog, you have some great sutff out here.