Book Review: When the Shooting Stops The Cutting Begins by Ralph Rosenblum

When The Shooting Stops The Cutting Begins by Ralph Rosenblum - Header

I think it’s fair to say I like a movie or two, the film category of this blog alone will attest to that, and I firmly believe in misquoting Frank Kappa. “Too many films, not enough time”. But I am just passionate about what goes on behind the camera, in the shadow of the shot as it were. I find the individual pieces that go together to make a movie just as fascinating and engrossing as any on screen action. I have books detailing costume design and storyboard mock-ups, film posters on my walls, and while I don’t do it enough, I adore editing raw footage (mainly of balloons) searching for that tone and emotion that is hidden within each scene.

I also listen to podcasts. I believe that a love of the moving image goes hand in hand with a love of the spoken word. The image is accented by the word and for me, simply listening to people speak can be as enlightening and enjoyable as any film. Obviously, combining the two is even better and so, one of my favourites, is the BBC flagship film show – Wittertainment (or Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review to give it its proper title).

Kermode & Mayo's Film Review Podcast

To borrow their own definition it is “a film podcast as much about film, as Jaw’s is about a shark.” The podcast is littered with anecdotes, musings and tales, and it was in one of Mark Kermode’s wandering subplots, that I first learnt about Ralph Rosenblum’s book When the Shooting Stops… the Cutting Begins. Rosenblum was a high profile American film editor during the 1960s and ‘70s and the book is a mixture of semibiographical recollection and technical production record.

I really want to say that the two tone mixture shouldn’t work, but it does. The reason for this slight lack of belief in the underlying structure is that the book, in parts, is very personal. Rosenblum is not a name that will ever command celebrity. He even returns often to the fact that the film editor hides in the shadows, uncredited, and almost unwelcome in the spotlight. And so, to be presented with such a frank, open and chronological life story of a man who is but an unknown name to me, seems, potentially like self-aggrandising vanity. Somehow though, it never falls into that trap. Even though his life is a little fortuitous in places, and a little mundane in others, it is still interesting enough to hold your attention and build a mental picture of Rosenblum, and his personality, that becomes befriending and welcoming.

Woody Allen & Ralph Rosenblum - When The Shooting Stops... The Cutting Begins

Littered amongst these personal snippets are broader accounts of his working life. They take the form of blocked stories. Each one dedicated to the editing of a film during his career. They work by mingling the challenges, politics and people he met, faced, learnt or collaborated with along the way. Again, this formula shouldn’t work because, throughout, Rosenblum is name dropping bigger and greater celebrities whilst narrating frame by frame through the classic films he worked on. It should, in theory, add up to destroy the overall book. You should withdraw from it because everything, plausibly, adds up to boast, inflate or spoil. And yet it just doesn’t. The book while never engrossing is impossible to put down. You just get swept along with it and rather than ruin each film, it instead, heightens their charm. There is a huge, almost frame by frame, breakdown of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Edited by Rosenblum, he goes through in depth detailing about the how the finished film differs from the original idea, production and cut. It’s almost line by line comparison of the Oscar winning film to the disorganised, confused entity that existed originally. It’s so graphic it should render Annie Hall unwatchable, but instead, works the other way, it adds a depth and interest to the film, explaining why the flow of the film, the story that emerged came into existence and, has actually, left me longing to watch it again.

I think the reason it’s able to pull this trick off, of laying bare so much without overstepping the mark, is because it never feels as though you’re being shown the wires, it still, even afterwards, feels like a magic trick. Rosenblum is skilled at editing, at knowing how to tell a story, to find the tone, passion and purpose of a plot and this shines through. What he learnt on film he applies to words. He constructs this story with total belief in the greater image and, therefore, never once loses direction or flow. He knows how and where he wants to take you and therefore, crucially, what’s important and what to leave behind. He points you where he wants you to look, where he wants you to focus and ultimately, he knows that he can get away dictating huge passages of on screen action because, underneath everything this is actually a book about the people and relationships behind the camera that brought these films to life rather than the actually story each film told.

Adobe Premiere Pro Software

I read When the Shooting Stops… the Cutting Begins purely as a result of Mark Kermode mentioning it more than enough times for its title to become engrained in my mind. My passion for editing, even at an amateur level, was intrigued and subconsciously, I think it felt like whatever story I found I would learn something alone the way. Initially, I expected a technical book, focusing on cut lengths, transition effects and a far broader definition of the film editor’s role in cinema history and while that all exists, I got far more. All of that is folded into a fascinating tale of a man, who scarily, I appear to share a number of personality traits with and, ultimately, it has left me longing to play more with the art of turning raw footage into emotive story. Starting with learning, properly, the deeper capabilities of the video editing software I own.

The fact that this book is so focused around one man, and his specific viewpoint and working life, means I don’t think it will ever have a truly widespread appeal. I think those with a true passion for the creation of film, for the behind the scenes aspects of the industry, will find interesting and entertaining, but sadly, in only a passing way as I think it a book that will struggle to live on. It made me want to watch the films it cites, and it’s ignited my interest in the skill of editing, but I’m not convinced, I’ll ever look at Annie Hall for the workmanship of Ralph Rosenblum, above that of Woody Allen. It’s more memoir than reference material.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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