Over at his Scanners blog, Jim Emerson hammers out another critique of the Wachowski Brothers' latest, Speed Racer, and uses a quote from Steven Spielberg to bolster his case. It's an interesting point, which leads to a fascinating discussion at his blog.
On the whole, I concur with Spielberg's general point, utilized by Emerson here to beat up Speed Racer: more directors should utilize the continuing, organic longer take over the repetitive, often crudely disorienting (and, one could argue, "cheating") postmodern quick cuts. Emerson goes into this all very deeply (though one could argue his focus on Speed Racer distracts from making a more comprehensive point, but he's not going for that here), and also quotes The Aspect Ratio blog's Benjamin Wright, who originally quoted Spielberg's statements to Vanity Fair about "cutting for clarity."
I tend to agree with Otto Preminger: every cut is fundamentally an interruption of sorts and if there are ways of avoiding such cuts, then that is wonderful.
That said, consistency can be the hobgoblin of little minds, or so Walt Whitman said. (Or was it a foolish consistency? No matter.) Spielberg himself points out that Paul Greengrass took the risky super high-speed editing scheme and didn't entirely sacrifice geography in the process. In any event, Spielberg says he thinks that approach worked for the sleek, high-tech, present-day Jason Bourne movies Greengrass helmed, but it wouldn't work for an Indiana Jones adventure, which, while paradoxically jump-starting the modern-day action-adventure "genre" template, is rooted in "old-fashioned" cinema, ala Gunga Din.
Beyond the snipings about Speed Racer or Bourne vs. Indy, or even the toxic "creative" outbursts of the perpetually adolescent Michael Bay, though, it's a sincerely intriguing question. It's overwhelmingly clear that everyone has "gone faster" over the years and decades in terms of their Average Shot Lengths, increasing the number of cuts. However, some films do seem to go "overboard," and Emerson's position on Speed Racer isn't without merit.
Much of this is answered in the context. And the editing does not have to be Bourne-like to be questionable. The context of the first extended sequence of Batman doing his crime-fighting thing in Batman Begins is marvelous because it's our introduction to the character along with the thugs, and we're taken by surprise just as they are. However, later in the film, Christopher Nolan largely opts for a similar shooting strategy to the climactic confrontations, and it diminishes the dramatic impact of the onscreen action. What at first seemed like brilliance is later possibly exposed as simply the director not knowing how to direct a geographically coherent action scene (did I just coin a phrase?), or else Nolan didn't see the importance in distinguishing the two setpieces in terms of compositional framing and comprehensive shooting strategy. (This is all said by someone who more or less loved Batman Begins.)
Speed Racer (special emphasis on the word "speed") wants to fly fast, and in many instances it does. Some of the quick, excessively busy cutting does make the movie strangely sluggish at times, or at least it did for me, but the Wachowskis made their film the way they did for defensible reasons. Emerson strongly disliked it, and has made his feelings known. And, again, he's onto something when he notes in one image caption that the term "dolly" or "zoom" doesn't so much apply to the camera in Speed Racer so much as "zip" seems to. Again, it's a thoroughly intriguing discussion--one that, I suspect, will become more important and heated as more and more films are edited in a quick, quick, quick manner.