August 23, 2004

Real People, Stitched-Together Quotes

The MoveOn people have been collaborating with filmmaker Errol Morris on a series of televised interviews with people who voted for Bush in the 2000 election, but who plan to vote for Kerry in 2004. In other words, they're "switching", just like the Apple commercials (that Morris also filmed).

Here's a link to the page with all the MoveOn "Real People" ads.

I've got a problem with these ads. It has nothing to do with the politics. It has to do with how they've been edited.

First, let me step back and do a mini-review of Morris' THE FOG OF WAR documentary about Robert McNamara. Here was my reaction back when I saw that film in January 2004:

The most jarring thing about the movie was not the subject matter, but the editing. How can the audience trust what McNamara said? It got [snip] so bad [snip] at some points I [snip] wasn't sure [snip] what [snip] McNamara [snip] really [snip] said. Who knows [snip] what the original [snip] context was? Who knows [snip] what McNamara said [snip] in- [snip] -between snips? [snip] I would rather sit through the 200 hours or whatever it was of raw footage and make up my own mind than leave it to Morris to tell me what McNamara said. The editing destroys, in my mind, a good deal of the journalistic credibility of the documentary. We see McNamara's warts close-up, we see the hairs in his nose close up, but no, we can't hear complete quotes?

And so here we are, on the virge of the Republican convention, and these "Real People" ads are going to start running on television. And they suffer from precisely the same kind of editing that marred THE FOG OF WAR.

Go watch the ads. Listen carefully. Watch carefully. The statements have been stitched together from the full footage to create 30-second ads, but, it seems to me, the whole message is diluted by the stitching together of phrases and partial sentences. Who knows what they really said? If they couldn't say it in 30 seconds, do another take, and get 'em to summarize.

Don't get me wrong: I don't mind (in fact I like) the cuts between thoughts, where suddenly the camera has pulled back, or the talking head is on the right side of the screen instead of the left. All that is effective in keeping the viewer's attention. My beef is with the editing right in the middle of a spoken sentence --- the splicing of multiple sentences into one. Commercial advertisers have been doing this for years and years when selling soap, beer, tires, cars, and whatnot. But this is supposed to be different. Isn't it?

Morris' splicing technique really leaves me cold, and makes me lose trust in what these people say, because I don't know what they really said. Which is a real shame.

Posted by brian at August 23, 2004 10:26 AM


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