Term Paper: Digital Video Editing

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Digital Video Editing

Production Analysis of Film Trailer for "A Touch of Evil -- the Strangest Vengeance Ever Planned!"

According to Gary Arnold (1998), "A Touch of Evil" is "a lurid but stylish crime thriller cherished by numerous movie freaks as Orson Welles' trashiest masterpiece" (p. 3). The movie was ultimately directed by Orson Welles after some negotiations with the studio, with screenplay also by Welles. Jeff Shannon reports that this movie is widely regarded to be "the greatest B. movie ever made, the original-release version of Orson Welles's film noir masterpiece Touch of Evil was, ironically, never intended as a B. movie at all -- it merely suffered that fate after it was taken away from writer-director Welles, then reedited and released in 1958 as the second half of a double feature" (p. 2). "A Touch of Evil" was Orson Welles' fifth Hollywood production, but it was his last American film. According to Tim Dirks, "A Touch of Evil" was the last great film noir during the so-called "classic" era of noirs from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. The movie was made in 1958, before the introduction of the rating system; however, the movie is characterized by adult subject matter, with numerous episodes of graphic violence and allusions to drug abuse and sexual depravity. The movie was based on the novel "Badge of Evil" by Whit Masterston as well as an uncredited screenplay by Paul Monash. The editors herein were provided with thirteen minutes of film which was edited from the Orson Welles' masterpiece, "A Touch of Evil." Using these 13 minutes of film, the editors produced a one-and-a-half minute trailer using Adobe Premier Professional. The process is described further below, followed by a summary of the project in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Background and Overview. Neither of the editors had any previous knowledge of how to use Adobe Premier Professional, although both were expert with Windows XP. In addition, the only knowledge of editing that was brought to the editing room was what the editors have read from lecture notes and books on previous sessions via the Internet. The editors attended three sessions at the university; the first session was comprised of a viewing of the film, "A Touch of Evil." On the morning of the second session, the researchers watched a critical review of the film which lasted about 15 minutes. Following this presentation, the editors were separated into groups and given instructions on what was required, provided with the 13 minutes of edited film and were instructed on how to use the Adobe Premier Professional software. The remainder of the day and half of the following day were spent producing the trailer. The editors attempted to create a trailer that incorporated all the salient elements of a good trailer.

A brief summary of the movie is provided below, followed by a discussion of how the trailer was developed and the supporting rationale behind the choices made.

Touch of Evil."

In this black-and-white motion picture from 1958, Mexico's chief narcotics officer, Mike Vargas, finds himself in a border town on a quick honeymoon with his U.S. wife. Vargas is compelled to testify against Grande, a drug lord whose brother and sons are tracking him in an effort to intimidate him so he will change his mind about. When a car bomb kills a rich U.S. developer, Vargas embroils himself in the investigation, putting his wife in harm's way. "After Vargas catches local legendary U.S. cop, Hank Quinlan, planting evidence against a Mexican national suspected in the bombing, Quinlan joins forces with the Grande family to impugn Vargas's character. Local political lackeys, a hard-edged whore, pachucos, and a nervous motel clerk also figure in the plot" (Plot Summary for Touch of Evil, 2005 p. 2). The picture is in the film noir genre, wherein "sudden upwellings of violence in a culture whose fabric seems to be unraveling" can be observed with nothing available to repair the design. Such is the fictional world projected in films noirs such as Orson Welles ' a Touch of Evil (1958)" (Merrill, 1993 p. 241).

In fact, Alfred Hitchcock reportedly reworked the "quirky" motel clerk character in this one for Psycho (1960); the role of the Mirador Motel night manager was written specifically for Dennis Weaver, because Welles admired his work on "Gunsmoke" (1955) and wanted to work with him professionally (Nowell-Smith, 1997). The music used throughout the movie was from sound sources that pertained to the film: radio transmissions, jukeboxes, player piano. "Around 1960, film music also began to turn towards nonclassical idioms, and it looked for a while as if jazz, both swing and bebop, would make major inroads into the cinema. The 1950s saw jazz appear in a number of movie scores, almost all of them associated in some way with crime narratives (Nowell-Smith, 1997).

The music in "A Touch of Evil" was written by none other than Henry Mancini. According to Nowell-Smith (1997), "The fate of jazz as film music strongly resembles that of classical music: it was taken over by established film composers like Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin, Dave Grusin, John Barry, and Michel Legrand, who took elements of its basic language and integrated them into a 'mod' style tailored to the flow of the film" (p. 563). The film is set in a fictional Mexican border town, "Los Robles" (described on a billboard at the edge of town as the "Paris of the Border" (Case, 1996); however, it was actually filmed in Venice, California because the place looked "convincingly run-down and decayed" (Plot Summary, 3). The black-and-white medium of the movie tends to add to this quality as well. There is also an ongoing undercurrent of racial and sexual tension throughout the movie that is communicated to the audience through a combination of musical, visual and narrative elements: "The anxiety about borders and the threatening ambivalence they raise along the divisions of sex, race, and gender are conveyed through the narrative and its relation to the sequence of shots" (Case, 1996 p. 221). The movie also develops a sense of foreboding early on with these very elements, a process that was reinforced by the performances of Dennis Weaver and Charlton Heston as they react to the strange events that are unfolding around them. Not all of this is entirely believable, but the story line is sufficiently compelling to overcome these constraints: "The phoniness is well worth putting up with, though. Any movie fan interested in visual storytelling (or the underutilized power of crafty sound work) can sit back and enjoy this, even if some of the nuttier aspects of the story don't wash" (Tatara, 1998 p. 3).

From a cinematography perspective, Welles makes it clear from the outset that there are two powerful forces involved, but the venue in which these forces come together is highly contrived. "As good Mexicans are played by familiar white actors in shoe polish, such as Charlton Heston, the border is recognizably Venice, California -- the pun from Paris to Venice part of the typically ironic, layered references in avant-garde treatments. The repeated shots of the Venice arcade, along with its canals, the town's trademarks, have multiple functions" (Case, 1996 p. 221). These multiple functions include providing the audience with a "good-cop/bad-cop" cross-border approach to crime solving. "This strategy of location is conjoined with the positive hero, Vargas, played in shoe polish," Case notes; however, there is an important series of scenes that helps to illustrate how this is accomplished. For example, Oson Welles as Hank Quinlan, is the bad white cop; when he first encounters Miguel "Mike" Vargas (Charlton Heston), the "good Mexican cop," through the following sequence unfolds: Quinlan, talking to his cohorts at the scene of the crime, says, "I hear you even invited some kind of a Mexican"; there is a cut to Heston, who is entering in front of a billboard that says "Welcome Stranger to Picturesque Los Robles Paris of the West" (Case, 1996 p. 221). In this regard, Case emphasizes that it is important to note that the white actor portraying a Mexican enters the scene immediately following a racist line delivered by the bad guy with the play on the location in Venice in the background. According to Case, "The compound of elements reassures us that racism, national agendas, and the 'real estate' of properties are here only devices employed by avant-garde cultural producers to shock us with the seeming radicality of taboos, but save us through the aestheticizing of them" (p. 222). These early exchanges between key characters and the highly prominent signage serve very distinct purposes in this movie. According to Telotte (2000):

Prologue essentially cinematize us, point directly towards the following narrative, establishes certain signposts that will prove useful for evaluating it, and "even suggest we see it within a lineage of popular thought, one that often couches commentary about the most pressing cultural concerns in a fantastic and disarming context, at both a temporal and aesthetic distance… [END OF PREVIEW]

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