DISCONTINUITY EDITING: Emotional Experience vs. Interpretive Challenge–a reader replies

[I reprint with permission, an email response to my recent post on editing, received from an Italian academic, working in Germany, who I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know because of our shared interest in trailers.]


Enrica Picarelli writes:
“I read your post on discontinuity editing with great pleasure. Not only is it informative, especially for someone like me who has still no comprehensive knowledge of trailers’ compositional features, it also raises crucial questions concerning the social productivity and viral re-producibility of the trailer.

I was struck by your concluding paragraph where you write that “We know that marketer’s goals might not be congruent with our own entertainment desires, and yet we return to take the challenge.” Actually, the whole post points to the fact that, as much as trailers are instrumental to the reproduction of a certain commercial logic (drawing people to the movies, hopefully, repeatedly), they are also designed to appeal to different tastes and to inspire different practices of engagement (something Lisa Kernan also addresses in her book COMING ATTRACTIONS).

Certainly editing and presentation are crucial to establishing many kinds of relationships with audiences but I think we would be mistaken if we imagined these relationships to be only interpretive endeavors. I don’t think we only or necessarily go back to a challenging or confusing trailer merely for the sake of active interpretation. Rather, it seems to me that the value of trailers in 2012 is as social as it is promotional or commercial.

Aren’t trailers a sort of “bargaining chip” that is passed around virally, helping to create “communities of taste” in the era of web 2.0? In this respect, the sociologist in me sees trailers less as commercial productions per se, and more as social aggregators.

Discontinuity editing of the kind Esther Harris employed in her work, for example, is expressive and emotional and its value is in “creating a mood,” as she says. Maybe the trailers she’s describing didn’t make complete sense of genre or story or spectacle, but they functioned nonetheless because they branded the movie as an emotional adventure.

Today, it is hard to find a trailer that does not employ discontinuity editing, it seems. And I believe this happens because the entertainment industry is capitalizing more and more upon the moods and emotions that get us involved with media productions (what Henry Jenkins calls “affective economics”) and they do so through digital aesthetics and various strategies of formal composition.

Even blockbusters are being coded as spectacle, more than genre. If you think about how much Hollywood borrows from experimental video, it is clear that at this point media promotions aim largely at eliciting an affective response, before offering audiences a ground to make sense of what they are watching. The genius is that they manage to translate this affective engagement into profit, which is where the circulation of moods/emotions, aided by networked communications, comes into play to accelerate the viral spread of the trailers.

If you look at “recut” trailers and fanvids you’ll find communities of people who express their commitment to movies/tvshows/realities by emphasizing the affective aspects manifest in the official/commercial trailers they dismember. So, for example, these FANS might take a love scene from the trailer and mash that with other scenes from the actual movie, or they keep the original version of the trailer but change the soundtrack and add title cards commenting on the characters’ relationships etc., etc. (Interestingly, many of these videos focus on romance: a subject for another post!)

These are also experiments with composition, and they are interesting because the “message” is not “read into” the representation so much as contained in the affective reaction elicited by the videos.”

Dr. Enrica Picarelli is postdoctoral scholar at Leuphana University IN Luneburg, Germany. She completed her PhD in cultural studies at L’Orientale University in Naples, Italy, where her dissertation addressed the reverberations of 9/11 in American science fiction series. Intrigued and fascinated by the FLASHFORWARD stealth campaign introduced during the 100th episode of the American TV program, LOST, Picarelli, combined her interest in media theory and textual analysis with a focus on the economy of promotion to begin thinking about and writing on the subject of trailers. She blogs at http://spaceofattraction.wordpress.com

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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One Response to DISCONTINUITY EDITING: Emotional Experience vs. Interpretive Challenge–a reader replies

  1. Pingback: Academic synergies, or how the internet helps you spread the word « spaceofattraction

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