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The Importance of Editing in the Avant-Garde: A Note to Pati (1969) by Saul Levine

21 June 2010 by

Saul Levine, 1969, 8mm, 7 min, silent, color

The edit is the impetus for Saul Levine’s silent seven minute short, A Note to Pati (1969). With his jaunty edit, Levine creates a unique juxtaposition of weltering, home movie imagery with brush cutting gat-gat image tracing. Levine’s edit, with alacrity, leavens the film into a visual visual poem, which otherwise would simply be a few dusty 8mm reels of an individual’s home memories.

The edit is the vise of this film, and this surely is a technical edit, therefore let’s briskly analyze this film afore.

Film editor’s curiosity compelled me to watch the film multiple times while tallying the number of film splices. Clearly, it’s impossible to get an exact number, but according to my tally averaged, the film has approximately 400 splices — this is wild — this is a seven minute film.

The duration of the film is 6:51; and let’s say the film contains a 400 number of splices; 400 splices. Ripping it with math, we’ll round 6:51 to seven minutes and divide that by 400 — this equals one splice per 1.75 seconds.

Here we see the divergence of experimental/underground/avant-garde film from the Hollywood or mainstream independent film. Mainstream film editors, on occasion, have reign to experiment with the edit here and there, obligations attached, affecting their edit in a tame manner, constricting it to moments, 1-10 seconds, because they have to play it safe, because they have to ‘keep the story moving’ ‘long. Avant-garde film is A-1 because there’s experimentation, and experiments lead to discovery and newfound creation, and newfound creation is boundless — it can enkindle all sorts of tropes, and emotions, and might even dust some dusty glyphs and dusty arcana.

It’s apparent that Levine had scant amount of footage to work with, and arguably this project may have started as an editing exercise for Levine, but what is evident is that Levine’s edit leavens this footage into ink which pens a letter visual letter to a girl. Perhaps he writes to the titular Patti, perhaps he writes this letter to others or everyone, perhaps this letter is perennial.

Levine writes a letter and this letter is a letter of human movement, progress, it pushes forward. In his letter, he paints, splats, and crosscuts between images observing the movement of children whereabouts wintry white hills and the snowy front of a homestead; particular focus drawn on a child in red, and a lingering shot of a bird in a tree. The mise-en-scène of the film is a punctuating red against snow white — red and purity — linked with the sturdy, organic color of brown. Mother earth. Mother Earth earth and whatever place we feel at home.

The film lingers most on the images of the child in red, the movement and shoveling and excavating of snow,  children with snow, and the bird in the tree. Gluing this imagery together is the splicing of black leader flashes, film splice marks, deformed celluloid, and sometimes 1 to 5 frames of weltering camera movements of extreme-close-ups that tumble all over the screen, throwing eye-tracers hither and thither.

Near the end is an image sequence worth ponder: children sledding; the main child in red frolics in the snow, lots of forward movement, and subsequently the child is warm-washed by sunlight.

In the closing shot, the standalone treetop bird flies away toward something. The same closing shot caps with a pan-left to the sturdy trunk of a tree, solidly rooted in the earth’s soil.

From a narrative standpoint, Levine’s letter is multivalent; however, the editing in A Note to Patti constructs a lovely letter of human progress, writing of the parallel existence of human life and all life housed by mother earth; a friendship us humans, consciously or subconsciously, share with mother earth and all living creatures. That is one person’s subjective interpretation vis-a-vis this film stripped of its constructivist edit just be an old, dusty 8mm home movie.

More:

Saul Levine on Vimeo

Saul Levine on Mubi (formally the auteurs)

Harvard Film Archive: Recent Restorations, including the films of Saul Levine

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