A few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast produced by Slate Magazine called The Culture Gabfest, and one of the topics they discussed was the trend of 'supercuts' popping up everywhere online. I have to admit I had no idea what a supercut was before I heard the Gabfest discussion. Yes, apperently I am behind the times. Of course I had unwittingly seen lots and lots of supercuts but until I heard that podcast I did not know that this form been given a name. In case you are not sure what I am talking about here is the definition of a supercut, copied from supercut.org no less:
"Supercuts are obsessive-compulsive montages of video clips, meticulously isolating every instance of a single item, usually cliches, phrases, and other tropes."
The phrase was apparently coined in 2008 and has become a meme with thousands upon thousands of supercuts being floated out there for all of us to see. Perhaps the most famous and I think universally acknowledged as the most ambitious supercut is Christian Marclay's "The Clock." This is an example of the supercut concept taken to extremes. "The Clock" is 24 hours long and composed of scenes sourced from the vast history of Hollywood and world cinema. Every clip features a timepiece or some other reference to time. The twist is that film is carefully synced so that the time shown on screen always matches the time of day in the real world wherever "The Clock" is presented. This is one supercut that you won't find online; it plays exclusively in theatres and art galleries.
I was lucky enough to have Marclay's film showing in my hometown of Toronto recently and I saw a few hours of it. The artist has imposed a 50 person limit on the number of viewers allowed in the screening room at one time, but there is no limit to how long you can stay and watch... I stood in line for nearly 2 hours waiting to take my place in the small audience.
Was it worth the wait? The experience is hard to describe since it is utterly unlike any cinema outing I have taken part in. The film tells a compelling, if extremely abstract narrative and subtly pulls you in emotionally while you're trying to spot the time reference in every shot. In some clips it's obvious: there's a big clock in the background as a couple of Hollywood actors emote for the camera. In others it's far more subtle, and you'll nod in satisfaction when you figure it out. You are a detective searching for the clock at every new edit point, making for an uncommon yet compelling and interactive theatre experience.
It's in my nature to wonder about the sound whenever I'm watching a film and I eventually found this great article from the New Yorker and this one from The Economist, about how "The Clock" was made, that explain how the sound editorial on the project was handled by Christian Marclay, the artist himself, with some mix and mastering assistance from composer and mixer Quentin Chiappetta. It's the sound editing that makes the whole project work in my opinion. Picture-wise, besides the mammoth task of sourcing and selecting the footage, the film is technically straightforward, consisting of hard cuts from clip to clip. The sound edit is far more complex and elegant. Music from one clip continues into the next, ambiences precede the picture edits by long periods of time, fades are long and lingering. It is the sound that pulls you along from clip to clip and scene to scene without shocking you out of the experience. If the sound was edited with hard cuts, like the picture edit, the whole piece would be jarring and lose its flow. Th soundtrack is the unifying element, drawing together images that on the surface have nothing in common but their cinematic heritage, tying together a staggering 24 hours worth of short cuts.
Inspired by the the whole supercut concept and in awe of the juggernaut that is "The Clock," I decided to try my hand at making a supercut. Since there were a bunch of videos in the SoundWorks Collection archive that I had never got around to watching, I figured I would see what they offered up in for supercut inspiration. I quickly realized that those videos had a lot of possibilities. Here is the direction I decided to go:
Now obviously the reason I found so many clips of people saying that "the sound in a film is there to support the story" is because it is 100% true. I know I have been guilty of letting this cliche pass my own lips on many occasions, especially when talking to people working outside of the audio realm. There were a few other phrases or ideas that popped up in lots of the SoundWorks videos, like: "It was a great team effort!" or "...leaving room for failure/mistakes..." or "Sound brings the picture to life..." as well as "...using sound to create realistic worlds". It was a fun exercise for me as it gave me a reason to watch all these great videos and learn a ton of interesting techniques employed by people at the very top of the profession. This process also let me practice a little bit of picture editing - something I can certainly afford to learn more about.
Are there any other audio related supercuts out there? If so let me know, I would love to see them.