A summary of ‘The language of New Media’ (Lev Manovich) and ‘In the Blink of an Eye’ (Walter Murch).

“Editing, or montage, is the key twentieth [century] technology for creating fake realities” pg 140. On his analytical journey of new media and new media language, Manovich brings up montage editing numerous times. He distinguishes between ‘temporal montage’, which he describes as “separate realities form[ing] consecutive moments in time” pg 140 and ‘montage within in shot’ being relatively self explanatory and appearing in films like Vertov’s ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ where multiple layers are juxtaposed into a single image. The later of these is the more commonly used within film and what Manovich uses to compare with the construction or appearance of a lot of new media’s. What came to mind for me was the compositing found in online experiences like ‘The Wilderness Downtown’. In the tailored release of a new song by Arcade Fire you are prompted to enter your postcode and you see different windows pop up on your screen with videos in a ‘montage within a shot’ way. As the song progresses the software utilises Google maps as the runner (shown in the other windows previously) starts running through the streets in which you personally grew up, eventually arriving at your home whilst trees sprout all around the environment.

Another form and ongoing creation of new media Manovich discusses is that of the database. From early CD-ROM’s that allowed us to explore encyclopaedias, to games like MYST and online hyperlink websites connecting to one another, databases are everywhere. Again Manovich refers back to film editing when discussing this topic. He says that we can perceive of the collected material whilst shooting a film as a database, and that the editor constructs a film narrative out of this database – “During editing the editor constructs a film narrative out of this database, creating a unique trajectory through the conceptual space of all possible films which could have been constructed” pg 208.

Talking on this subject of possible multiple versions coming from one ‘database’ Murch discusses the importance of having a plan when it comes to extensive amounts of footage – especially with regard to digital editing where the freedom from the fear of ruining actual film means things can be tried and re-tried exhaustively – “you only have so much time. You can never explore all the possible versions-there should always be a map. Human memory has its limitations” pg 125.

A situation which both Manovich and Murch bring up is the digitization of cinema, which is still ongoing. Manovich sees cinema as the new ‘toolbox’ for all cultural communication and says that it may well overtake the printed word as more and more it is ‘poured’ into computers – “first one-point linear perspective; next the mobile camera and a rectangular window; next cinematography and editing conventions, and, of course, digital personas also based on acting conventions borrowed from cinema, to be followed by make-up, set design, and the narrative structures themselves” pg 92. Murch talks about his own experiences moving from an analog editing table to that of a digital editing suite and in particular the ability to jump to any shot he wished for without the need to search through rolls of film for it (random access). As with most things when Murch is comparing analog to digital he names its bad points and good points. With random access you basically have the best assistant possible, he says, and you get what you want instantly. However, this can take away from the editing process as he points out that a lot of times he has found something whilst searching for something else that happened to be better – “unless there is a way of constantly re-examining the material, questioning those original assumptions, some useful material may be buried forever under the original epitaph “No Good.”” Pg 108.

A great metaphor for the development of cinema, with regard to its digitization, as coined by Murch is that “The current film industry is a digital sandwich between slices of analog bread.” Pg 137. I think this is something that Manovich may agree on even though he has predicted its complete digitization as the pinnacle of cultural communication for the future.

Both of these books talk about film editing, however, while Murch is focused completely on the subject, and draws from his own extensive experience with the subject, Manovich merely uses it as a way to describe progressions in media and to understand why new media is what it is. One is about the theory and practice of film editing, what works, why, and what it does to us and the other touches on the subject of editing and the film world as a conductor for new media.


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