The Fine Art of the Edit

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I’m always vaguely suspicious of people who don’t have stories. Folks who, when you ask them what they’ve been up to, offer a bit of a shrug, a vague “not much”. This does not make good conversation.

I have very few missions in life, one is my duty to contribute stories, anecdotes. Historically, my brother has always sceptical of them – as though I somehow need to fabricate. Such distrust however, was remedied in the dairy aisle of a supermarket recently. A swarthy wizard of a man approached me, ran his hand over my hair and said something that could have been “so fluffy” or “so frizzy”. And then disappeared. My brother, looking on – brow furrowed, conceded defeat: I attract the story, baby.

Of course, the actual event is much less important than the telling: which details are played up, which are left out. Whether the wizard gets emphasised over the Woolworths backdrop. And I was thinking about this after a screening of The Imposter yesterday.

In the vein of other fabulous documentaries showcasing suspected sociopaths – think Forbidden Lie$ (2007), and Tabloid (2010) – The Imposter reminds us once again that truth is always stranger – and inevitably more seductive – than fiction.

The briefest sketch is a boy goes missing in the US and three years later, another boy turns up in Spain claiming to be the missing American. Divulging any other details would ruin the splendour.

I saw The Imposter on my brother’s recommendation. One of his compliments was how fair the treatment was. And this question of fairness – or at least integrity – was on my mind throughout.

One one hand it’s true: The Imposter doesn’t offer easy villains or victims. Of course, just because everyone gets a word in, does not a fair treatment make.

Reenactments are spliced in with real-life video footage and every participant is edited to provide just enough detail to both answer a question and also seem deliciously cagey.

For me, that’s part of the charm and also why my brother and I would disagree about just how diplomatic the film was.

A common trope in literature – but one readily identifiable in film and television too – is the Unreliable Narrator (coming soon, incidentally, a post on Gone Girl). While the idea is interesting, postmodern thinking would suggest that every narrator is as equally – and, completely unreliable – as the next.

The Imposter doesn’t quite have a narrator. It does however, have a storyteller – a filmmaker – behind it. A puppetmaster, pulling our heartstrings, making us suspicious/appalled/aggrieved and strategically playing a Doobie Brothers track to set a tone and remind us that this is such a quintessentially American story. (Even if the doco was made by Brits).

In media studies, the most interesting aspect of bias is the process of story selection: which tales get broadcast and which get sidelined. This decision – this edit – is at the heart of the bias inherent in every story: what isn’t being told?

The tension, the delightful drip-feed of details, is all an act of editing. Of bias.

Not a criticism by any stretch of the imagination. For a more “well-rounded” insight into this astonishing story, the onus is on us to do the research. And there’s plenty out there to assist. For the entertaining version however – for the escapist, immersive joy of raconteuring at its finest, I’m very okay with the skillfully edited The Imposter.

March 21, 2013

© Lauren Rosewarne

Original Source: The Conversation