Movie Editing as Gender Construction

Editing can have HUGE implications for how one experiences a film/video. When Peter Ramus divided invention from what he thought were the ornamental elements of rhetoric, he failed to see the constitutive powers of arrangement and style. To illustrate my point, I'm going to contrast two trailers for the surfing documentary Step Into Liquid. In each trailer, notice who speaks first, who speaks most, and note the way that the genders are portrayed.

In the first, more gender-balanced trailer, note how the title of the movie is derived from an interview with Rochelle Ballard, one of the best professional surfers on the tour. She distills the joy of surfing by describing it as stepping into liquid. In the trailer, you see her discussing surfing in philosophical and intellectual terms. There is a moment where she descibes it more sensually. In this first trailer, you only hear her at this moment, and see her during her more serious moments. The gender balance in this trailer is also much more obvious, with cuts between male and female surfers. Women are portrayed in active poses, with the climactic scene of a woman doing a backflip off of her surfboard.

In the second trailer, there is a hyper-masculine narrator using an aggressive and superlative tone ("the Browns have done it again"). Men are the first people you hear (rather than the woman whose interview inspired the title). The same footage of Ballard shows the moment when she's discussing surfing more sensually ("it just feels good") with her scrunching up her shoulders and appearing a little more flaky. The footage of the surfers is more segregated by gender, and there is a marked difference between the ways that men are described (men are identified as parts of groups, and doing more aggressive and accomplished feats--"strapped crew," "the Maverick's crew," "the war veteran," "surf legends," "The Malloys, etc.") vs. the women (who are described individually, and as being part of a setting-- "in beautiful Tahiti").

The addition of the throbbing music to the more masculinized soundtrack merely serves to underline the gender posturing in this short piece. While the additive elements of the voiceover and the soundtrack underline the difference, the editing is really what does the heavy lifting. Segregating different gendered surfing footage and featuring the more sensual, slow motion, and closer shots of women, while featuring the more active men through the use of helicopter "God's eye" shots of men skating across the face of larger waves in real-time constructs the binaries of men as active and aggressive and women as soft and more passive. The declaration that "the Browns have done it again, and this time they're showing the simple truth about surfing" (with the images of exclusively-male images of big-wave surfing), followed immediately by spliced audio explaining "big wave riding is like an inner desire" only cements the naturalized ordering of big wave riding (done by men as "the truth" of surfing) as the top of the hierarchy.

Subtle differences to the untrained eye, but unmistakable compositions that cement associations between gender and activity through image. Splicing flickering signifiers in particular sequences creates the multiple gendered truths of surfing from the same raw material.


Sport said...

I wonder how these trailers were placed / used. Could they have used them on different films based on audience expectations?

Sport said...

By the btw, you rock. Smart gender analysis and surfing, all in one post!

Doc Mara said...

I wonder about that too. Because this is such a botique film genre, I would probably have to really hunt for than information from the fans.

Oh, and thanks for granting my actions the rank of "rock." Next up...paper (which, as we all know, covers--FREAKING COVERS--rock)!