My Week With Marilyn – Editing for Comedy

In my review of My Week With Marilyn I called the editing of the film “snappy” and mentioned that it was often cut with comic intent in mind. The best example of this is the sequence that takes place about three and a half minutes into the film that involves Colin Clark’s attempt to convince the gate keeper at Olivier Productions to give him a job. It’s a brilliant example of montage editing that moves briskly and uses a number of editing techniques to heighten comedy and create an appealing sense of energetic movement.

Colin Clark, who comes from a very well endowed family, has just announced his decision to find work in the film business, and his mother’s response, as they walk from the family castle, is that she is “sure” he will soon become a famous director. This sets up the next scene nicely – he immediately runs into the obstacles of reality. Some of the humor comes from the voice over “like every young man I had to make my own way”, delivered as the obviously upper class young man struts into the Oliver production office to present himself. The man he faces, a grim older gentleman who seems determined to cast happiness from his own existence, is firm – there are no jobs. And his immediate response to Colin makes it seem like the young man has a disease – “You’re an actor, aren’t you”. But Colin is determined and returns each majoring to wait out resistance.

Performance and cinematic execution is key to comedy but the glue that really makes it work is the editing. The first meeting concludes with two closeups – Colin asks if he can wait for a job and the Production Executive not only glares back at him (almost at the camera) but half bites his lip in disdain.

The sequence kicks in with the Executive’s scowl. Peppy jazz music, with brass and perky drum hits, accents a serious of quick and efficient shots: A pretty secretary types, Colin sits perfectly frame centered on a large leather sofa nervously adjusting his tie, then a series of jump cuts reveal him moving about the dark wood paneled room, the secretary glancing at him (while the steady rhythm of her typing punctuate the soundtrack), the day passes and the executive finally leaves his office, only to see Colin waiting on the sofa. The montage and typing continue as Colin maneuvers through the street and once again enters the massive room and sits in front of the secretary. The tempo of the editing suggests that something has to give – the pretty secretary looks at him and remarks about his determination – and Clark says that he will do anything to get the job. Cut to a closeup of the secretary as she says, with a twinkle in her eye “anything?”. Before the viewer can wrap one’s mind around the possibilities of her gaze a phone rings off camera and we cut to – Colin at her desk taking the call. It’s a wonderful edit that plays with expectations and gives immediate and comic gratification. The disbelieving reaction shot of the film executive as he comes from the next room to investigate why he is hearing Colin’s voice on the phone keeps the humor flowing. The sequence is capped by the executive’s seemingly impossible request to get Noel Coward’s phone number – a number that is not in the directory. Cut to a reaction of Colin already putting his mind to the task and then a paper appears on the Executive’s desk – it is Colin’s hand presenting the phone number to the surprised executive.

The editing is by Adam Recht, who may have picked up his deft editing touch from years of working in television, and this early sequence establishes a tempo that superbly fits the comic needs of this reminiscence of a story.

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