Editing in Rebel Without A Cause
Rebel Without a Cause is the story of three teenagers in the 50's. Although the plot takes place in a time-scale of little bit more than 24 hours, at the end of the movie we feel like we know everything about them, how they feel about life, how their pasts were, how their family lives is like, etc. All have tortured lives; they do not have a happy family life, they do not really like their friends or do not have any, and they hate life. "Who lives?" Judy says when she first meets Jim. As it is their story, they are all in the first scene and in the last one; actually we are told how they changed in that eventful day.
Jim is the main character. He is the "hero" of the audience, not only because he has more scenes in the movie but also because he is the one who makes (or at least tries to make) the right things. He does not think his father acts like a "father". That is why he is angry with him and do not want to be "a chicken" like him. Therefore, he is strong, protective, sincere and smart. For all the other main characters he replaces "their fathers". I think that is one way of interpreting the movie but it is a too long discussion to get into.
The editing in Rebel Without a Cause is perfect but not very innovative. Nicholas Ray does not often break the common rules of editing as Truffaut did in Jules et Jim. He often follows the conventions of spatial and temporal relations between shots. The best scenes in the movie come when he plays with the rhythmic relations, which I will talk about separately later.
I think his use of cinemascope and mise-en-scene is much more creative than editing is. Using the cinemascope he shows us not only the characters but also the picture of the society around them. For example, in the first scene, while we watch what is happening to Jim, we also see all that is happening in the police station. That helps Ray to establish what the society is like while also getting into the psychological depths of the characters. Consequently, we have the "full picture".
One general thing about the editing is that it is usually slow when the "kids" are not around and fast when they are. For example, in the scene where Jim and Judy first meet (in the morning), while they are talking, the scene is edited very slowly and there are no unusual angles. However, when the "kids" come with their car, the editing gets really fast, almost chaotic. Also we see some unusual angles such as low-shots, which makes the shots look unsteady. That makes the audience feel the insecurity of our heroes in a chaotic, unstable society.
I will now try to analyze one scene and one sequence that are edited in an interesting way.
The first one is in my opinion the best and the most powerful one in the movie: The long discussion between Jim and his parents. Even the first shot is strange: it is a point-of-view of Jim looking at his mother in inverse. Then the camera turns as Jim stands up. I believe it is very affective because it takes the attention of the audience back into the movie and therefore (in my opinion) announces the very important scene that is coming. Ray shows that he wants extra attention.
In the same scene, there is a shot where Jim is next to the window. He makes a long speech to his parents and the camera stands still for a really long time. It changes the rhythm of the editing in the movie. That shot is probably the only one that is so long in Rebel Without a Cause. There is nothing happening in the mise-en-scene either. However, everything happens (or should happen) in our minds. Nicholas Ray already gave us enough material to reflect on Jim's psychology and his life; I believe this is the scene where he wants us to meditate on his characters. So by pausing for a long time, without editing, without displacing the camera, he achieves a great effect, maybe the deepest one in the movie: a deep understanding of the hero by the audience.
Another interesting editing is actually a very small sequence. It is when we see all the families calling the police to ask about their children. As I mentioned before, Ray usually does not break the conventions of spatial and temporal relations between shots in the movie. However in this sequence, there is no temporal relation (They cannot be all speaking in the same time.); and no spatial relation (They are all somewhere else.). First of all, this is a needed sequence to progress the story. Moreover, it makes us remember a part of the story that we did not pay attention for about 20 minutes: The parents. Therefore it also broadens our understanding of what is really happening. More importantly, by editing one after another, the families and the police officer "Ray" for no apparent reason Nicholas Ray makes us think again. I think he wants to underline the parallelism of the parents (and also of the police officer) in the story. They are all unsuccessful and unable to help the new generation.
Seeing it for the second time in the library I realized it is one of the great masterpieces of film history.
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