Sunday, April 26, 2009

The lost art of editing

At the core of Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown lies a simple story of love and revenge. 4 characters -- a husband, a wife, a lover and a child. India, America. Kashmir and California. Pachigam, Los Angeles. Side trips in France, England, Philippines, North Africa and indirect involvements of Pakistan and Afghanistan. A story leads into another story into another. As one yarn starts to unspool, it reveals a bigger yarn hidden away. Pop cultural references, film talk, politics, hindi and kashimiri words freely mingling with the English language, all the sort of stuff one would expect from a Rushdie novel really. Science, religion, history, myth, fiction and reality, all out in the open. The pain of love, the cycle of fate, the anguish of rituals and even a documented manual about how terrorism takes root. Each page is infused with description of global places and habits, be it Indian or Eastern European. The world is a mirror and the mirror converges into this tale.

Overall, I do think that Shalimar the Clown is an extraordinary book but does it really have to be 649 pages long? Do we really need to know everything about the characters? Where does editing come into play? If each film director had their way, I am sure some would opt to have their films 3-4 hours long as they would love each minute of what they captured on film. But surely they have to make the tough decision to leave some footage on the cutting table. Same with writers. They have to make choices. But does a writer’s reputation mean he or she can get away whatever they want to write? In a review of Umberto Eco’s Foucault's Pendulum, Rushdie had the following to say:

“The plot of Foucault's Pendulum (which begins on page 367 page of this 629 page book) is surprizingly uncomplicated.” (from Imaginary Homelands)

It does seem that Rushdie takes a dig at Eco by specifying when he thinks the plot truly begins. In a way, he is right as the first few hundred pages of Foucault's Pendulum which describe the history of the Templars really add nothing to the story and could have been cut. But Rushdie is guilty of padding the pages like Eco did. The big difference is that Eco padded his book at the start while Rushdie lays the plot out quickly to begin with and after getting our attention drifts into back-stories. Not that the drifting isn’t interesting, but it wasn’t really needed. Atleast in my opinion. Ofcourse, there are plenty of writers out there who write longer books than Rushdie does as they go about capturing every detail about their character’s lives, clothing and other preferences that add nothing to the story. Yet, those author’s fan base would not complain as every word is probably cherished.

So does the same apply for film? Are there people who would prefer to see a 4+ hour film by their favourite film director because each minute is a work of art? I once got a lot of flak for daring to suggest that Tarantino should have edited Kill Bill 2 as some fans of his work were offended by the thought that I dared question the "master" himself. In fact, I am sure these fans would have loved every minute of Death Proof even though it contains dialogues which add nothing but merely pass the time until the inevitable car crashes take place.

Is editing only reserved for new writers and directors then? Do acclaimed writers and film directors have full right to do as they please? This might be a topic that would divide critics and fans. Or it might just be a personal preference.

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