Friday, November 12, 2010


I'm a big fan of documentaries. In any documentary, editing is perhaps the most important part of the film. Typically an enormous amount of footage is shot and it is not until the editing process that the story takes shape. The best documentaries I have seen are the best edited films.

I went into Echotone, a film about the struggling music scene in Austin, with a great desire to like it. Unfortunately, it is a very weak film on many levels. Without a doubt, the biggest weakness is the editing. The film completely lacks any structure or pacing. At one point I looked at my watch thinking that they had listed the running time inaccurately; clearly I had been there more than 88 minutes.

I wasn't even halfway through yet.

The film is clearly intended for an audience that is decades younger than I am. There is not a single musical act in the film that I would pay to see or hear. Only one of the characters is remotely sympathetic; the rest are self-absorbed a-holes who think much more of themselves than their music is actually worth. However, the characters are edited so badly that it's hard to follow any of their individual story lines, so maybe this is a misrepresentation of them. It's hard to tell.

The director of the film is listed as one of the editors. In general, I think this is a really bad decision. I think the editor on a doc works best when they come in with no preconceived notions about the characters. I suspect that the director understood these characters much better because he spent so much personal time with them, but that does not translate to the movie. A new view on the material would have brought a lot to the film.

The final major problem with the film is the sound. Although the venue was clearly playing the film too soft, even with the level low it was clear that the sound was terrible. I was suprised to see a production sound crew listed in the credits. It sounded like all the material came from the internal mike on a cheap video camera. Sometimes this is adequate for interviews if the shot is a close-up, but for a concert film, the music sounded awful. There were times where they were showing an entire band on stage with the brass playing and all you could hear was guitar. This is not going to encourage anyone to buy albums.

It's a shame, the actual subject matter was quite interesting (how the economy and city development have changed the market for live music in Austin). I'd still like to see that movie.
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