Bohemian Rhapsody is a silly cartoon movie starring fake teeth. It’s not good, but it is popular. I can see why; it’s not not entertaining! Particularly if you enjoy the music, which carries the movie along with Rami Malek’s wholehearted dive. But it’s all an absurd mess that glosses over reality and is haunted by the spectre of its director, Bryan Singer, who was fired from the production before filming completed. The band might also be partly to blame, the Actual Queen band, supposedly wanting to make a movie that was innocuous to all legacies involved.
So it’s not surprising that the entire thing feels like a weird fever dream. I half-expected interstitial placards that just said SCENE MISSING. Nonetheless they finished the film. And now it’s an Academy Award-winning film, including a gold statue for editing.
Before the awards, this clip was widely circulated online as an example of how messy it all is (what’s with the glossy surreal color grading, by the way?), particularly the editing:
People, actual fucking people, are watching scene after scene like this and are saying "bruuuh! best. movie. of. th… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Pramit Chatterjee 🌈 (@pramitheus) January 26, 2019
And yeah! The pace of cuts is obviously absurd; it’s just a calm conversation around a table but it feels like there are at least 50 different shots in 82 seconds. You might expect wildly fast cuts in an action sequence, but not tea time.
But people kept pointing to this clip as an example of terrible editing. And I kept watching it over and over to find a glaring error. Any cut that just doesn’t work. And… I couldn’t! Is it… is this editing actually fine?
The whole scene and everyone’s place in it is completely comprehensible. It reads fine; I know where everyone is around the table. With most of the characters framed following a basic rule of thirds, my eyes are never not in the right place during the fast-paced cuts.
Have I gone mad by watching the same clip seventy dozen times? Probably.
I realize that the sheer number of reaction shots is preposterous. It seems to me it would have been a simpler to set up a couple wider shots where you can see multiple characters without making cuts. Instead, there are about 6 or 7 different camera set ups for this one scene around a table. Individual shots for almost every character is not how I would do it! But the editing never takes me out of the moment.
Aside from watching this one scene over and over like a zoetrope, it is difficult to discern how much an editor’s decisions help to elevate a movie. It is laborious and almost invisible work. It is as if the only people who really know how much work the editor has done are the director and the cinematographer and their teams, who know what was shot, and what was not.
But he got the votes, and now John Ottman, the editor of Bohemian Rhapsody, has an Oscar.
Update: Here’s a good examination of why this scene is crazy and how it could be less crazy.