The Deathwork of Narrative Editing
This chapter examines posthumous motion as a staple for the movie death scene. Posthumous motion may be defined as the use of the cutaway to another image—usually one that reframes the body or else infuses part of the environment—to extend the scene after the death moment has apparently occurred, that is, after registration. Whether or not the camera is itself moving, the image is. Seen in various forms throughout American film history, the posthumous shot has become one of the more interpretive shots in genre films, often indicating the solemn passage of time. This chapter discusses the posthumous markings found in the early narrative film and how the techniques of narrative film portend an emergent cinematics around the death shot—or the image of apparent loss of embodied vitality. Focusing on films such as Behind the Scenes, The Mothering Heart, The Birth of a Nation, and The Country Doctor, it discusses the ways that narrative editing “performs on the material of the film the operations that death performs on life”.
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