I approach cinematic editing the way Catholics approach the mysteries of faith: in awe, with a sense of emotional understanding that can never be quite realized in language. Editing is the holy thing that makes cinema art, that makes it unique and makes it magic. I've been writing about movies for over a decade and I've never been able to truly verbalize the way I feel about cinematic editing.
Now I don't have to, because I've read Zeroville, a novel that does all that work for me. I was reading the book on a flight and when I came across a passage about how editing works, about how the progression of scenes are a lie and how movies exist even before they're made, how what happens on set is transformed into something totally new and unknowable in post, I was overcome with emotion, to the point that I may have worried the lady sitting next to me. Steve Erickson had done it. He had put into words the almost religious awe I feel when editing is truly sublime.
You need to read this book. You may have already read it; it was published in 2007. It was new to me, a recommendation from Noah Segan after a night of drunk movie talk. It's the ultimate night of drunk movie talk book.
Vikar comes to Los Angeles at the end of the 1960s. His head is shaved, and tattooed on either side of his skull are Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in A Place In The Sun. There's something... off about Vikar; he's given to violent rages (especially when Liz on his head is mistaken for Natalie Wood) and his single-minded devotion to movies is part of what seems like a deep-in-the-spectrum autism. He's come to Los Angeles for the movies, but he doesn't know how or why; eventually he becomes an editor and great, important things happen around and to him. He makes discoveries about the nature of cinema that slowly bring the book from a funny, odd history lesson to a head-trip examination of the nature of artistic reality. It's no mistake that one of the first films he sees when he comes to Los Angeles is 2001.
Vikar gets his name from his friend Viking Man, who readers will immediately recognize as John Milius. Along the way he runs into many great filmmakers and actors, some mentioned by name and some only described. Half the fun of the book - to a film nerd - is cracking the code of what Erickson is showing us, as it's all filtered through Vikar's particular point of view and understanding of the world. And along the way Vikar not only finds himself deep in the changing Hollywood of the 70s, but he discovers what he calls The Sound - the earliest, rawest moments of punk rock.
There's a Being There or Forrest Gump thing sort of happening here, but it's more than that. Vikar is both more bizarre and more relatable than either Chauncey Gardner or Gump. He's also more in control of his own fate while still managing to kind of walk through immense moments in cinematic and punk history.
Zeroville is a book that evolves as you read it; what begins as a funny, nerdy tour of Hollywood slowly grows into a deep examination of what the movies are. Along the way Vikar visits the holy sites of cinema - New York, Cannes, Paris - and begins a search for a movie long presumed lost. Erickson's writing goes from witty to philosophically fascinating along the way.
I love movies, but Zeroville has made me love them twice as much as I ever thought possible. More than any piece of criticism I've read in years, Zeroville has sent me scrambling to revisit films or to fill in gaps in my cinematic education. And as a piece of literature Zeroville moved me deeply; I'm about ready to pick the book up and start over at the beginning, looping the book through my brain like film through a projector.
The best way to put it would be to say it in the way Vikar would: "I believe Zeroville is a very good book."