Whoosh! Issue 38 - November 1999

IAXS project #687
By Holly M. Paddock
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
Edition copyright © 1999 held by Whoosh!
2368 words

Author's Note: Before you read what I have written about the editing styles seen in the Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) episode THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), I would like to set things up a bit for you. This was a short essay written in December of 1998 for a class called "Critical Topics in Art and Time" at Northern Illinois University. The class was a brief Art History of Time Art. This includes things such as animation, video games, computer interactive projects, film, video, etc. We examined such things as the first silent movies, Buster Keaton, Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977), Star Trek (TV, 1966-69), the web, Pixar films, and even things like Nintendo 64 and Sony Playstation. Quite a variety of topics, and that was just a small sample of everything that we went over during the course of the semester.

The assignment was to write an essay, and we were given several topic choices or had the option of selecting our own. Basically, anything that followed along with things that we had discussed was an option. This is from the assignment sheet we were given and is the topic about which I chose to write:

"Analyze a film, video, commercial, or multimedia project in the terms of the postmodern and or montage readings (Eisenstein, Jameson). ...Make use of the specific cinematic and aesthetic terms from the articles in your analysis, and explain why you think a certain term applies to the segment being described. How is meaning being created through the use of these editing and image-making strategies? What effect does the composition of the work have on the intended audience? On you? Are there any parallels in other media or historical precedents for the piece you are analyzing?"

That should help give the readers of this essay an idea of what I was going for. We were supposed to keep it to 4-5 pages. Let me say that was a challenge in itself. There were so many things in THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), and in the show XWP in general, to analyze. My teacher seemed to enjoy the paper. To add to it, I gave her an episode summary and let her borrow my copy of THE BITTER SUITE. I knew it would help if she had at least a passing familiarity with the show. I wanted to share this with fans of XWP and thought that Whoosh! was the perfect place to do so. I welcome your comments.

Soviet Montage (01-03)
"Bitter" Montage (04-05)
Anticipation... (06-09)
"Cutting" Edge (10-11)
Narrative Cut (12)
Cross-cut (13)
Emotional Cut (14)
Tonal Cut (15)
Directional Cut (16)
Creative Geography and Anatomy (17-19)
Xena and Eisenstein (20)


Soviet Montage

Gab-Drag precursor

A scene from the 'steps' sequence of Eisenstein's BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN,
regarded by many as some of the finest footage of cinema history.

[1] Darkness, a breeze through a tree on a sunny day, thunder and lightning, sudden bright light, smoke, a wave lapping up on a beach, and movement in the shadows. All of these images can create different moods and emotions in a given situation. The filming, the framing of the shots, and the editing can all make or break a movie or television show.

[2] In his essay "Soviet Montage", the late Gerald Mast, film theoretician and former Professor of English and Humanities at University of Chicago, identifies the three basic kinds of editing cuts. They are the narrative cut, the intellectual cut, and the emotional cut. Mast states that, "A single cut can function on all three levels -- narrative, intellectual, emotional -- all at once. In fact, the Soviet directors discovered that most cuts must function on all three levels at once" (Mast 154).

[3] The name "montage" is a French word meaning, simply, editing, but "...for the Soviet director, the word signified the particular way editing could control the film's structure, meaning, and effect" (Mast 154). Webster's Dictionary lists the noun montage as meaning, "a composite picture made by combining several separate pictures or parts of several pictures; a rapid succession of images in a motion picture, designed to illustrate an association of ideas". Another definition that can be pieced together from Mast's commentary and the Webster's Dictionary definition is: Montage style can be seen as conveying the film's structure, meaning, and effect through a juxtaposition of pictures designed to illustrate an association of ideas.

"Bitter" Montage

[4] In Xena: Warrior Princess there are many different forms of cuts and editing techniques used to convey the feelings and emotions intended by the creators. The series as a whole has many different styles of editing, mostly because there are multiple directors and editors who work to produce the various episodes. Yet, there is one particular episode where a specific style stands out more than usual.

[5] THE BITTER SUITE (58/312) was different from any of the previous episodes in that it was virtually a non-stop musical. While there were lines spoken in the episode, most of the story was outlined in song lyrics and musical numbers. It is the only episode of its kind for XWP to date. The dramatics of being a musical episode made the editing functions more evident than usual.


[6] One section of the episode in particular comes to mind. Xena and Gabrielle have entered the land of Illusia in different places but at the same time. As the story is told, Xena and Gabrielle have separate time on screen with different experiences before they meet one another in Illusia later in the episode. The story goes back and forth between Xena and Gabrielle to map out what they are doing and to give the audience some basic background. (This part occurs near the beginning of the episode). These events are shown as happening at the same time for both of them, and the viewer moves along with the characters.

[7] The episode is put together to exploit this sense of time. The sequences go back and forth between Xena and Gabrielle with the different scenes punctuating their similar situations. The viewer feels that these events are occurring simultaneously for the two characters. With fast cuts and music to match the speed and mood, the scenes move along at the same pace. The anticipation of Xena and Gabrielle meeting one another in Illusia builds during these sequences. The tension continues to mount all the way until they find each other later in the episode.

Bad hair day for two

Xena and Gabrielle meet again and again in THE BITTER SUITE.

[8] Each situation is tailored to fit its respective characters. Xena's scenes are a little bit darker, more confusing, and chaotic. Those for Gabrielle are brighter, more festive, and much more colorful in both appearance and mood.

[9] Other characters from the show are used, but not quite as themselves. The characters look the same and sound the same, but they are used as representations of a part of Xena or Gabrielle. They are guides for the main characters and help move the story along. BITTER SUITE (58/312) is presented in a dream-like fashion to the viewer, but it is shown as though Xena and Gabrielle are having the same dream at the same time.

"Cutting" Edge

[10] As this scene continues, the cuts between characters and actions become rapid, and the music speeds up as well. The frequency of the cuts between Xena and Gabrielle increases until they finally meet face to face in Illusia. They each open a door at the same time only to reveal the other on the reverse side of the doorway. The two doors opens slowly, and the camera angles switch between the two so that their reactions to seeing one another can be viewed by the audience as though this were all happening in one quick moment.

[11] This segment displays various techniques that are used both during filming and during the editing process. To name a few: narrative cut, cross-cut, emotional cut, tonal cut, and directional cut. Also used in the series XWP overall, including this episode, are creative geography and creative anatomy.

Narrative Cut

[12] The story, as with almost every television show and movie, is being told in a narrative style. The show unfolds from beginning to end with how Xena and Gabrielle come to be in Illusia, how they escape, and much more. It follows a classic path of a beginning, middle, and conclusion.


[13] The cross-cut style comes into play throughout the entire segment before Xena and Gabrielle find one another on either side of the doors. There are many different points throughout the episode when the camera goes between following Xena and following Gabrielle. This series of cuts helps to illustrate the passage of time and also helps to reinforce that these events are happening at around the same time and at a similar pace.

Emotional Cut

[14] The fast-paced cuts between Xena and Gabrielle combine with the cuts being made to the music to create many different emotions. The slow motion used in a few shots creates emotion as well and helps to reinforce the expressions on the faces of the characters.

Tonal Cut

Like my armadillo ensemble?

Those spooky echoing halls in THE BITTER SUITE.

[15] There are tonal cuts also that bring emotion to the episode: the darkness and cold-looking stone of a castle with light streaming in the windows that casts shadows on a damp floor quickly moves to scenes of a light rain, more cheerful springtime scenery, and brighter colors. This helps to signify the approaching end of the journey in Illusia and shows the escape route for them.

Directorial Cut

[16] The scene when Xena and Gabrielle find one another at the door falls into the category of a directional cut. The viewer sees Xena move from left to right and up the stairs toward the door she is about to open. Then, the camera cuts so that the viewer sees Gabrielle moving from right to left and up the stairs heading for a door as well. The characters, at this point, do not know how close they are to one another or what conflict lies beyond that closed door. The cuts continue to go back and forth between the two as they approach the door, and this helps to build the anticipation of the confrontation.

Creative Geography and Anatomy

[17] Creative geography and creative anatomy are things that can be seen in virtually every television show or film ever made. Movie sets and sound stages are examples of creative geography. These mock-ups are used when the real thing is not available (be it for monetary reasons, time restrictions, safety reasons, etc.) When used properly, the viewer might not be able to tell the difference between the set and the real thing (unless they have been to that particular location themselves). For example, XWP is supposed to be set in ancient Greece. Most people outside of fandom would probably not know by watching the show that XWP is actually filmed in Auckland, New Zealand.

[18] As for creative anatomy, that is accomplished with the use of stunt doubles and stand-ins. Many times a shot that a director needs is too dangerous, or it would simply be too time-consuming for the actor/actress to perform on their own. Sometimes by using a stunt double or stand-in, the director can free up the main actor/actress to work on other scenes, and it often saves time and money since a stunt double or stand-in is, most likely, paid less than the principle performer.

[19] In cases where a stunt double or stand-in is needed, the shots must be filmed and edited so that the viewer can not tell that there is someone else in the place of the regular actor/actress. Lucy Lawless even admits in interviews that, chances are, if you do not see her face in a given shot (especially high action or dangerous shots), then there is a good chance that it is not her doing the work at that time.

Xena and Eisenstein

Proof that Rob Tapert is indeed in the Portrait of Dorian Grey

Sergei Eisenstein, on location in 1927.

[20] From all of my experiences watching television and seeing movies, I cannot think of a show or movie that does not use at least three or four of these different kinds of cuts and editing styles. Each creator, director, and editor has their own, distinctive style, but, overall, there are commonalities. The episode BITTER SUITE (58/312) works with what Gerald Mast described about the great early Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein. Mast states that, "Eisenstein defined his principle of montage as one of collision, of conflict, of contrast. He does not simply build shots into a whole but sees each frame as a unit with a dynamic charge of a particular kind. His goal is to bring the dynamic charge of one frame into conflict with the charge of the next" (Mast 155).


Gerald Mast. "Soviet Montage".


Holly M. Paddock Holly M. Paddock
I live in Illinois, near Chicago, and I am currently a full-time student at Northern Illinois University (NIU) where I am a Time Arts Major. I take courses dealing with web page work, computer graphics, computer animation, a little music, video, etc... you get the idea. My field of study used to be called Electronic Media, which seems to be a term that more people can relate to. When I'm not at school or working at Caribou Coffee, I enjoy surfing the web, reading, watching Xena, STAR TREK, X-FILES, movies, listening to music, spoiling my nieces & nephew rotten, as well as other things.
Favorite episode: IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (24/124); BITTER SUITE (58/312); and ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313)
Favorite line: Gabrielle: "I know what the plan is... you're trying to drive me insane!" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206); AND, of course, just about anything from IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)
First episode seen: To be honest, I'm not sure. I just managed to catch bits and pieces of a few episodes, and it was evidently enough to get me hooked. In Chicago we see Xena on WGN, which means we are always behind the rest of the world.
Least favorite episode: I don't think there are any that I didn't like really. I didn't seem to hate KING CON (61/315) as much as the rest of the world.

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