In a new series, we’re celebrating the films we loved that aren’t likely to dominate the awards race. Over the new few weeks, our writers make passionate arguments for the performances and craft that stood out to them, from blockbusters to arthouse and everything in between.
When it comes to Awards Season, a lot of the Best Editing nominations get handed out to the films with the Most Editing. Fancy transitions, show-offy stitching of faux-long takes, rapid rhythmic intercuts, and juggling multiple characters or time periods all tend to draw the eye of voters. Those fancy edits do have their place, but great editing is also about the seams you don’t see – the precise timings and rhythms so vital to a work’s effectiveness yet so often unremarked upon by the casual viewer.
Comedy features have historically been underrepresented in this regard, unless they are Adam McKay or David O. Russell films which overdose on Most Editing tropes. This is despite great editing in a comedy being the key to whether a great joke lands like an uppercut or dies on the vine. While The Daniels’ dramedy Everything Everywhere All at Once has managed to break into the category shortlist this year, I can think of a more left-field choice which equally deserves to be there: Jackass Forever.
Jackass movies are, at their core, just compilations of stunts and skits. The Jackass crew and their various assorted guests injure, embarrass, prank, and debase themselves for 90 minutes straight in a series of sequences which run the gamut from the elaborate (a hidden-camera prank where Johnny Knoxville in old-man make-up gets launched through a furniture store roof by fake employee Zach Holmes) to the dirt-simple (Chris Pontius drinking a jar of pig semen). That’s it. No matter how creative the set-ups and executions of people getting punched in the penis, this should by all rights get repetitive, exhausting or outright dull before we even reach the halfway mark.
In actuality, that hypothetical never arrives. Whilst some credit is certainly due to the Jackass guys and gals for coming up with increasingly elaborate ways to cause each other pain, the real stars of the show are director Jeff Tremaine’s team of editors: Matthew Kosinski, Matthew Probst, and Sascha Stanton-Craven. On macro and micro levels, these three are a key component as to why Jackass Forever was the funniest comedy of 2022.
On the macro level, there are only so many ways that a Jackass stunt can go. When broken down, each falls into one of four main categories: “nut shot”, “prank”, “animal goofs”, or “other”. This isn’t an exact science, with a fair bit of overlap, but that’s still not a tonne of variation for the 36 non-title sequence stunts in Jackass Forever.
Kosinski, Probst, and Stanton-Craven therefore have to carefully spread these stunts throughout the run time to ensure that a viewer doesn’t get bored or cotton on too detrimentally to the rhythms of each category. Ehren McGhehey’s big bear prank, involving him strapped to a chair whilst a grizzly eats salmon and licks honey off his body, would not have been as effective had it been preceded by the stunt in which Wee-Man is tied down whilst a vulture eats meat slabs off his naked body.
Forever stunts are split almost evenly between BIG ones – requiring lots of prep-work in terms of set-up or theatrical delivery – and simple ones which could be easily replicated by viewers. Relatedly, there’s also a near-even split between sequences that last under and over two minutes. Splitting up a more involved stunt with something that’s quick-fire and straightforward is a throwback to the 90s skate culture videos which Jackass was born from, but this also works to vary up the pacing of the movie, as well as reset the tone where required.
It’s a deliberate choice to follow-up the multi-tiered kaiju-homage opening (easily the biggest title sequence Jackass has staged with giant explosions, backlot sets and proper miniatures) with “Human Ramp” which involves someone’s backyard, six pieces of plywood, a bike, and the gang all stacked on top of each other to turn that plywood into, er, a ramp. A reminder that, no matter how big of a cultural landmark Jackass may be, it’s still fundamentally just a gang of idiots doing stupid stuff at home.
On the micro-level, the editing choices are so key to each stunt’s capacity for hysterics. I think of how “The Boar-Kake” doesn’t reveal the highly-conspicuous tube situated above Dave England’s chair until after the pig cum has been dumped on his head, adding further poetry to Knoxville’s “We don’t question it” response when rapper Tyler, the Creator incredulously asks him how on earth Dave fell for the prank. There’s a musical rhythm to the montage-heavy stunts – another callback to Jackass’ skate origins – which are often subtly timed for the hit of the stunt to also hit a peak of the song, such as the softball part of “The Cup Test” having Ehren first get blasted right on the drop of “Leave Home” by The Chemical Brothers.
The precise balance of build-up to pay-off to reaction to further pay-off is maybe best epitomised by “Silence of the Lambs”, which is a multi-staged group prank that lures cast members into a room under the pretence of seeing Knoxville mess with a venomous snake (removed without their knowledge before the prank proper starts) only for him to lock them in with the lights off and harass them. The first minute establishes the prankee pairings, all the snake info required to fully freak them out when the lights go out, and the structure of the prank overall.
Once the lights are off, the editing cuts between each of the three pairings as they react to the subsequent phases of the prank, providing a constant string of pay-off laughs at their commentary and suffering. Then – right at the point where the comedy seems to have peaked – the hidden escalation is revealed to the viewer when a non-locked door leads to an escape room rigged with hanging pans and loaded mouse traps. The cut to Ehren on the other side of that door, revealing the pan traps only a few seconds before he walks headfirst into them, is the definition of masterful comic editing.
A lot of the truly great editing jobs are in movies where you don’t even recognise how foundational they are to the film’s working until you seriously and closely examine them. Jackass Forever, for all its hysterical stunt craft, simply would not work if the editing wasn’t as quietly brilliant as it is. That’s gotta be worthy of recognition.
Published 28 Feb 2023
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