György Pálfi’s Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen is a quintessential love story, the ultimate experience for cinephiles, and a masterclass in film history and editing. Pálfi’s film is a story that takes us from an initial spark of love through to the varying stages of a relationship. Often labelled as a “recycled film”, the film took three years to make and consists of clips from more than 450 films and tv shows and more than 1400 cuts. The story is told exclusively using these pre-existing scenes varying from slashers to musicals, silent films and CGI-laden blockbusters.
While initially having nothing to do with each other, each scene combines to create a plot thanks to the brilliant editing. Here all the on-screen actresses present represent the “heroine” and all on-screen actors the “hero”. We have Isabella Rossellini, Liza Minelli and Jessica Rabbit singing and dancing to Rita Hayworth’s famous song “Put the Mame on Blame” while Al Pacino, Ray Milland, Zoltán Latinovits and Cary Grant look on.
The premise of Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen is much more important and exciting than its plot. This film is about love, the eternal story of a man and woman uncontrollably falling for one another. The story is predictable and almost clichéd, but that’s precisely the film’s point. After all, don’t most love stories include the exact same panels, archetypes and twists? That’s the reason why we love them and keep watching them. But Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen laces the classic love story with the beauty of motion picture art, suggesting the two are forever interlinked and inseparable. There is something so magical about watching random scenes from our favourite films come together in one glorious cinematic homage to love.
In various interviews where Pálfi talked about making Final Cut, he mentioned the rules he had set for himself in creating the film. Firstly, all scenes used were precise shots from the original movies without their lengths being edited, or images cropped. This makes it even more remarkable how seamless the resulting picture is. The final film would represent a vast collection of movies from world cinema to silent era gems and contemporary pictures. Around 30% consist of Hungarian movies and 40% American, with the rest a diverse array of European and Asian classics.
Second, Pálfi insisted the film should contain no more than two movies per director. Here he would ultimately break his own rules by including three or more films from directors such as David Lynch, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock.
There are obvious limits to a film like Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen. From a storytelling perspective, the plot must be simple enough for cohesion and clarity. While from a legal perspective, copyright issues make it almost impossible for the final result to look as the director imagined. Plus, you have the hurdle of distributing it quickly and widely when it is essentially the property of various studios and artists. To overcome this, the film has been declared ‘educational material’ at some Hungarian Universities and is available as an attachment to academic textbooks on film editing and montage techniques.
The film’s most significant achievement is how flawlessly the finished product comes together into a stunning feature-length montage that’s far from an exercise in art for art’s sake. It is the ultimate film to watch with your film-buff friends and a love letter to cinema wrapped in a unique and compelling story of love.