Editing Relating Images

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chapter 4

Editing Relating Images

The use of editing to generate idexas and emotions is on striking display in the opening sequence of City of God (2002), Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s kinetic chronicle of life in the streets of a tough Rio de Janeiro neighborhood. Flashes of a knife being sharpened against a stone in extreme close-ups are intercut to a rapid percussive beat with details of the preparation of an outdoor meal, including a chicken about to be slaughtered. The chicken stares out at the audience and we stare back, similarly overwhelmed. The tension mounts until the chicken escapes and a massive chase through the streets begins. In the quick shots of groups of boys running with guns drawn, we grasp a situation of pathos and precarious existence. The manipulation of time, space, and point of view convey the neighborhood’s powder- keg energy and the imminent threat of violence. Largely without dialogue, editor Daniel Rezende sets the scene and the emotional register of this gripping story.

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F

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ilm editing is the process by which different images or shots are linked together. As we move through the world, we may witness images that are juxtaposed and overlapped: in store windows, on highway

billboards, on our desktops, or on television when we channel surf. But editing offers a departure from the way we normally see the world. In our everyday experience, discrete images are unified by our singular position and consciousness. There are no such limits in editing. And unless we consciously or externally interrupt our vision (such as when we blink), we do not see the world as separate images linked in selected patterns. Thus editing may emulate ordinary ways of seeing or transcend them. The power and art of film editing lie in the ways in which the hundreds or thousands of discrete images that make up a film can be shaped to make sense or to have an emotional or a visceral impact.

KEY OBJECTIVES

▪ Understand the artistic and technological evolution of editing. ▪ Examine the ways editing constructs different spatial and temporal relationships among images. ▪ Detail the dominant style of continuity editing. ▪ Identify the ways in which graphic or rhythmic patterns are created by editing. ▪ Discuss the ways editing organizes images as meaningful scenes and sequences. ▪ Summarize how editing strategies engage filmic traditions of continuity or disjuncture.

Many film theorists and professionals consider editing to be the most unique dimension of the film experience. This chapter will explore in depth how film connects separate images to create or reflect key patterns through which viewers see and think about the world.

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A Short History of Film Editing Long before the development of film technology, different images were linked sequentially to tell stories. Ancient Assyrian reliefs show the different phases of a lion hunt, while the 230-foot-long Bayeux tapestry chronicles the 1066 Norman conquest of England in invaluable historical detail. In the twentieth and twenty- first centuries, comic strips and manga have continued this tradition in graphic art: each panel presents a moment of action in the story [Figures 4.1a–4.1c]. In cinema, a storyboard sketches out each shot of a film in similar fashion.

(a)

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4.1a–4.1c Storyboard: telling stories through images. Ancient Assyrian reliefs (a), the eleventh-century Bayeux tapestry (b), and comics (c) resemble storyboards in cinema. 4.1a: Gianni Dagli Orti/Corbis; 4.1b: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY; 4.1c: François PERRI/REA/Redux

Juxtaposed images have been used symbolically, sensationally, and educationally as well as to tell stories. Religious triptychs convey spiritual ideas via three connected images. The magic lantern was used by showmen to project successive images and create illusions of the supernatural. By the late nineteenth century, illustrated lectures using photographic slides became popular. Such practices have influenced film editing’s evolution into its modern form.

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1895–1918: Early Cinema and the Emergence of Editing Films quickly evolved from showing characters or objects moving within a single image to connecting different images. Magician and early filmmaker Georges Méliès at first used stop-motion photography and, later, editing to create delightful tricks, like the rocket striking the moon in Trip to the Moon (1902) [Figures 4.2a and 4.2b]. While basic editing techniques were introduced by other filmmakers, Edwin S. Porter, a prolific employee of Thomas Edison, synthesized these techniques in the service of storytelling in Life of an American Fireman (1903) and other early films. One of the most important films in the historical development of cinema, Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903) tells its story in fourteen separate shots, including a famous final shot of a bandit shooting his gun directly into the camera [Figure 4.3]. By 1906, the period now known as “early cinema” gave way to cinema dominated by narrative, a transition facilitated by more codified practices of editing.

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(a)

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4.2a and 4.2b Trip to the Moon (1902). In a famous shock cut in his ambitious early science fiction film, Georges Méliès linked the launch of the rocket to its impact on the face of the moon.

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4.3 The Great Train Robbery (1903). Edwin S. Porter is credited with advancing the narrative language of editing in this and other early films. The film’s last cut is used to enhance the shock effect of the final image rather than to complete the narrative.

D. W. Griffith, who began making films in 1908, is a towering figure in the development of the classical Hollywood editing style. Griffith is closely associated with the use of crosscutting, or parallel editing, alternating between two or more strands of simultaneous action, a technique that he used in the rescue sequences that conclude dozens of his films. In The Lonely Villa (1909), shots of female family members isolated in a house alternate with shots of villains trying to break in and then with shots of the father rushing to rescue his family. The infamous climax of Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) uses crosscutting to portray the film’s white characters as victims of Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan as heroes. Griffith cuts from black soldiers breaking into a white family’s isolated cottage, to a mixed-race politician threatening a white woman with rape, to the Ku Klux Klan riding to the rescue of both [Figures 4.4a–4.4c]. The controversial merging of technique and ideology exemplified in Griffith’s craft is a strong demonstration of the power of editing. After the success of Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, feature filmmaking became the norm, and Hollywood developed the classical editing style that remains the basis for many films today.

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(a)

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4.4a–4.4c The Birth of a Nation (1915). In this sequence of images, Griffith’s white supremacist views are supported by the use of parallel editing, which encourages the viewer to root for the Ku Klux Klan to arrive in time.

1919–1929: Soviet Montage Within a decade after The Birth of a Nation, and in the wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution, Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s first film, Strike (1925), influenced the craft of editing in a different, although equally dramatic fashion. Eisenstein’s films and writings center on the concept of montage, editing that maximizes the effect of the juxtaposition of disparate shots. For example, to depict the mass shooting of workers in Strike, Eisenstein interspersed, or intercut, long shots of gunfire and of the fleeing and falling crowd with gruesome close-ups of a bull being butchered in a slaughterhouse [Figures 4.5a and 4.5b]. This juxtaposition is an example of what Eisenstein called intellectual montage, through which an independent idea is formed in the mind of the viewer based on the collision of different shots.

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(a)

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4.5a and 4.5b Strike (1925). The workers’ massacre is compared to the slaughter of a bull through the use of intellectual montage.

Eisenstein and filmmakers Lev Kuleshov, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Dziga Vertov advanced montage (they used the French word for editing) as the key component of modernist, politically engaged filmmaking in the Soviet Union of the 1920s. One of the most fascinating self-reflexive sequences in film history is the editing sequence in Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929), which features the film’s own editor, Elizaveta Svilova, cutting film that the cameraman has been shown gathering. Images shown on the strips of film seem to freeze before our eyes, only to be reanimated to startling effect. Other avant-garde movements in the 1920s and thereafter continued to explore the more abstract and dynamic properties of editing employed by the Soviets.

1930–1959: Continuity Editing in the Hollywood Studio Era With the full development of the Hollywood studio system, the movies refined the storytelling style known as continuity editing, which gives the viewer the impression that the action unfolds with spatiotemporal consistency. The introduction of synchronous sound posed new challenges, but by the early 1930s editors integrated picture and sound editing into the studio style.

Beginning in the 1940s, cinematic realism achieved new emphasis as one of the primary aesthetic principles in film editing. The influence of Italian neorealism, which used fewer cuts to capture the integrity of stories of ordinary people and actual locations, was evident in other new wave cinemas and even extended to classical

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Hollywood. For example, Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950) emphasized imagistic depth and longer takes, cutting less frequently between images [Figure 4.6]. Incorporating these variations, the continuity editing style would remain dominant at least until the decline at the end of the 1950s of the studio system, whose stable personnel, business models, and genre forms lent consistency to its products and techniques. In many ways, its principles still govern storytelling in film and television.

4.6 In a Lonely Place (1950). Postwar cinema tended to explore the depth of images, cutting less frequently between them to achieve a heightened realism.

1960–1989: Modern Editing Styles Political and artistic changes starting in the 1960s affected almost every dimension of film form, and editing was no exception. Both in the United States and abroad, alternative editing styles emerged that aimed to fracture classical editing’s illusion of realism. Anticipated to some extent by Soviet montage, these new more disjunctive styles reflected the feeling of disconnection of the modern world. Editing visibly disrupted continuity by creating ruptures in the story, radically condensing or expanding time, or confusing the relationships among past, present, and future.

The French New Wave produced some of the first and most dramatic examples of modern styles of editing. Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960) innovated the use of jump cuts, edits that intentionally create gaps in the action [Figures 4.7a and 4.7b]. In the 1960s and 1970s, American filmmakers like Arthur Penn and Francis Ford Coppola incorporated such styles within classical genres to contribute to the New Hollywood aesthetic. In

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the 1980s, the fast-paced editing style used in commercials and music videos began to appear in mainstream films. Two popular and successful films, both made by former directors of television commercials, are indicative of this period: Adrian Lyne’s Flashdance (1983), about a Pittsburgh woman who doubles as a welder and exotic dancer, and Tony Scott’s Top Gun (1986), about fighter pilots competing in flight school. Both combine an upbeat pop soundtrack with flashy, rapid editing to suggest the seductive energy of their protagonists’ worlds [Figures 4.8a and 4.8b].

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(a)

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4.7a and 4.7b Breathless (1960). Obvious jump cuts between or in the middle of shots are a visual vehicle for conveying the distractions and disjunctions in a petty criminal’s life. Michel’s voiceover continues as we see Patricia from different angles.

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4.8a and 4.8b Flashdance (1983). Continuous music and discontinuous cutting characteristic of 1980s music videos energize this film about a young working-class woman who aspires to be a dancer.

1990s–Present: Editing in the Digital Age Nonlinear digital editing ushered in perhaps the most significant changes in the history of film editing. Whereas for decades editors cut actual film footage by hand on a Moviola or flatbed editing table, or in linear sequence on tape, in the 1990s editors began to use computer-based nonlinear digital editing systems. In nonlinear editing, film footage is stored as digital information on high-capacity computer hard drives. Individual takes can be organized easily and accessed instantaneously, sound-editing options can be explored simultaneously with picture editing, and optical effects such as dissolves and fades can be immediately visualized on the computer rather than added much later in the printing process. Feature films were soon edited with nonlinear computer- based systems regardless of whether they were shot on 35mm film or digital video.

The more rapid pace of contemporary films seems to correlate with digital editing. Average shot length has declined significantly, with shots in Quantum of Solace (2008) averaging around two seconds [Figure 4.9], compared with the ten-second shots measured by scholars in The Grapes of Wrath (1940). However, digital filmmaking can also embrace the opposite aesthetic effect. On film, the length of a single take was limited by how much stock the camera could hold; on video, the duration of a shot is virtually limitless. Filmmaker Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2002) is a virtuoso feature-length film with no cuts at all [Figure 4.10].

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4.9 Quantum of Solace (2008). This entry in the James Bond franchise utilizes extremely quick cutting, especially in its action sequences.

4.10 Russian Ark (2002). Wandering through the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and seeming to pass through historical eras, the digital camera is the vehicle for this film’s meditation on art, politics, and Russian history, conveyed as a single ninety-six-minute shot.

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The Elements of Editing Film editing is the process through which different images or shots are linked together sequentially. A shot is a continuous image, regardless of the camera movement or changes in focus it may record. Editing can produce meaning by combining shots in an infinite number of ways. One shot is selected and joined to

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other shots by the editor to guide viewers’ perceptions. For example, the opening sequence of Crooklyn (1994) depicts the Brooklyn block where the film is set by editing together a high-angle moving crane shot that provides an overview of the neighborhood and its inhabitants and a variety of shots of people and their activities [Figures 4.11a–4.11c].

(a)

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(b)

(c)

4.11a–4.11c Crooklyn (1994). The credits sequence of Spike Lee’s film juxtaposes a moving crane shot of a Brooklyn block with a series of short takes of daily activities to convey a sense of a tight-knit community.

If a shot presents mise-en-scène from a single perspective, film editing conveys multiple perspectives by linking shots in various relationships. Some of these relationships mimic the way an individual looks at the world—for example, a shot of someone looking off in the distance linked to an extreme long shot of an airplane

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in the sky. But often these relationships exceed everyday perception, as in the shot of birds flying over Bodega Bay seen from above in The Birds (1963), an inhuman perspective that, juxtaposed with shots on street level, adds to the film’s uncanny effect. Edited images may leap from one location to another or one time to another and may show different perspectives on the same event. Editing is one of the most significant developments in the syntax of cinema because it allows for a departure from both the limited perspective and the continuous duration of a shot.

The Cut and Other Transitions The earliest films consisted of a single shot, which could run only as long as the reel of film in the camera lasted. In his early trick films, pioneer Georges Méliès manipulated this limitation by stopping the camera, rearranging the mise-en-scène, and resuming filming to make objects and people seem to disappear or transform. It was a short step to achieving such juxtapositions by physically cutting the film. In Méliès’s 1903 film Living Playing Cards, a magician, played by Méliès himself, seems to make his props come alive [Figures 4.12a and 4.12b].

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4.12a and 4.12b Living Playing Cards (1903). Pioneer George Méliès anticipated later editing techniques with magical transformations.

Even when they are intended to seem like magic, transitions between film shots, along with the technical labor of editing, are often obscured. Rarely can viewers describe or enumerate the edits that make a particular film sequence memorable. Learning to watch for this basic element of film language gives the viewer insight into the art of the film.

The foundation for film editing is the cut — that is, the break in the image that marks the physical connection between two shots from two different pieces of film. A single shot can depict a woman looking at a ship at sea by showing a close-up of her face and then panning to the right, following her glance to reveal the distant ship she is watching. A cut, on the other hand, renders this action in two shots, with the first showing the woman’s face and the second showing the ship. While the facts of the situation remain the same, the single-shot pan and the cut joining two shots create different experiences of the scenario. The first might emphasize the distance that separates the woman from the object of her vision. The second might create a sense of immediacy and intimacy that transcends the distance. In a key scene from The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), we first see several characters occupying different spaces of the same shot [Figure 4.13a]. After the character on the right shifts his attention to the character in the background, we are presented with a cut isolating them [Figures 4.13b and 4.13c]. As these examples illustrate, the use of a cut usually follows a particular logic, in this case emphasizing the significance of the character’s gaze. The less frequently used shock cut juxtaposes two images

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whose dramatic difference creates a jarring effect, often accompanied by a jolt on the soundtrack, as in the shower murder sequence in Psycho (1960), emulated in countless subsequent horror films. Later in this chapter we will investigate additional ways that editing may create logical or unexpected links among different images.

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VIEWING CUE Count the shots in the scene from Chinatown (1974) available online. What is the motivation behind each cut? What overall pattern do these cuts create?

(c)

4.13a–4.13c The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Director William Wyler uses composition in depth and editing to bring out developing tensions in the friendship of three returning veterans. In the first shot, (a) our attention is drawn to the figures in the foreground. When Al turns (b) to watch Fred make a difficult phone call in the background of the shot, the film cuts to a second shot (c) that emphasizes the relationship between these two figures.

Edits can be embellished in ways that guide our experience and understanding of the transition. For example, fade-outs gradually darken and make one image disappear, while fade-ins do the opposite. Alfred Hitchcock fades to black to mark the passing of time throughout Rear Window (1954). A dissolve briefly superimposes one shot over the next, which takes its place: one image fades out as another image fades in [Figure 4.14]. In studio-era Hollywood films, these devices were used to indicate a more definite spatial or temporal break than do straight cuts, and they often mark pauses between narrative sequences or larger segments of a film. A dissolve can take us from one part of town to another, while a fade-out, a more visible break, can indicate that the action is resuming the next day. The iris, discussed in Chapter 3 (see p. 108), masks the corners of the frame with a black, usually circular form [Figure 4.15], while wipes join two images by moving a vertical, horizontal,

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or sometimes diagonal line across one image to replace it with a second image that follows the line across the frame [Figure 4.16]. Wipes and irises are most often found in silent and early sound films.

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4.14 The Scarlet Empress (1934). Extended dissolves were a favorite device in director Josef von Sternberg’s very stylized filmmaking. The layering of a conversation and the approach of a carriage appear almost as an abstract pattern.

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4.15 Broken Blossoms (1919). The iris was often used in films by D. W. Griffith to highlight objects or faces. Here it focuses our attention and emphasizes the vulnerability of Lillian Gish’s character.

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VIEWING CUE Look for examples of transitional devices besides cuts. What spatial, temporal, or conceptual relationship is being set up between scenes joined by a fade, a dissolve, an iris, or a wipe?

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4.16 Desert Hearts (1985). In a film set in the 1950s, a wipe creates a nostalgic reference to earlier editing techniques, but it may also suggest a certain kind of transience in the world of the characters.

Although editing can generate an infinite number of combinations of images, within the Hollywood storytelling tradition rules have developed to limit those possibilities, as we will see. Other film traditions, most notably those of avant-garde and experimental cinema (see Chapter 8), can be characterized by their degree of interest in exploiting the range of editing possibilities as a primary formal property of film.

When watching movies, we manage to make sense of a series of discontinuous, linked images, understanding them according to conventional ways of interpreting space, time, story, and image patterns. We understand the action sequences in Fast & Furious 6 (2013) despite the improbable feats performed by the characters. Likewise, we make connections among the three separate narratives from three separate periods in The Hours (2002). Editing patterns also anticipate and structure narrative organizations. The next three sections will explore the spatial and temporal relationships established by editing and introduce the rules of the Hollywood continuity editing system. Subsequent discussion will examine patterns of editing images based on graphic, movement, and rhythmic connections in order to show how different techniques provide very different experiences.

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Continuity Style In both narrative and non-narrative films, editing is a crucial strategy for ordering space and time. Two or more images can be linked to imply spatial and temporal relations to the viewer. Verisimilitude (literally, “the quality of having the appearance of truth”) allows readers or viewers to accept as plausible a constructed world, its events, its characters, and their actions. In cinematic storytelling, clear, consistent spatial and temporal patterns greatly enhance verisimilitude, and, along with conventions of dialogue, mise-en-scène, cinematography, and sound, form part of Hollywood’s overall continuity style. In the commercial U.S. film industry, spatial and temporal continuity are greatly enhanced through conventions of editing. Because its constructions of space and time are so codified and widely used, we will devote special consideration to this style.

The basic principle of continuity editing is that each shot has a continuous relationship to the next shot. Continuity editing is a system that uses cuts and other transitions to establish verisimilitude and to tell stories efficiently, requiring minimal mental effort on the part of viewers. Two particular goals constitute the heart of this style: constructing an imaginary space in which the action will develop, and approximating the experience of real time by following human actions.

In continuity editing, after the initial view of a scene, subsequent shots typically follow the logic of spatial continuity. If a character appears at the left of the screen looking toward the right in the establishing shot, it is likely that he or she will be shown looking in the same direction in the medium shot that follows. Movements that carry across cuts will also adhere to a consistent screen direction. A character exiting the right of a frame will probably enter a new space

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VIEWING CUE Estimate the number of shots in a scene from a narrative film, then watch the scene, clapping with each cut. Were more shots used than you had imagined?

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from the left. Similarly, a chase sequence covering great distances is likely to provide directional cues. Continuity editing has developed and deployed

these patterns so consistently that it has become the dominant method of treating dramatic material, with its own set of rules that narrative filmmakers learn early. Minimizing the perception of breaks between shots, it is often called invisible editing. The argument between the lovers in The Notebook (2004) uses numerous invisible cuts to shift focus from character to character and to underscore the scene’s emotional resonance as they move within the clearly delineated space between the front porch and a parked car.

Spatial patterns are frequently introduced through the use of an establishing shot, generally an initial long shot that establishes the setting and orients the viewer in space to a clear view of the action. A scene in a western, for example, might begin with an extreme long shot of wide-open space and then cut in to a shot that shows a stagecoach or saloon, followed by other, tighter shots introducing the characters and action.

A conversation is usually established with a relatively close shot of both characters, also known as a two- shot, in a recognizable spatial orientation and context. Then the camera alternates between the speaking characters, often using over-the-shoulder shots. The editing may proceed back and forth, with periodic returns to the initial view. Such reestablishing shots restore a seemingly objective view, making the action perfectly clear to the viewers. Early in Howard Hawks’s The Big Sleep (1946), when detective Philip Marlowe (played by Humphrey Bogart) is hired by General Sternwood, the scene opens with an establishing shot, and their conversation follows this pattern [Figures 4.17a–4.17h]. Although many shots are edited together in the course of the conversation, the transitions remain largely invisible because the angle from which each character is filmed remains consistent and the dialogue continues over the cuts. Such editing practices are ubiquitous; we have learned to expect the coordination of conversations with medium close-ups of characters speaking and listening, just as we expect that these figures will be situated in a realistic space.

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(a)

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(b)

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(c)

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(d)

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(e)

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(f)

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(g)

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(h)

4.17a–4.17h The Big Sleep (1946). The simple interview, which provides a great deal of plot information, is broken down by many imperceptible cuts. After an initial establishing shot, alternating shots of the two characters in conversation cut in closer and closer and eventually focus our attention on the protagonist’s face. Finally the space is reestablished at the end of the interview.

Another device that is used in continuity editing is the insert, a brief shot such as a close-up of a hand slipping something into a pocket or a subtle smile that other characters do not see. The use of inserts helps overcome viewers’ spatial separation from the action, pointing out details significant to the plot — for example, showing us a nest of dangerous tracker-jackers [Figure 4.18], or making a comparison that transcends the characters’ perpectives [Figure 4.19].

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4.18 The Hunger Games (2012). An insert shows the nest of venomous tracker-jackers that Katniss aims to set loose on her rivals.

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4.19 Fury (1936). Fritz Lang dissolves from one shot of women chatting to another of chickens clucking to illustrate the emptiness of gossip in a rare example of a nondiegetic insert in a classical film.

Continuity editing minimizes disruptive effects and maximizes the viewer’s ability to follow the action through practices that give a sense of spatial and temporal consistency. Some of these practices have become so codified they are viewed as rules.

180-Degree Rule The 180-degree rule is the primary rule of continuity editing and one that many films and television shows consider sacrosanct. The diagrams in Figure 4.20 (p. 148) illustrate the 180-degree rule in the scene from The Big Sleep discussed earlier. Marlowe and the general are filmed as if the space were bisected by an imaginary line known as the axis of action. All of the shots illustrated by the still images from The Big Sleep in Figures 4.17a–4.17h were taken from one side of the axis. In general, any shot taken from the same side of the axis of action will ensure that the relative positions of people and other elements of mise-en-scène, as well as the directions of gazes and movements, will remain consistent. If the camera were to cross into the 180-degree field on the other side of the line (represented by the shaded area in Figure 4.20, Diagram A), the characters’ onscreen positions would be reversed. During the unfolding of a scene, a new axis of action may be established by figure or camera movement. Directors may break the 180-degree rule and cross the line, either because they want to signify chaotic action or because conventional spatial continuity is not their primary aim.

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Diagram A

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