motion picture photography

Film Editing

In the first decade of filmmaking, pioneers Georges Méliès and Edwin S. Porter found that the effect of motion could be warped, shooting the film at a slower speed than it was projected to produce a speeded-up image (and vice versa) which could be used for comical or fantastical purposes. Porter and especially D. W. Griffith discovered that cutting, or editing, strips of films did not destroy the viewer's ability to comprehend the flow of images.

Griffith developed the use of the close-up, a full view of a detail within the larger image, often a hand, face, or object, the audience retaining the context of the scene into which the close-up was cut. With this method, Griffith was able to bind the audience closer to the characters on the screen, intensifying emotional involvement with the story. Griffith also experimented with cutting scenes widely separated in space but meant to communicate a temporal simultaneity. Thus, in The Lonesdale Operator (1909), when the heroine is menaced by the villain, Griffith could cut to her approaching rescuers and through ever-shorter alternations between the two actions could imply that the rescuers were coming closer until, finally, the two converge in the same frame and the heroine is rescued. Griffith's use of editing became extremely sophisticated, but was a largely intuitive process.

The initial codification of editing possibilities and the theory and application of it for aesthetic purposes began in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Montage, the cutting of images so that meaning could be generated from their juxtaposition, was devised by Sergei M. Eisenstein and demonstrated with unusual power in the scene depicting the slaughter of civilians by Russian troops on the Odessa steps in the classic film The Battleship Potemkin (1925). In this scene, hundreds of shots, some on screen for no longer than a second or two, communicate an overwhelming sense of violence and terror while depicting no direct violence in any one image. Filmmakers in general incorporated editing as one element of a total work rather than the determining element of the work itself.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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