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© Janet Parke

Film as Literature: Editing

Editing refers to the way the film segemnts are placed together to create a story. How a film is edited has a major effect on the audience's ability to follow plot. Jumpy abrupt chnages make an audience nervous or excited, whereas slow dissolves can seem boring and interminable to some.

Editing has an effect on the cinematic presentation. Techniques like montage, a cutting technique in which a series of images is presented one after another to show passage of time, is very effective in presenting a condensed story. We see this in films such as Grand Prix, which shows the evolution of a Formula One season speeded up through a series of images of racing, winners and losers, and spectators at various tracks across the world. Also popular is the jump cut which is an abrupt transition from one scene to the next, often used for the purpose of disorienting the audience and or abruptly changing tone and scene. The fade involves either starting with blackness and having an image slowly appear on the screen or having an image fade out to blackness slowly. In either case, these are used for transitioning from one scene to the next as well as the effect of, for example, showing a character losing or regaining consciousness. Dissolving involves changing from one image to the next by overlapping them as one fades out and one fades in simultaneously.

Continuity is the logical continuance from one scene to the next, one shot to the next. There is nothing more distracting than to see a shot of a man smoking a half-burned cigarette, and in the next shot the cigarette is full size. Also, having two characters meet as if strangers following a scene in which they are conversing can draw unwanted attention to the editor.

Whether or not the plot is linear is entirely affected by final editing, and of course there are completely linear plots, with no flashbacks; there are mixed works with some flashbacks or predictive scenes, and there are those that are deliberately nonlinear to enhance the character's perception of the works, such as Memento. Told linearly, the plot would have very little punch, and we would not be able to engage in the character's experience of recurrent amnesia.

Editing is one of the many tools used by directors to create a story. Careful use of its options can make a film a memorable for the audience.

Works Cited

Giannetti, Louis. Understanding Movies. 11th ed. Pearson/Prentice hall, 2008.

© T. T. Eiland, August, 2006
Last modified: January 19, 2008