The Evolution of Film Editing

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Film editing has come a long way since the days of silent films. From the early 1900s, when movies consisted of a single, uninterrupted shot, to today’s fast-paced digital world, where films can be edited on a computer with lightning speed, the art of editing has changed dramatically.

Silent Films

The earliest films were shot with stationary cameras, which captured the action from a fixed position, like watching a play. There were no close-ups or camera movements, and the films were edited by simply splicing together individual shots in the order they were shot. The editing style used was known as “continuity editing,” which is still used today.

D.W. Griffith, the director of the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, was one of the pioneers of film editing. He used the technique of “cross-cutting” to create tension in his films. For example, in one of the most famous scenes in The Birth of a Nation, he intercut between a chase scene and a family in distress, which increases the intensity of the scene.

As films became more popular, filmmakers began experimenting with different editing techniques. In the 1920s, Soviet filmmakers developed the concept of montage, which involved editing shots together to create a new, meaningful sequence. Montage was used to great effect in films like Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), which remains a classic example of the technique.

Classical Hollywood

During the classical Hollywood era (the 1920s to the 1960s), film editing became more refined. Directors like Alfred Hitchcock used editing techniques like the “Kuleshov effect” to create suspense and emotion in their films. The technique is where a shot of an actor’s face is intercut with various other shots to create meaning. Hitchcock used this technique in the famous shower scene in Psycho to create tension and fear in the audience.

New Hollywood

During the 1970s and 1980s, a new era of filmmaking emerged, known as New Hollywood. Filmmakers could now edit their films on a computer, which gave them more control over the editing process. The development of non-linear editing systems, which allowed editors to rearrange shots in any order they wanted, made it easier to experiment with different editing styles.

Coppola’s 1972 film The Godfather was a masterpiece of film editing. The film used the “parallel editing” technique to create a sense of tension and anticipation. In one scene, we see the baptism of Michael Corleone’s son, intercut with a montage of murders that Michael has ordered, creating a powerful emotional impact on the audience.

Scorsese’s 1980 film Raging Bull used a unique editing style known as “intensified continuity.” This technique used shorter shots and faster cuts to create a sense of energy and urgency. The film’s fight scenes were edited chaotically and viscerally, which made them feel more real and intense.

Digital Age

In the digital age, editing has become even more complex with computer software and advanced special effects. This allowed filmmakers to create complex digital effects and compositing to manipulate footage in ways that were impossible with traditional editing techniques.

Nolan’s 2010 film Inception used a unique style of editing that played with the audience’s perception of time. The film’s dream sequences were edited in a non-linear fashion, creating a sense of disorientation and confusion. In his film Dunkirk, Nolan used three different storyline time periods (one week out, one day out, one hour out) that he compressed for parallel action.

Fincher’s 2010 film The Social Network used editing to tell the story in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth in time. The film’s editing helped to create a sense of tension and drama, which kept the audience engaged throughout the film.

The Future

From shaping the narrative to creating emotional impact, film editing is a vital part of the art of cinema. With the widespread use of digital technology, editing has become an even more sophisticated art form. Editing is the tool, coupled with music, that allows the director to emotionally touch the audience.

Copyright © 2023 by CJ Powers