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A short history of filmmaking 5 – editing


film editing frank capra

Editing is such an important part of cinema, that we’ve almost forgotten that it’s there. Most films and tv-series try to ‘mask’ their edits as well as they can, trying to make the viewing experience as smooth as can be. This is the traditional Hollywood way of editing that was thought up during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The first edits, however, were much more visible. Here’s part one of a blogpost on how they came to be.

As you might remember from earlier blogposts, the first movies did not contain any editing at all. Cameras did not move and the celluloid inside the cameras was just one roll, 8 or 10 minutes long, that was used to film one continuous shot.

The first editing was so-called in-camera editing. You can see this in Melies trick movies, where he stopped the camera and then started filming again. In other films, the camera stopped and then started filming again after being moved to a different spot, for instance. There was no possibility to trim the shot so it had to be perfect. Thankfully nowadays we can trim shots and cut of the start of the beginning if we think it’s not suited to the movie – just look at how easy the Together app makes this when choosing “edit” on any single clip.

Around the mid-1910’s, a different way of editing was invented. It became possible to cut the celluloid and reassemble it again, making it possible to string different shots together, take out the takes that went wrong and create a story while guiding the audience in what to see – and even what to think.

In 1918, Russian director Kuleshov did famous experiment that really established the power of editing. He took a film clip of a Russian actor and intercut this with a clip of a bowl of soup, a child with a teddy bear and an elderly woman in a casket. People who saw the film thought the actor was really good as they saw his hunger, delight and grief. But the shot of the actor was old stock material and he’d never seen any of the items, let alone acted any emotion over them. The act of juxtaposing these shots in a sequence made the relationship.

More on editing techniques next week, hopefully we’ve already made you think about the power of editing. Why not try stringing some “random” clips together to create new meaning, like Kuleshov did? Have fun!

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