How To Read A Film 3:
03. Styles of Editing
Parallel editing basically means cutting between two or more different scenes within a sequence in order to create the feeling of "parallel" actions, thereby creating a "relationship" between the two scenes.
This type of editing between the "two" sets of action can create connection, allowing the audience to think of how the two scenes are related.
It is quite often used to create suspense or to create comparisons.
Parallel editing can "speed up" the "pacing" of a slow scene by intercutting (to put a film scene between two parts of a different scene) it with a more action-packed scene.
Let's have a look at parallel editing in action. Look at the extract from "The Godfather" (1972)
While the film's protagonist, Michael Corleone, attends the baptism of his nephew, a string of murders is carried out at his behest. The violent murders juxtaposed by the religious ceremony adds an intensity to the film that would otherwise not have been possible without parallel editing. Having the baptism scene followed by the murders would slow down the narrative and would not be as effective as the cross cutting.
I think that what makes the scene from "The Godfather II" so much compelling are:
- The scene begins with "the baptism" – which is something beautiful, holy and pleasing to watch, then, SURPRISE: while the viewers are expecting to just follow the holy rituals of baptism, they are "unexpectedly" introduced to witness a series of murders. So it is the SURPRISE effect (seeing suddenly what you never expected to happen at a particular moment).
- The "parallel" showing of the murders at the same time while the baptism takes place gives the viewers, somehow, the feeling as if they are committed based on a "divine order," or as if Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is just committing them according to some "divine right" or that by committing such murders, he is just delivering a "divine message!" – so that they are absolutely “justifiable” – and we, as viewers, actually "celebrate" with him the murders as a (his) victory such as we celebrate with him the baptism of his son (identification).
- There is something "aesthetic" about the way of showing the murders – although they are brutal, they are at the same time "beautiful" and "pleasing" to watch !
How could Coppola achieve this ?
I do NOT know !
A montage is a French term meaning “assembling shots” or “putting together.”
It is a film technique for putting together a series of short shots that create a composite picture.
In simple terms we can say that montage is a series of separate images, "moving" or "still", that are edited together to create a continuous sequence.
Montages enable filmmakers to communicate a large amount of information to an audience over a shorter span of time.
The idea of montage as a specific way of editing first came to prominence in the Soviet Union following the Revolution. Soviet filmmakers, in trying to use the art of cinema for the purposes of the revolution, were convinced of the power of editing to generate meaning and elicit emotion.
In its basic form, montage theory states that a series of connected images allows for complex ideas to be extracted from a sequence, and when strung together, constitute the entirety of a film's ideological and intellectual power.
In other words, the editing of shots rather than the "content" of the shot alone constitutes the force of a film.
Lev Kuleshov was arguably the first film theorist and was the one who demonstrated that editing meant more than splicing bits of film together to form a coherent story. Kuleshov proved that film was powerful and could evoke emotions based on their order and juxtaposition.
Montage 2 – Sergei Eisenstein:
One cannot talk about editing without mentioning Sergei Eisenstein (1898 – 1948) who is known to film history as a “revolutionary Russian director” whose films and theories of film still resonate with filmmakers today. Eisenstein experimented with the expressive means of the new medium of film and his films are famous for their strikingly composed shots, visual metaphors and rapid editing.
One of his most famous essays revolved around the five ‘methods of montage’, which described the different ways that shots could be compiled to achieve various outcomes (‘metric’, ‘rhythmic’, ‘tonal’, ‘overtonal’, ‘intellectual’).
One of Eisenstein’s most famous films is “Battleship Potemkin”. The film’s reenactment of the failed 1905 revolution against the Tsar is defined by the “Odessa Steps” scene where soldiers massacre civilians in rhythmic montage.
In this extract Eisenstein avoids focusing on a single, central protagonist in favour of creating the sense of a wider, cohesive populace.
It is important to look at the ways in which he edits together the different shots in order to "build up" tension and to "extract" an emotional response from the audience.
Eisenstein and the other Soviet filmmakers changed the ways in which films were edited and thus changed the ways in which filmic stories were told. They are almost second nature to us, a universal way to transport viewers and share emotions.
Now I know one more important thing – at least to me:
You have to have a heart that beats in order to be able to make such an emotions-loaded scene.
A very "cheerful" scene of so many little boats sailing around the battleship – sailing but as if “dancing”. People – men, women and children watch the “celebrating” event and share the happiness of watching it – even with the amputee – so a sense of “equality” among all of them is evoked.
Then the shooting and killing takes place, the soldiers are moving in a "steady", "rhythmic", and "determined" way to kill – a killing machine (heartless).
A harsh CONTRAST (to SHOCK the viewers):
First, a cheering happy crowd with a sense of equality (full of living).
Then, robot–like soldiers are determined to kill (heartless = lifeless = death).
And then, in order to "break" the viewers' hearts, he uses the image of motherhood twice:
- The first mother carries the (trampled) dead body of her son and moves toward the soldiers as if asking them to recognize the brutality of their deed or as if asking for mercy, she is then shot dead.
- The second mother dies setting the motion of the baby carriage while the killing goes on like wheels – HEARTLESS.
Disjunctive editing is the complete opposite of continuity editing. Rather than achieving a continuous flow of time through editing, the filmmaker will instead take steps to create a discontinuous sequence that deliberately arranges shots in a way that would otherwise seem out of order or out of place for the viewer.
This style of editing creates a "disconnect" in which the audience cannot help but to focus on the juxtaposition of the images and shots as they appear out of place or as if they do not fit with one another.
It violates what viewers expect and creates a discontinuity.
One of the most common techniques used in this style of editing is the use of the jump cut.
Editing and Sound:
Whilst some scenes are edited to action, others might be edited to a music soundtrack. This will affect the ways in which the scene is cut together.
Music helps to create the mood of a piece. It can also influence the "rhythm of the editing" for that sequence.
If the music is romantic, the editor might cut very slowly from one scene to another, leaving individual shots on screen for a longer amount of time. However, when editing an action sequence, the editor might cut from one shot to another fairly rapidly.
- Is the sequence cut on the beat of the music, or off the beat of the music ?
- What difference does this make ?
- Does any background music create a tone or mood to the sequence ?