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History of Film Editing

History of Film Editing - I HISTORY OF FILM EDITING 1 The...

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Unformatted text preview: I HISTORY OF FILM EDITING 1 The Silent Period Film dates from 1895. When the first motion pictures were created, editing did not exist. The novelty of seeing a moving image was such that not even a screen story was necessary. The earliest films were less than a minute in length. They could be as simple as La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière ( Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory ) (1895) or Arrivée d’un Train en Gare ( Arrival of a Train at the Station ) (1895). One of the more popular films in New York was The Kiss (1896). Its success encouraged more films in a similar vein: A Boxing Bout (1896) and Skirt Dance (1896). Although George Méliès began producing more exotic “created” stories in France, such as Cinderella (1899) and A Trip to the Moon (1902), all of the early films shared certain charac- teristics. Editing was nonexistent or, at best, minimal in the case of Méliès. What is remarkable about this period is that in 30 short years, the princi- ples of classical editing were developed. In the early years, however, con- tinuity, screen direction, and dramatic emphasis through editing were not even goals. Cameras were placed without thought to compositional or emo- tional considerations. Lighting was notional (no dramatic intention meant), even for interior scenes. William Dickson used a Black Maria. 1 Light, camera placement, and camera movement were not variables in the filmic equation. In the earliest Auguste and Louis Lumière and Thomas Edison films, the camera recorded an event, an act, or an incident. Many of these early films were a single shot. Although Méliès’s films grew to a length of 14 minutes, they remained a series of single shots: tableaus that recorded a performed scene. All of the shots were strung together. The camera was stationary and distant from the action. The physical lengths of the shots were not varied for impact. Per- formance, not pace, was the prevailing intention. The films were edited to the extent that they consisted of more than one shot, but A Trip to the Moon is no more than a series of amusing shots, each a scene unto itself. The shots tell a story, but not in the manner to which we are accustomed. It was not until the work of Edwin S. Porter that editing became more purposeful. 3 EDWIN S. PORTER: FILM CONTINUITY BEGINS The pivotal year in Porter’s work was 1903. In that year, he began to use a visual continuity that made his films more dynamic. Méliès had used thea- trical devices and a playful sense of the fantastic to make his films seem more dynamic. Porter, impressed by the length and quality of Méliès’s work, discovered that the organization of shots in his films could make his screen stories seem more dynamic. He also discovered that the shot was the basic building block of the film. As Karel Reisz suggests, “Porter had demonstrated that the single shot, recording an incomplete piece of action, is the unit of which films must be constructed and thereby established the basic princi-...
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History of Film Editing - I HISTORY OF FILM EDITING 1 The...

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