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Cutting Through Time: A Comprehensive Look at the History of Film Editing

The history of editing is relatively recent compared to the inception of motion pictures. During the early days of film, most recordings were single takes—simple footage capturing small side-show acts, nickelodeon performances, and other one-shot gimmicky presentations. At that time, there was no structured narrative.

To provide context, many of the linked videos revisit similar details. Despite this overlap, I recommend watching all of them, as each offers unique elements and different information about what constitutes an edit.

Of particular interest are the first two videos, with a personal preference for the initial one titled 'Crash Course: Know Your Film Editing History.

I have a minor disagreement with a point in the video, particularly around the 2:46 mark, where Tyler Danna discusses continuity editing. He emphasizes that editing is not just about cutting scenes together but about creating a story.

While I acknowledge the importance of narrative creation through editing, I believe there's value in recognizing the cutting aspect. Danna refers to Georges Méliès' 'A Trip To The Moon' to illustrate that old films lacked continuity editing, as everything was shot as a master shot. However, even in such films, there's substantial editing, evident in techniques like the substitution splice, akin to a jump cut, and primitive color correction involving drawing on the physical film.

Quentin Tarantino, as mentioned in our Directors Talk About Editing post, highlights the precision of the cut's location, asserting that even a few frames can make the difference between a sour and a sweet note.

I wanted to include this perspective to broaden our discussion beyond continuity editing and delve into the broader history of editing.

I observed distinctions between the last two videos. While 'This Guy Edits' focused on continuity editing, 'Filmmaker IQ' brought up intriguing points about editing in a more general sense. I find myself inclined to agree with the latter. Even though some effects were achieved in-camera, such as fade-ins, fade-outs, and multiple exposures (e.g., 'The Four Troublesome Heads'), does this not still qualify as editing?

Consider in-camera effects achieved using graduated filters on a camera lens to manipulate the sky's exposure and color. Could this be seen as a form of color correction, even without post-production filters? It's worth contemplating, especially when examining iconic movie intros like one of the greatest ever, where titles were done in-camera.

This raises an interesting question: do these title effects fall under cinematography or editing? The same query applies to the intro title crawl in 'Star Wars,' which was also done in-camera. While they were edited to be slightly different in their final context, it prompts us to reconsider the boundaries between cinematography and editing. As just an individual sharing thoughts on the internet, it's a fascinating aspect to ponder.


Soviet Montage Editing


French New Wave


Transition to Digital Editing

I understand that this section may not be as crucial. As an editor, it's valuable to delve into the Soviet Montage editing styles and the French New Wave style. In the last video, the emphasis on the French New Wave suggests its significance in the realm of editing.

While the transition from analog (film and tape) to digital editing machines may not be as widely discussed, it's crucial for editors to pay attention to this evolution. For further insight, Steven Spielberg's perspective on this transition is worth exploring.

The shift in editing methods, like many other innovations in the field, appears to be subjective. It's all about how you want your edit to feel. If you believe your film will have a more genuine and cherished quality by physically cutting the film, then go for it. On the other hand, if you don't see the medium as a crucial factor, transferring it and editing on a computer might be the preferred route.

Adobe has compiled a helpful infographic illustrating the evolution of editing equipment, providing a visual journey through the technological advancements in the editing process.

While the next set of videos may not be as crucial, Linus provides a helpful crash course summarizing the content you've already covered, including a brief history of digital editing. Although there may not be much additional information to discuss, I still encourage you to watch these final videos. Understanding where you came from and embracing some redundancy in learning can be valuable. Feel free to follow along with the provided Adobe infographic for a visual representation of the evolution of editing equipment.



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