The Language of Film:



Sequences—A series of scenes or shots unified by a shared action or motif. A sequence corresponds roughly to a chapter in a novel, the shots being sentences and the sequences being paragraphs.

*      Intercut: Within a sequence may be an intercut, a switch to another action that, for example, provides an ironic comment on the main action of the sequence.

*      Parallel editing: Occurs when intercuts are so abundant in a sequence that two or more sequences are going on at once.


Transitions—Movements from one sequence to another.

*      Straight cut: transitional device in which a strip of film is spliced to another, resulting in an instantaneous transfer from one shot to the next. The most common form of transition.

*      Double cutting: Splicing the same image multiple times. Spike Lee comments that he uses this technique to “emphasize the moment.”

*      Dissolve: Old transitional device in which a shot dissolves while a new shot appears to emerge beneath it. As a result, there is a moment when we get a superimposition of both scenes.

*      Fade: Old transitional device.

Fade-out: the screen grows darker until black.

Fade-in: the screen grows lighter until the new screen is fully visible.

                                    i.      Wipe: Older transitional device found in many old films and some modern films that seek an archaic effect. The wipe acts as a sort of windshield wiper that wipes off the first scene, revealing the next.

                                    ii.      Iris: Older transitional device also found in older films.

1.    Iris-in: The new scene first appears in the center of the previous scene and then this circle expands until it fills the screen.

2.    Iris-out: Shows the new scene first appearing along the perimeter and then the circle closes in on the previous scene.


Example: Transitional techniques in Spike Lee’s 25th Hour.


All transitions discussed above are examples of editing techniques. Films are nothing more than scenes and sequences of scenes that have been pasted together in some way. A filmmaker chooses to assemble scenes in a way that establishes a certain meaning or creates a certain emotion which ultimately embodies the filmmaker’s vision.

                                    iii.      Montage: (the French word for editing). According to Barnett, a montage has different meanings for Russian, French, and American filmmakers. In Hollywood it refers to any sequence of rapidly edited images that suggests the passage of time or events. It sketches but does not develop information about characters. [i.e, “Left Turn to Where?”]


Continuity editing or invisible editing—most of us pay little attention to editing because we enjoy most the continuity editing of classical cinema. This editing style is appropriately called invisible because the filmmaker, not wanting to interrupt the audience’s focus, edits images together as seamlessly as possible.


As you begin analyzing the editing techniques in film, consider the following questions:


1. When a filmmaker uses continuity editing, are there implications concerning the world and society in the “continuity”? Is the movie trying to create a sense of a logical or safe world? Do long (establishing) shots, for instance, indicate that the characters (and audience) know where they are and should feel at home?


2. In films that break away from continuity editing, why are there so few long (establishing) shots in them? Is it difficult to say where an action takes place because the scene begins with a close-up of a character or inside an unidentified room? Do the characters seem to share our disorientation? Is the disorientation related to the themes of the film?


3. Is there a point of view we can identify with? Does the filmmaker force his audience to remain detached from the ordinary people and to identify instead with something or someone else? Does the film contain images that seem to have no place in the story? A movie about war may cut to an image of a cherry tree time and time again. Is it a symbol? Is it part of the character’s memory? Why is the continuity of the action broken by this unexplained image?



Discussion: pay attention to the way Spike Lee, in 25th Hour, interjects seemingly “random” images into scenes: in “Left Turn to Where?” for example, images of Monty and his father driving in the car frequently cut to images of a forked river, a buss with “Christ is the Answer,” and particularly images of the American flag. What is the purpose of this type of back-and-forth editing and the images presented in these clips?