Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Editing: A Film History

With the advent of cinema in the late 19th and early 20th century, the concept of editing was rarely, if minimally used. Many early films were a single shot. Editing was minimally used by Georges Mélies in his famous 1902 work A Trip To The Moon.

Most of the shots in this film by 
Mélies are a series of single shots.

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

 Uploaded by on Oct 8, 2010

Contrast this film with the music video by the American grunge band The Smashing Pumpkins, who use the plot of A Trip To The Moon but with faster, slicker edits.

The Smashing Pumpkins - Tonight, Tonight


Edwin S. Porter's The Life Of An American Fireman (1903) built on  the work of
Mélies and was one of the first directors to make editing more purposeful. The alteration between the woman's room on fire and the race of the fire brigade to save them gave an added sense of drama, where two separately filmed parts could give a greater meaning and sense of empathy and deeper involvement with the audience.

Life of an American Fireman 1903

Uploaded by on Mar 7, 2007

Porter built on this work with The Great Train Robbery (1903), which despite some of the shots being long, no single-shots happen from beginning to end. In this short film you see the robbery, the get-away, the pursuit and the capture. It is not necessary to see the entire shot to understand what is happening narratively and to give it a sense of continuity.

The Great Train Robbery 

Uploaded by on Jan 16, 2007

D.W. Griffith was seen to be the person to advance film to the next step in terms of film editing. His work was a great influence on Hollywood and Russian revolutionary cinema. His work included a variety of shots for impact, the extreme long shot, the close-up, the cutaway, tracking shots as well as variations in pace.

In the clip below of Enoch Arden, Griffith uses a close up of a wife's face as she waits for her husband to return. This demonstration of long, medium and close up shots meant that the audience could be drawn further in emotionally. The use of close-ups such as this were quickly picked up by other filmmakers.


 Uploaded by on Nov 15, 2007

Birth of a Nation is Griffith's most famous and epic yet controversial work. It tells the story of 2 families engaged in the civil war. The work is nearly 3 hours long and is controversial today as a result of how it treats racism.  I'm only including a trailer below, as it can be viewed in its entirety here 

Birth of a Nation by D.W. Griffith - Trailer (1915) 

 Uploaded by on Feb 17, 2007

The idea of parallel action intercut with each other can also be seen in Griffith's The Lonely Villa (1909) where a vunerable family is intercut with burglars.


Uploaded by  on 30 Mar 2009


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