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Towards a Theory of Film Editing

Editing is a form of communication based on the cut, which encourages the viewer to infer the meaning of a sequence of shots finding the best possible explanation for the sequence. The grounds for inference are varied and numerous. They include several types of narrative considerations, sensuous and thematic comparisons and contrasts, as well as linguistic and conceptual evocations. These grounds serve as inductive premises, which, when combined with the particularities of the film itself and its broader historical context, yield hypotheses about the meaning of the shot linkages.

The viewer may have to sift through his repertoire of inductive strategies to unravel the sequence; this search is predicated on postulating the most coherent account of the film material. In cases where editing defies traditional methods of induction, in order to explain it, the viewer will have to observe how the given shot chain relates to the film history, as its possible amplification or repudiation of more entrenched practices. In order to interpret the editing, he will also have to use his cultural knowledge. The viewer will not read the explanation, but infer it. Where he can find no explanation, he will label the editing as senseless or a mistake.

The author offers his explanation from the perspective of the spectator who is a member of the circuit of communication. This approach places the responsibility for the use of cutting to elicit inferences from the spectator on the filmmaker. Most authors will demand an even heavier responsibility. Namely, they are determined to elicit a specific, preordained comprehension of the shot chain. However, it is probably not necessary to have an intended meaning to communicate for a cut to be a successful piece of editing. Some shot interpolations may suggest inferences that the author had not planned. Nevertheless, in most cases, the author manages to convey the intended message. How is that possible? This model claims that the film author and the viewer are members of the same institution of world cinema, share the same bases for induction, moreover, they belong to the same twentieth-century world culture.

Noël Carroll

Notional Editing
Narration and Space

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