We've relaunched as a full community! Get the scoop:

October 4, 2013

Understanding the Hidden Editing in Hitchcock's 'Rope'

Alfred Hitchcock RopeQuite possibly one of the first things learned about editing, whether in a class or on the job, is that "good" editing is invisible. The classical Hollywood style of editing doesn't call attention to itself, because to do that would take the audience out of the story space and shift their focus onto the techniques used to make the film they're watching. Of course, you could avoid all of the pitfalls of bad editing by just -- not editing your footage (that's a joke,) which is the illusion Alfred Hitchcock created in his 1948 crime thriller Rope. How did ol' Hitch pull it off? Vashi Nedomansky of Vashi Visuals shows us how.

Right of the bat, let's get something straight -- there is editing in Rope. Any movie filmed on 35mm has cuts, because a 35mm magazine can only hold 10 minutes of footage. In fact, there are blatant hard cuts that weren't even attempted to be hidden, but the scarcity of edits, as well as the use of handheld camerawork, are what make Rope so important to cinema.

Even though there is editing, it's often described as a film that plays out in real time. Why? Probably because it's such an immersive piece of filmmaking; the hidden edits and use of handheld cameras follow and track its characters, allowing audiences to experience and react to each situation at the same moment the actors do -- right in the thick of the action.

If you haven't seen the film before, definitely carve out an hour and a half of your day to check it out and try and spot the edits yourself. Or you could check out this video that Vashi uploaded today that pinpoints all 10 in Hitchcock's film.

A couple of things to think about: Unless your intention is to call attention to the editing in your film, getting down a rhythm and pattern to hide cuts is definitely an important part of storytelling. Utilizing the dissolves and wipes that appear in Rope are effective, but there are many contemporary editing techniques that get the job done -- other than a well-timed cut of course.

Also, it's important to remember that cinema is an abstraction of time and space, and that abstraction is created by the camera, influenced by the filmmaker, and experienced by the viewer. With a film that plays out in "real time," time seems less like an abstraction, which gives the impression to the viewer that what they're seeing is real life -- "real" real life.

This type of filmmaking (editing included) opens up the diegesis to the audience, letting their attention go where they want it to go. So really, a film becomes more subjective with these techniques employed. Vashi shares a great resource, an article written by Peter J. Dellolio, that takes a closer look at the film's editing on a theoretical level.

In Rope, a synthesis of real time and filmic space forces the viewer to absorb narrative information on multiple, often distastefully ironic levels. At the same time, the viewer is given freedom of selection in terms of how, when, and why her/her attention is split, inviting some comparison with similar choices experienced during depth of focus shots, a spatial configuration that Hitchcock characteristically avoided.

Rope murder

The subjectivity, realism, and immersion of the editing reminds me of the editing (and narrative/cinematographic techniques) of Italian neorealism, which if you need a refresher on the film movement, check out our article here.

For more information about the editing in Hitchcock's Rope, be sure to head over to Vashi's article.

Are there any editing techniques that you find especially helpful in doing this? What films, other than Rope, would you suggest studying for its editing?

Link: Filmic space and real time in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope -- Flickhead

[via Vashi Visuals]

Your Comment

14 Comments

Silent House, a newer film, uses the same "continuous shot" editing technique. I liked the movie and enjoy these types of methods. The choreography to get the shots has to be spot on.

October 4, 2013

0
Reply
Billy Chase

Excellent point. Though there's no post-production editing (or little,) essentially the staging and movement become the editing.

October 4, 2013

0
Reply
avatar
V Renée
Managing Editor
Writer/Director

Even when there is a hard cut, it happens when someone interjects into a conversation and attention is then drawn to that person much like the attention of the listening characters who's attentions are drawn to the new person. Brilliant!

Rope is also a good example of past censorship of invisible minorities. Back then you weren't allowed to show a gay character as "normal" so there's no mention of it. (This was also the case with Blacks and Asians back then.) The two leads are obviously a same-sex couple and we can easily read that into it today but I wonder back then who clued in to that.

October 4, 2013

0
Reply

Honestly... It might have been great and something special back in that day, but I think it looks and works terrible. Especially the "dissolves" are annoying... too slow and most of them nothing that couldn't be handled by a skilled steadicam op in todays environment.

So I left with the feeling... why did I need to see this? I think there's a place for long takes and a place for rapid cuts. But that Hitchcock thing, may he rest in peace, has no place in my world.

October 4, 2013

0
Reply
Torben Greve

I think it's important to know where our contemporary techniques come from. Hitchcock is only one of the early users of handheld filmmaking (and the editing style that came out of it.)

http://nofilmschool.com/2013/07/watch-documentary-camer-that-changed-fil...

October 4, 2013

0
Reply
avatar
V Renée
Managing Editor
Writer/Director

Regarding the origin of techniques, a "hitlist" of who did what in the pioneering days would be great as a future post ! Many thanks.

October 4, 2013

0
Reply
Saied

He could have avoided the dissolves except the amount of film they could spool was limited (10 minutes I believe). If Mr. Hitchcock has access to today's digital cameras, I believe he would have done away with some of the "invisible" transitions.

Personally, I still feel the transitions could have been subtler, but the blocking/staging is more the trick to no cuts, and in this I believe Hitchcock did a solid job, even if the pacing reflects the time period.

October 4, 2013

0
Reply
Morgan C.

Hitchcock used continuous shots to provide himself a challenge: How does one create suspense without using editing?

As a result, he had to use lighting, sound, composition, and blocking to help him. Honestly, he thought the experiment was a semi-failure. Stewart even protested at times, in a funny way, by telling Hitch to "put up bleachers and sell tickets for an audience" instead of making a movie.

I think the film has value and it is part of my Film class curriculum. It forces the viewer to really identify the importance or significance of editing when telling a story.

BTW, the Hard Boiled vs Borne comparison is a great idea! Thanks for that.

October 5, 2013

0
Reply
nutbowl

@Torben Greve

You're missing the whole point. You obviously don't understand the context and how groundbreaking this was. If you can't appreciate what this means, I doubt your own work will have much substance, if any.

October 6, 2013

0
Reply
Ron I

I wish more mainstream movies nowadays would use this technique to their advantage. It bothers me when films consistently use hard cuts. Esp during dialogues.

October 4, 2013

0
Reply
Jared Liverpool

This comment has more to do with style than simply editing, but I teach an Introduction to Film Studies course at my university and just last week I showed my students two short film clips of popular action films and asked them to count the edits. The first clip was from The Bourne Supremacy by Paul Greengrass. The clip ran about 3-4 minutes and most of the students gave up trying to count after one minute. Those who tried to count till the end tallied about 170-200 edits. Then I showed them an equal length clip from John Woo's Hard Boiled. That clip had about 12 edits. We talked about how neither editing/style was right or wrong, but discussed how each enhanced the viewing experience. We will be watching Rope later this semester and I hope to revisit this article at that time.

October 4, 2013

0
Reply
Aaron

Firstly nice find - I really like this movie - because of it's camera- and editing technique!
But I have one little correction: There are no handheld shots in this movie. Blimped Cameras at the time where impossible to handhold because of their size and wheight. It's all Dolly-/Craneshots with furniture and the set's walls being moved out of the way and reset just as the giant camera passes.
Have a look at that picture:
http://lisathatcher.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/rope-set.jpg
Yes that thing behind Hitch is the camera mounted on a Dolly-Jib. You see the giant blimp making the camera the size of a fridge - way bigger then even IMAX-Cameras of today. Handholdable 35mm-Sync-Sound-Cameras where only introduced in the early 70s (the first Panaflex and the Arriflex BL), when the revolution of handheld camera work finally took place.

October 5, 2013

0
Reply
MGS

"as well as the use of handheld camerawork"

I seem to remember no such handheld shots. And besides... I'd like to see the guy that could handheld the refrigirator-sized blimped camera-rigs that where used for that film. ;)

Though it was a few years now since I last saw it. Maybe some insert was handheld? I doubt any of the long-takes where though...

October 6, 2013

0
Reply

IMHO it's not one of Hitch's best; that may not be because of the "no edit" style but rather a boring story (the action's up front)/acting/etc.

October 10, 2013

0
Reply