October 12, 2013

Pudovkin's Montage: 5 Editing Techniques That Speak Louder Than Words

PudovkinWhen it comes to Russian filmmakers, the first names that come to nearly everyone's mind are Andrei Tarkovsky and  Sergei Eisenstein. Both were exceptional, and Eisenstein is seen as the father of modern montage theory. However, a lesser known filmmaker, Vsevolod Pudovkin, proves just how integral Russian film was to cinema at the beginning of the 20th century by providing his own montage theory, slightly different from that of Eisenstein, that formed the foundation of the classic Hollywood style of editing, which is used in almost every film today. Continue on to check out an informative video that explains Pudovkin's essential editing techniques.

Though Pudovkin's name may not ring a bell for some, his teacher's might. Pudovkin was the student of Lev Kuleshov, who, for one, was arguably the very first film theorist ever, and two, was the one who demonstrated that editing meant more than splicing bits of film together to form a coherent story; it was powerful and could evoke emotions based on their order and juxtaposition. This reaction to editing is called the  Kuleshov Effect. Kuleshov's original editing experiment is below:

It is argued that Pudovkin was the experiment's co-creator. It wouldn't be surprising to learn for sure that he was, since his theories on editing helped establish modern editing, as well as create a film language for editing that we still use to this day.

At its core, the early Russian film theorists, like Pudovkin, believed that editing, the organization and placement of shots, was a means of expression that was unique to filmmaking -- something that wasn't (and still isn't) done in literature, theater, paintings, or the plastic arts. "The foundation of film art is editing."

Pudovkin's 5 editing techniques are: contrast, parallelism, symbolism, simultaneity, and leit motif. Each of these techniques are in every editor's arsenal and used in virtually every film made around the world. Becoming familiar with each of them is essential if you want to speak to your audience in a subtle way, rather than through extensive (and obnoxious) verbal on-screen exposition.

The video below by filmmaker Evan Richards explains each in detail, as well as offering examples from contemporary films.

A big thanks to Evan Richards for sharing his video with us. Also, who doesn't like free film theory books from those who wrote the book on film? Richards also gave a link to Pudovkin's book Film Technique and Film Acting -- a collection of his writings on cinema that was published in 1954. You can download the PDF for free here.

What do you think of Pudovkin's and Kuleshov's theory that editing is the foundation of film? Share your thoughts in the comments.

[via Evan Richards]

Your Comment

48 Comments

silly - film theory is aesthetics for retards - everything Richards credits to editing comes either from the script or the director's interpretation of the story - in other words, it's not about editing, it's about writing and story structure. An editor didn't conceive of the bone toss in 2001 - Kubrick did, and he did so before one foot of film had ever been exposed. Not saying editing doesn't matter - I'm saying most editing is implied by or explicitly spelled out in the script. If an editor has to 'save' your film, it means either the writer or the director or both were incompetent.

October 12, 2013 at 11:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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animalmother

All these aspects are really tightened together. Directing, cinematography, editing etc. Sometimes it's difficult to isolate them. However it also comes down how many freedom the editor has. In case of 2001 it's likely that the decision was made in advance. But for some of other examples it could be done on the stage of editing.

October 12, 2013 at 12:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Ruslan Randzhabar

+1

October 12, 2013 at 1:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Well said, RR!

October 12, 2013 at 4:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I think you're misunderstanding the use of the term here. Editing refers to the relation between shots in general, not just the craft of physically arranging them.

October 12, 2013 at 1:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Magnus Lysbakken

Indeed, in animated movies the editor works throughout the production process to guide how the shots are assembled, rather than cutting and pasting footage together after-the-fact (which would be much more expensive and incredibly wasteful).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIV9IjulVi8

March 31, 2017 at 6:06PM

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This hasn't been my experience with the scripts I've read. And to deny the fact that many editors enhance a film with choices they make beyond what is directed in a script points to a lack of knowledge as to what many talented editors do.

October 12, 2013 at 1:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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By your logic...Woody Allen is incompetent? He wrote and directed Annie Hall which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1977. The initial cut was 2 hours 20 minutes long and the test screenings were not favorable. Editor Ralph Rosenblum restructured and cut down the film to 93 minutes. He focused on the Alvy and Annie story and cut out 45 minutes. The story was there...it just needed to be carved out and exposed. Rosenblum "saved" the film. But he could not have done it if Woody Allen hadn't written and directed the footage.

I'm of course cherry picking with that example...but as a film editor...I've cut 7 feature films and the biggest lesson I've learned is this. You edit the footage, not the script. Once you are in the edit phase...the footage you have is all you can use. Nothing else matters. The script is a guide but if they didn't shoot what was written...or if they improvised or changed dialog...the script goes out the window. I know some of the most established editors disregard the script completely. Film is collaborative and every step along the way is the most important at that moment. It's not about "saving the film", it's about making it work with what you have.

October 12, 2013 at 1:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Very well said...Thanks for sharing...

October 25, 2013 at 10:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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If you haven't done so already, I suggest you read Michael Ondaatje's "The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film" and Walter Murch's "In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing."

October 12, 2013 at 2:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Tzedekh

you sir are quite ignorant. The cut from Lawrence of Arabia was famously made by the editor. It was supposed to be a crossfade...Editors do more than you are giving them credit for. Why do you think nearly every movie you Spielberg keeps using Michael Kahn? Why do you think Django Unchained was such an editing mess (Sally Meneke died. She edited every single other QT film).

October 12, 2013 at 7:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jerome

you want to understand 'editing' , study a Coen brothers storyboard - the final film will look almost frame for frame like that storyboard - that's the 'art' of editing - conception - any film that is not structurally defined by a concept before shooting begins is not art, it's just entertainment.

October 13, 2013 at 4:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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animalmother

1. Storyboards and scripts don't dictate the length of a shot, cutting, or technique.
2. Not all screenwriters/directors are good editors.
3. Any film that is not structurally defined by a concept before shooting begins requires the artfulness of a good editor.

Editing is much more complicated than you're making it seem. It requires an artist.

October 13, 2013 at 6:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

the fact that "art" and "entertainment" are separate categories in your mind is simply fantastic. Fantastic in the sense that you really have no idea what your talking about.

October 14, 2013 at 9:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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seth.iamfilms

seth...please do show some of your great Art...we'd all love to be schooled.

October 15, 2013 at 2:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jerome

I think that you are mixing things up... editing is also known as montage. It is the process of putting the movie together. If there was no editing you would get the material put together in the matter it was shot.

It is not about who actually putts the shots together it's about how they are arranged. Sometimes it is the director's idea (expressed through story board or whatever) sometimes it's the editor who makes decisions. Either way it is editing (montage).

July 6, 2015 at 12:17PM, Edited July 6, 12:17PM

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Srdjan Bozinovic
Director of Photography, Head Cameraman
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The article was about the technique. Not about who did what, or who decided what, Who's job it was or anything of that nature. It was about the effect. The result. Why are people getting caught up in the petty argument that is happening here? It seems there is anger just to be angry. Film is COLLABORATIVE but there are more bad writers, directors, and editors than there are good ones, if your going to angry about something try be upset about that.

October 17, 2013 at 7:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mik

Thank you Mik!

The whole "Well, who came up with the idea?" question is so stupid, so petty, I can barely believe someone took the time to actually type it out. What the hell does it matter? This isn't a video about delegation of duties; this isn't about who does what job. Where do you even get that from this video? Like you said Mik, this is about technique. And you are sooo right! Making a movie is a collaboration and if the catering guy has a brilliant idea, who the hell cares! Use it! Arguing about who came up with the idea of the edit is like kindergartners arguing about whose dad can beat up whose.

I think it would also be important to point out that Pudovkin was a director and a writer. Not an editor. So if someone thinks that Pudovkin is saying that the editor deserves ALL the credit for coming up with these techniques...well they need to do a little more reading to get some context before they talk about things they don't understand.

October 18, 2013 at 10:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Guy

-Jaws- and -Star Wars-, both have been saved by their editors.

October 13, 2013 at 9:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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John Eric

But i all fairness, George was one of those editors. That's really what he is, an editor.

October 14, 2013 at 6:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Grant

absolutely disagree! film is a collaborative medium where everyone involved adds their expertise to the composition. right of the bat, the initial idea branches into an infinite tree of possibilities, it is up to persons involved to develop it one way or another. and every other step in such project development may take various interpretations. Some things gets lost in translation and also others emerge. It is great to theorize and have it down on paper, but creative process does not end just there. Set and cutting room are both playgrounds of infinite possibilities too and some great details may very well be discovered there, in the process. Editors are not considered to be technicians anymore, they are creative team members. And no matter how well your project is planned, creatives are called so as they contribute to the whole picture.

October 13, 2013 at 10:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Vobla Unsane

I wish to add to the chorus of people disagreeing with you. Are you a working professional? If so I beg you review your position about the place of the editor in a production. I am (among other things) an editor and the idea that my job is essentially to assemble the footage as requested by the director and then to paper over the cracks should there be any is a touch insulting.

October 14, 2013 at 9:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Will S

Read In The Blink of an Eye and then re-post your comment dude x

October 14, 2013 at 8:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Kraig

There are countless times when film editors contribute greatly to the overall impact of a movie. Not every director lays everything out before hand. To be dismissive of the editing process is somewhat naive. Great editing isn't noticed, bad editing is. It's an art form in itself and one with considerable responsibility.

October 21, 2013 at 10:18AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mark Harris

That is an interesting point you make, considering Kubrick himself has described the editing process as the most important in film making. Editing is where the magic happens, everything else leading up to that point is merely creating film TO edit.

October 10, 2014 at 1:40AM

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You are the one who's silly. You are saying that Scorsese, Coppola and Kubric are retards (which I bet makes you feel a superior filmmaker and boosts your ego). Filmmaking and theory go hand in hand. Knowing about the use of edit o how cuts relate to each other is something that a director, editor or writer should know about. A scriptwriter who knows nothing about how editing works will write a script that lacks film language and will use dialogue to move the story forward. The example you gave, Kubricks' 2001 Space Odyssey just means Kubrick is quite knowledgable of film theory and understands how the cut would work because he studied this "aesthetics for retards". All directors who are good knows film theory, either they studied it or have intuitively discovered it by watching other movies. This "aesthetic for retards"" is why we have movies like Battleship Potemkin, French new wave movies and directors like Akira Kurosawa influencing later directors such as Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Scorsese. Directors who have openly said so in numerous interviews. These "retards" studied it in film school and later on used it in their own films. Kubrick being a well read man who is keen his craft would undoubtedly have studied it himself. They all studied this "aesthetics for retards". Aside from Pudovkin, they studied other Russian Montage theorists like Sergei Eisenstein, the French New Wave with their Jump cuts and other film theories relating to the cut. Filmmaking is not as straightforward as you would like to think. Although there are directors like Alfred Hitchcock that treats the script as a bible, most if not all treat the script as a guideline, specially when editing. You use the script as a guide, you shoot the living set and then you edit the footages. You do not force the edit to capture the script 100%. As a filmmaker knowing these "aesthetics for retards" helps you develop your craft and your voice as an artist. As a script writer it gives you more tools to tell your story. If you are a director who writes his own scripts, knowing these "silly aesthetics for retards" is essential because it is what differentiates a film script from literature. Your comment is uninformed and quite conceited.

March 22, 2017 at 6:27AM

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henry posadas
Director, DOP
81

Tell that to Kubrick. There is a quote at the end of the video where he praised Pudovkin and recommended Pudovkin's book to anyone interested in learning film technique. I guess Kubrick is one of the retards you were talking about, mr great filmmaker.

March 22, 2017 at 6:44AM

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henry posadas
Director, DOP
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This was a good read, and has a lot of good information. Thank you. I will definitely be reading this book now

October 12, 2013 at 12:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Thanks for book tip, I never heard about it before!

October 12, 2013 at 1:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Superb post.

October 12, 2013 at 2:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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stuartculpepper

this is freaking awesome

October 12, 2013 at 2:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I find that books from the dawn of cinema to be much more interesting and challenging than more modern texts. To them cinema was novel and they saw endless possibilities. We have a century of theories and masterpieces filling our understanding and it is difficult to conjure new possibilities when mainstream techniques work so well. But just because something works doesn't mean it is the only option.

October 12, 2013 at 3:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dan

That's a really good point Dan. I think it's super important to get back to the basics. Sometimes people get caught up in how much their follow-focus costs and how much dynamic range their camera has rather than good technique. The equipment that the pioneers of cinema used made shooting extremely difficult. The cameras were heavy, cumbersome, bad in low light, etc. To make good pictures they had to do intense planning beforehand. I find that's lacking a lot now. People have the ability to pick up a camera and shoot anything anytime...so they do. Finding out why something is being shot and how it serves to tell the story, how to make the viewer feel a certain way and how best to accomplish that feeling are what these early guys were all about. They were all about technique and I think that is what is missing in a lot of films you see today.

October 12, 2013 at 3:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Guy

Agreed Guy. For instance take the Lumiere brothers who built some of the first mobile cameras. For the first time in history they could go out and capture MOTION. So what did they put in the frame? As much motion as they could! And their fascination with moving things gives amazing depth to the frames because it was the essence of moving things that they could finally communicate. This is they are called "movies". Then they took their cameras to places people had never seen moving before. So when they went to the pyramids they made sure there were camels and people, because this was not photography, it was cinematography.

For me imagination is the most important part of the creative process and if you are stuck looking at what has worked recently you are severely limited. Look at the stories ancient civilizations told like Gilgamesh or Beowulf. They imagined monsters, battles and demons our CG would still struggle to make. And those may not have been their best stories!

I find the most inspiration when I look at different eras or different mediums because it forces me to question my mindset.

October 12, 2013 at 7:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dan

I thought the most noted Soviet era director in the West was Mikhail Kalatozov.
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PS. It's "Pooh-duf-kin" rather than "Po-dove-kin". Them 'Muricans always screw up Slavic names. Right, Vashi?
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PPS. This is Pudovkin most famous film, "Mother" (1926). The mid-20's was era of a relative prosperity and mild censorship in the USSR. Turn toward hardline communism took place in 1929 and, aside of a rare comedy, the dramas had to adhere to a very rigid line. Pudovkin's more artistic impulses had to be curtailed and the quality of his films suffered as well..
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[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sX1VDZNCJMI]

October 12, 2013 at 9:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Kalatozov's most famous work (at least in America) came much later. He's not grouped in with Pudovkin and Eisenstein. But, damn -- I do love 'I Am Cuba'.

Probably one of the greatest shots in cinematic history!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h35QgVZzesE

October 13, 2013 at 6:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor
Writer/Director

"Soy Cuba" was basically banned in the USSR for showing the "opulent and decadent" Western lifestyle of the film's opening. The film was shot in the early 60's when the Cuban resort infrastructure built for the (by and large) American tourists was still in its former glory. As much as they appreciated Kalatozov's and Useranski's work and the overall propagandist intent of the film, that was too much for the Soviet leaders to bear.
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Back to Pooh-duf-kin - the concepts mentioned by Mr. Richards were not necessarily new but they were relatively new to the cinema. Pudovkin's contribution was heavily based on work of great composers like Tchaikovsky (really, should be Chaikovsky but the Germans got to the name first) whose 1812 Overture, as an example, was full of overlapping and contrasting leitmotifs such as the sounds of the Marseillaise interrupted by the (Russian) canon fire. Additionally, works of great Russian writers of the late-19th/early 20th century like Tolstoy, Chekhov, Turgenev, et al. was full of symbolism, contrast and subtext. Pudovkin and other theoreticians - let's not forget that "Method" acting was also invented at the same time in the USSR by Konstantin Stanislavsky while Vsevolod Mayerhold introduced "Biomechanics" - buoyed by the zeitgeist, intended to fuse the various type of art into the moving pictures.

October 13, 2013 at 11:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

So much love for that shot! Soy Cuba is an incredible feat! So glad I saw it at my local indie whilst I was studying.

October 14, 2013 at 9:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Will S

That shot is beyond amazing, given the gear of the early 1960s. Pulleys and cables that spanned floors and roof tops? From wikipedia:

"In another scene, the camera follows a flag over a body, held high on a stretcher, along a crowded street. Then it stops and slowly moves upwards for at least four storeys until it is filming the flagged body from above a building. Without stopping it then starts tracking sideways and enters through a window into a cigar factory, then goes straight towards a rear window where the cigar workers are watching the procession. The camera finally passes through the window and appears to float along over the middle of the street between the buildings. These shots were accomplished by the camera operator having the camera attached to his vest — like an early, crude version of a Steadicam — and the camera operator also wearing a vest with hooks on the back. An assembly line of technicians would hook and unhook the operator's vest to various pulleys and cables that spanned floors and building roof tops."

Even with that explanation, it seems impossible. At 1:36, there is a hint of a couple of cables leading out of the cigar factory … so the camera op got hooked up to that cable and then floated out of the building above the crowd? I hope they got it on the first take.

October 14, 2013 at 7:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jim

Slightly off-topic (but on "Soy, Cuba") as written by the cinematographer himself (Sergey Urusevski - I screwed up his name in the previous post - this is in Russian but Google Translate should work) -

В «Я — Куба» есть одна панорама, которой я очень горжусь. […] "Построили мы вышку, с нее спустили трос, по тросу пустили камеру, она шла в свободном падении, на роликах. Актер бежал по земле, под тросом […]. Когда камера проходила мимо нас, мы, трое, выскакивали из убежища вслед за ней. Я хватал ее в руки, буквально ловил, второй человек откреплял этот магнит, а ассистент хватался за фокус. И это обязательно надо было проделать вместе с артистом. Потому в этом месте он останавливался на секунду и оглядывался. Дальше мы с ним бежим вместе. Бег все быстрее. Я на ходу сажусь на тележку, и мчится она с ужасающей скоростью. […] Потом артист опять подбегал к каким-то пальмам, опять оглядывался — уже на очень крупном плане, я незаметно сходил с тележки и дальше бежал с ним, снимая уже в спину. Я очень горжусь, что он нечаянно все-таки упал, а я с камерой — удержался.

October 14, 2013 at 9:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

thank you so much for this :)

October 13, 2013 at 12:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Captivating!

October 13, 2013 at 6:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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David Salomon

I think editing is imperative to film-making. Without editing, film would not be as solid of a storytelling medium as editing allows it to be. The key with editing is to appreciate all types. Going back to Eisenstein, montage gave the audience an emotional cue to react to. I think editing is the heart of film.

Since it is around Halloween, I would suggest (to anyone who hasn't seen it) to check out Hitchcock's Rope. It is a masterpiece in editing. He creates these amazingly long, tense takes that really control the audience's experience.

October 15, 2013 at 2:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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So the flying bone is a notional parallel with the space station, or a contrast or both..... I paused watching that vid at that point. Wondering at the extent to which the deconstruction process dissables our ability to simply see or absorb a thing in toto..... Persevere I guess, but on my guard....

October 17, 2013 at 10:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gregg MacPherson

Sorry, the flying bone was a formal parallel with the space station. It's a notional contrast, or a contrast of idea (bone vs space station). Isn't the fact that it is both a parallel and a contrast the thing that makes the juxtaposition interesting? Isn't this the thing that the theory should be addressing? But I accept that we are following the thoughts of a commentator, not the origional theorist here......oh well, persevere I guess...

October 17, 2013 at 10:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gregg MacPherson

I think the foundation of film is the translation of audio-visual imagination and inspiration onto an audiovisual medium. The role of editing is to make aesthetic and technical choices that deliver a vision of the story being told. Depending on the creativity of the editor and the creative freedom granted to the editor, she can be a pivotal force in shaping the film in a way that seduces the viewer into an amazing experience of imagination, belief, and wonder. The editor can indeed elevate a film beyond what was originally foreseen, but sometimes it is just a question of surrendering to a director's clear and precise vision without leaving any postproduction fingerprints on the final work.

October 18, 2013 at 9:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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10/10

January 4, 2014 at 3:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ieuan

It should be noted that the methodology used in the Kuleshov/Pudovkin experiment was incredibly sloppy.

1) Pudovkin reported his findings after only a single test screening, which is far from a statistically-significant sample.

2) We don't know precisely HOW he gauged the impressions of the audience members. Were the audience members surveyed anonymously, or interviewed one-on-one, or interviewed as a group? Did he report the impressions that most closely matched his own opinion and ignore impressions that dissented from his own opinion? Etc. Etc.

Attempts to replicate the Kuleshov/Pudovkin experiment weren't done until 1992, and they were generally unable to replicate the results that Pudovkin reported.

While it was true that people tended SOMEWHAT to interpret the man's face differently depending on the context, there wasn't statistically-significant agreement on HOW the man's face was interpreted.

One person might say he's sad when looking at the corpse, while another might say he's indifferent. One might say he's looking at the woman lovingly, while another might say he's leering at her like a lustful predator.

March 31, 2017 at 5:47PM, Edited March 31, 5:55PM

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