Brief Notes On The Continuity Editing System

The continuity system is the common method that Hollywood employs when it produces a film. The continuity system is completely aesthetic. The continuity system produces films with a ‘editing [style] that is carefully calibrated with the action on screen.’◊ The action, movement is be edited so that the audience can understand at all times any conflict and any relationships – spatial or emotional. The continuity system is a guideline that helps produce a sense of correct spatial relationships. Eyeline matches between person and object help locate the audience in the scene and help highlight any importance object holds.

Another important note regarding the continuity system is that it holds that the narrative, and how the narrative is shown, should move in a linear fashion. That is; from cause to affect. Ocasionally this is disrupted, such as in the analepsis (flashback) style of narrative famous in Film Noir, however one thing that remains is that once in the action of the film the editing composes the film in a order so that every action is understandable. In Double Indemnity (1944) Walter Neff’s narration is composed so that every action he re-tells is rationalized and given a clear motive. This ensures that the audience at all times understands where and why the action is taking place.

◊ Maria Pramaggiore and Tom Wallis (ed), Film: A Critical Introduction, London: Laurence King Publishing (2008) p. 213.

[On a side note my father is currently staying so full entries on individual movies is not easy, however i have several notes filled in a little yellow book and will be writing those up]

Hollywood’s view of the close-up

The Untouchables (1987)

In this film, as a man falls off a roof top to his death, i am reminded of the philosophy of the close-up and Hollywood’s reliance upon it. As he falls we are given a close-up [a rather cheap looking one] of his face showing the fear in his eyes. He is an evil man so we are not welcomed into feeling pity or regret.

Bela Balazs said that the close-up ‘radiate[s] a tender human attitude in the contemplation of hidden things, delicate solicitude, a gentle bending over the intimacies of life-in-the-miniature, a warm sensibility. Good close-ups are lyrical; it is the heart, not the eye, that has perceived them.’♣

Although the falling of a man to his death is not ‘warm’ but cold it is true that the close-up communicates the hidden nature of things. The tough-rough “anit scared of death” man has been exposed by the close-up, his fragile human nature is uncovered. The close-up becomes a tool in-which the director can show that hard-nosed ultra-violent policing is correct because only when faced with their death do the gangsters show any morsel of humanity. Good policing is bringing back the humanity in a convict either through prison (rather tellingly called a correction facility) or death and according to this movie, death, is the only way that one is brought back to their own humanity.

Hollywood cinema relies upon the close-up to communicate human attitudes tender or not however the consequence is a continouous message of individual responcibility when outside forces should take a portion of the blame/credit for the production of an individuals morality. The close-up focuses upon the eyes and lips and therefore aesthetically removes the outside world from the production of that emotion. The man who falls to the floor falls isolated emotionally because of the close-up technique and the only time he is reunited with society is when he hits a car roof.

♣ Bela Balazs ‘Theory of the Film’ in Gerald Mast & Marshall Cohen (ed), Film Theory and Criticism, Oxford: Oxford Uni Press (1979), pp. 288-298. p. 289.

In the Coming Weeks and Days…

I will be re-watching and analyizing six Alfred Hitchcock classics.

North by Northwest (1959)

Strangers on a Train (1951)

The Wrong Man (1956)

Stage Fright (1950)

I Confess (1953)

“Dial M for Murder” (1954)

Vsevolod Pudovkin’s Soviet Montage Theory

The End of St. Petersburg (1927)

Vsevolod Pudovkin’s film The End of St. Petersburg was written for the tenth anniversary of the 1917 revolution. Pudovkin’s film adheres to the formalistic conventions of Soviet cinema, particularly the use of montage. Pudovkin’s film differs slightly by concentrating on several characters and their experiences through the years leading up to, and during, the Bolshevik revolution. In Classical Hollywood cinema the heroes tend to be individuals whose sheer force of will affects change, but in Soviet cinema, due to ideological difference, the masses are seen as the force that affects change.1 The proletariat replaces the traditional individual protagonist and the bourgeoisie replace the conventional antagonist.

The formal technique of montage is important in The End of St. Petersburg for creating politicized narrative. The film builds a narrative around the proletariat’s collective spirit, constructed through several different characters – most importantly the farmer, the factory worker and his wife. Vsevolod Pudovkin called his use of montage ‘relational editing’. Pudovkin explains, in his writing about film technique, that the form of film, and the style of editing, should be an instrument of expression.2 One instrument of expression that that Vsevolod used was what he called the technique of ‘parallelism’. In The End of St. Petersburg we are shown Russian soldiers who are running over the top of a muddy trench towards their death at the hand of a German machine gun. The shot cuts to a parallel of bourgeoisie men in suits rushing up stairs to get to a stock exchange. The bourgeoisie men, instead of encountering machine gun bullets, buy the stock from a company which produces shells for the Russian government. The edit creates a parallel between two different actions and spatial environments. The parallel montage technique therefore imbues the action of buying stock, and capitalism, with the violence and murder of the battlefield scene. Another parallel is made in the same scene; as the battlefield fills up with wounded and lifeless bodies, both Russian and German, the scene cuts to the stock exchange market rate rising along with with several bourgeoisie shaking violently – as if they were themselves manning the machine guns. The excited ecstatic movement becomes a stark somber parallel when set against the bloody stalemate of the battlefield scene, through the technique of parallelism we, the audience, are made aware of the brutality of the capitalist system which makes profit in murder and the destruction of a nation’s own people.

Where as Classic Hollywood film utilizes aesthetic similarities between shots to create a sense of reality the Soviet montage method exploits aesthetic and thematic differences to produce politically charged meaning. The images in The End of St. Petersburg are left somewhat open to the viewers’ interpretation however overall we are guided psychologically, by the technique of parallelism, into accepting the political ideology of the film.3 The method of psychological guidance means Pudovkin’s relational editing system technique is an important instrument in creating a politicized narrative.

1M, Pramaggiore and T, Wallis. (ed). Film A Critical Introduction, London: Laurence King Publishing, (2007) p. 225.

2Vsevolod Pudovkin ‘Film Technique’ in Gerald Mast & Marshall Cohen (ed), Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, 2nd Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1979) pp. 77-84 p.82.

3Pudovkin ‘Film Technique’ pp. 82-84

Important Symbolism In A Fistful of Dollars

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

This film is a landmark for several reasons, one that is impressive is how it re-evaluated and examined the western genre. An important symbolic happening in the film is the machine gun attack on the mexican army. The machine gun itself symbolizes, in this movie, the death of the ‘honourable’ combat that is a staple in many classic westerns. One-on-One shoot outs are replaced by instant mass carnage caused by mechanical guns that seemingly remove the last vestages of honour war and combat contains (Earlier Westerns tend to argue that shooting someone in the back or by surprise is a dishonourable act). A Fistful of Dollars indicates the switch in Westerns from honourable isolated individuals fighting for causes to mass-carnage where individuals attempt to play both sides off each other for profit. This movie, and the symbol of the new machine gun, indicates a darker more disturbing attitude to the heritage of the Western film genre and the myth of the West.

On a personal note…

These are some films i would recommend you take a look at:

1. Carlo Diario (1993)

2. A Bout de Souffle (1959)

3. Tampopo (1985)

4. Double Indemnity (1944)

5. Apocalypse Now (1979)

6. Westworld (1973)

7. French Connection (1971)

8. Battleship Potemkin (1925)

9.  The End Of St. Petersburg (1927)

10. Blade Runner (1982)


I found that because i had read The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad that Apocalypse Now was a much richer viewing. Some of those films are expensive to find, especially in the UK, however if you see them cheap, for rent or at a local movie theatre then i highly recommend viewing them. Luckily with ‘internet rental’, such as Blockbuster Lovefilm etc, it is easier to take a punt on a rare/odd/arty film without having to spend £20 on a film you may not like. In the coming weeks and months i will do an introduction, synopsis and review of these films.

Modern Hollywood and the Continuity System

Happy Gilmore (1996)

The continuity system, that Modern Hollywood adheres to, hopes to unite ‘the potentially dis-unifying force of editing by establishing a smooth flow from shot to shot’◊ Mise-en-Scene [basically ‘what you see’] is included into that continuity system. At all times in Happy Gilmore conflict, important to the narrative structure, has to be communicated to the audience. This is achieved by the simple technique of foregrounding diametrically opposed forces thrust together and unable to part. In Happy Gilmore this is the violent Ice Hockey-playing Sandler and the calm, mannered golf community thrust together by circumstance. His clothes, as indicated by the photo, are at odds with the pastel colours of the crowd and his mannerisms, extreme displays of pleasure, are at odds with the reserved displays of displeasure. This overt and rather brash technique is not just used in comedy films but all Hollywood films because at all times the audience must be aware of the tension and conflict that contributes to the narrative. In essence at no time in Happy Gilmore must the audience not know what the ultimate goal is and who the protagonist and antagonist are.


◊ Bordwell, D. & Thompson, K. , FIlm Art, (Reading: Addison Wesley: 1980) p. 163

Wayne’s Body (Continued)

The Searchers (1956)

In The Searchers Ford’s cramped domestic scenes highlight the romantic western tradition of rugged isolated individualism. An isolation that is seen as superior to ‘marriage and settlement [which] are presented as crippling or at least inhibiting’◊ The excessive difference between Wayne’s body and the cramped hemmed-in homestead is used by Ford to foreground the excessive symbolism that the western genre commonly uses.

Ford is criticizing the way in-which the western genre and Hollywood has converted a violent, bloody and shameful heritage into a story of powerful individuals whose heroic struggles ensured the individual freedoms of ‘today’. John Wayne’s body, often a symbol of that rugged manly isolated individualism, is manipulated by Ford’s use of a cramped homestead to criticize the western genre.

◊ Douglas Pye ‘The Western (Genre and Movies)’ in B.K. Grant (ed), Film Genre Reader, (Austin: University of Texas Press) PP. 187-202 P. 200.

John Wayne’s Physical Presence

 The Searchers (1956)

John Wayne’s large body is important when placed against the claustrophobic backdrop of the Edwards’ ranch. Wayne is a large man and his physical presence is used by Ford impressively to produce a sense of entrapment and claustrophobia. Ford does this because he is attempting to communicate that Wayne’s tough rough frontier image is at odds with the close, structured atmosphere the Edwards’ ranch exudes (Wayne’s frontier isolation Vs Edwards’ ranch community).

The claustrophobic atmosphere is produced by the use of browns in conjunction with soft lighting. The ceiling height is also low. The criss-cross lines of the beams create a sense of partitioning and order. Beams in a house work by placing pressure equally amongst the whole structure, in the same way that a community equals out the pressure of life by working together so as not to become crushed under the weight of holding oneself upright. Wayne’s physical presence is the antithesis of this partitioned and equalized pressure. The Director John Ford cleverly uses Wayne’s large body, in conjunction with the beams, to indicate to the viewer the opposing philosophy and the isolated nature of Wayne’s character.

Lighting Form in Classical Hollywood Cinema

Double Indemnity (1944)

Lighting in Double Indemnity acts as a tool which foregrounds the inevitable imprisonment of Walter Neff in the role of the classic Film Noir doomed protagonist. In the first scene of the analepsis Walter Neff retells the story of how he met Phyllis Dietrichson. As Walter looks up the stairs he catches a glimpse of the barely dressed femme fatal Phyllis. This moment of sexual desire seals his fate. As Walter waits for Phyllis to get dressed he waits in the living room. This room produces a brilliant formal feature that indicates Walter Neff’s imprisonment. Light filters through some Venetian blinds. The pattern produced by the blind creates a shadow as if Walter Neff has entered a prison. The dark horizontal lines hits the plain white plaster walls producing an image that conjures up imprisonment and incarceration. The Dietrichson home has been transformed by the use of lighting from a classical Spanish LA house into a prison. Lighting’s function in this scene from Double Indemnity illustrates that Walter Neff is imprisoned by fate into the traditional Film Noir narrative; a narrative which demands the destruction of a protagonist if they collude with the femme fatal character. (photo below is a later scene which shows the fallen Neff marked by lighting to look as if wearing prison issue clothes – while the moral compass of the movie, Barton Keyes, is unmarked by the lighting affect)

An Analysis of Fight Form in Hollywood Cinema

Under Siege (1992)

Steven Seagal movies tend to have a certain style of hand combat, a fast-paced flurry of limbs. To create the sense of speed and frenzy the camera will jerk left and right, this movement is synchronized with Seagal’s punches. This formal feature, always produced in a Seagal movie, ensures that a sense of visual/sensual realism is produced. A sense of being “in the moment” which ensures a relationship is produced in the audience which helps the action seem authentic. Cine-psychoanalytical theory, maintaining that the first level of relationship is with the camera, illuminates why this is important.

If the first relationship of the audience is with the camera itself then any movement in relation to the action by the camera becomes vital in producing a sense of suspended disbelief; the necessary condition for someone to be able to enjoy a Seagal film (that and lots of testosterone or beer). The actual fighting scenes in Under Siege (1992) are very poor and usually end in some over-the-top final move from Seagal such as pushing a henchman’s shoulder into a cutting blade. The hand-to-hand combat tends to be several jerky stabs forward into the air with a few blocks, utterly unimpressive however at first glance these flaws are not so apparent because of the camera movement.

The movement of the camera, synchronized with Seagal’s punches, ensures that the audience can fully buy in to the proposed fictional happenings. The relationship of audience to camera is manipulated to ensure the produced affect of suspended belief.

Convention Confusion In Psycho

Psycho (1960)

Psycho contains a confusing hybrid of differing genre conventions and traditions, these are all exhibited within the scenes that lead towards the famous/infamous shower scene. At first you are shown conventions of melodrama. The trapped lovers, who by fate, are obstructed by society from legitimating their relationship. This creates the expectation in the audience that the narrative will unfold around how these two star-crossed lovers will be united in their love. The narrative however switches to the moralistic Thriller genre. This happens when Marion Crane (Janet Heigh) attempts to escape the law, and may be even the rules of film convention, which she has broken by stealing $40,000. This switch creates an anti-climax, this is because it leaves loose ends; the audience is left with questions unanswered. The romantic partnership between Marion and Sam Loomis (John Gavin) has been co-opted by the new moralistic Thriller narrative: emotional and romantic engagement is now an impossibility for Marion and Sam. The audience is brought towards the seemingly conclusive nature of her being caught as a police officer trails her. But once again the audience is left with an anti-climax in relation to the Thriller narrative as Marion enters the exaggerated Horror realm of the Bates’ motel. Hitchcock exaggerates every convention of Horror: the house is darker, the rain heavier and a city motel is left entirely empty of contemporary society as if located in Death Valley and not within the space of regular civilization. The climax, anti-climax – sped up with the use of exaggerated generic characterisations and conventions – imbues the audience and the film with a sense of doubt. A doubt which infects how the audience sees the narrative’s direction. As the Thriller elements transmogrify into Horror the audience again gets a sense of anti-climax. This raises questions about the nature of appearance and characterization in films. It questions the accepted dramatic conventions of cinema. Hitchcock’s Psycho is overtly inter-textual: this builds up a sense that the audience has seen elements before, a sense that “We should know what’s going to happen”. However because of the continued use of anti-climax we do not. Psycho’s narrative plays with the history and conventions of cinema and story telling; the combination and hybrid of genres creates a parody, or critique of the conventional form of Horror, Thriller and Melodrama. This affect is important when seen in relationship with the shower scene…