A mach-cut is a cut between two shots which match graphically. This match establishes a sense of continuity and interconnectedness between two different spatial or temporal spheres (space and time). The matching between a shot Z and shot X tends to produce a sense of importance in the connection. The match cut is an editing technique which imbues the different spheres with a sense of metaphor or symbolic relationship. If shot Z has a violent connotation and is matched with X then the action of X will also be imbued with that violent connotation [Although a part of the continuity editing style the match cut is linked to and could be argued inspired by, the montage style and theory of parallelism].
In the beginning of the film Strangers On A Train (1951) we see two different pairs of shoes walk towards a train. The two characters’ footsteps are linked together by a match cut which indicates an inevitable meeting and connection between the two characters’ fate. Essentially the characters are walking the same “footsteps” towards a linked fate. The match cut is primarily a graphic or visual connection between two different spatial or temporal locations. The second function is metaphorical or symbolic and a tool in which to produce meaning by matching two ideas together producing a synthesis of major importance. 2001: A Space Odyssey(1968) matches the throwing of a bone to a space station. The throwing of a bone, after the use of it as a weapon, indicates a leap forward towards humanity [evolution] and a movement forward in scientific progress and the use of tools. These concepts are linked to the space station firstly as the station itself is a tool as such and an indicator of scientific progress but also in larger context of the film as the technology of the space station is a movement towards another leap in evolution: that of artificial life.
There is a difference between the “natural” story time and narrative, plot or screen time. Essentially recording natural time would require filming every movement in real time. If a woman leaves her house after receiving a phone call. If this sequence was recorded in natural time it would require at least 30 minutes. This would include collecting her keys, her handbag, putting her shoes on, going to the toilet, walking to the door, opening it, locking it and walking to her destination. Instead of showing all this extended action in natural time the director can cut out all of the ‘unnecessary’ action and reduce 30 minutes into 1 minute. A simple cut, fade or dissolve [All indicating different amounts of time passes] can facilitate the movement in natural time. Instead of the long sequence we could be shown the end of the phone call, a cut to her placing her shoes on then a cut to her walking down a highstreet into a block of flats. Three simple cuts reduce the screen time but, one logically accepts, retains natural times’ affects on the temporal environment of the screen world and the characters’ involved- in essence if it was twelve at her leaving then it should be half twelve at her arrival at the flat. This simple and basic technique allows narratives to span large spatial and temporal distances without the need to follow dull action. This editing technique could transform a boring home movie of forty minutes length watching a whale performing tricks into a snappy interesting scene of a few minutes; the manipulation of time, through elliptical editing, is central to the movement of a narrative. Elliptical editing at its most extreme can be used to make two vastly different spatial and temporal arenas collide. This technique is famously used in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey(1968), in which the spatial temporal environment of the ape is linked, or matched to give its correct term, to a space station orbiting around earth. [ A match-cut is where two spatial environments and actions are linked by a cut, however I will explore that basic film technique in another post].