The much maligned wipe – infamous for its inclusion in “tacky” wedding videos – has recently become a regularly implemented but rarely seen, or noticed, technique. The wipe is the technique where one shot is replaced by another by the movemnt of an edge, or line, which replaces the previous shot by “wiping” it. By revealing a new scene, environment or space the wipe offers a spatial or temporal transition to the director. The line-wipe, which just replaces shot A with shot B with a vertical line which moves across the screen, is the most basic wipe technique and is found in the earliest cinema. The line-wipe obtained a certain popularity in the 20’s and 30’s. The technique fell into disfavour due to its overt formal nature which foregrounds the construction of a film to an audience, an effect opposed to the philosophy of the continuity editing style.
One contemporary usage of the wipe technique is the reference to a by-gone era, a nostalgic replication of a previous era’s television or cinematic form. The television series The Nero Wolfe Mysteries utilizes the technique attempting to add to the verisimilitude and aura of authenticity established by the use of historical costume and dialogue. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) also uses the wipe technique, reputedly a reference to older science fiction films. In the early science fiction films and television serials, such as Flash Gordon, the wipe is intended to replicate the turning of a page or movement between boxes in a comic book. George Lucas allusion to these older serials, through the technique of the wipe, is meant to convey the personal enjoyment and impact early science fiction had on the Star War’s universe.
As I noted before, the wipe fell out of favour due to it foregrounding a film’s construction. The wipe however is a common technique due to the rise of the “invisible”wipe which implements the continuity editing system’s general guidelines. The invisible-wipe can be seen, however contradictory that sounds, in The Usual Suspects (1994). The invisible-wipe uses an object, or some other aspect of the screen, instead of an imposed line, to perform the wipe. In The Usual Suspects a police officer walks from right to left and as he does his back is used to signal the transition from shot A to B. The police officer’s back replaces the line in the traditional line-wipe technique. Due to the use of the the object within the digesis to facilitate the transition between shot A and shot B the invisible-wipe does not foreground the construction of the film; the invisible-wipe does not highlight the film’s editing. [In the video below this technique can be seen around 3:20 into the clip].
The dissolve is a common film technique which is often used as an indicator of a passage of time; therefore the dissolve often falls under the umbrella of the elliptical editing techniques. The dissolve technique is a transition between two shots where shot (q) gradually disappears while the succeeding shot appears. The dissolve is a soft cut and is therefore an integral part of a film maker’s toolbox. The dissolve technique negates the harshness of cutting between two graphically unmatched images or the change to an awkward camera angle and is consequently often used in the continuity editing system. The dissolve is most commonly used to indicate a significant change of time. A shot of a setting sun may dissolve into the night sky to indicate several hours passing. The dissolve technique dissipates the dislocating nature of transition from one spatial or temporal environment to another. Because of this it is sparsely used in action films because these films require fast, energetic transitions to imitate and communicate the film’s dramatic and adrenaline-soaked nature.
The jump cut is an elliptical editing technique which foregrounds the form and constructed nature of cinema. A jump cut is where two successive shots contain an overt break in spatial or temporal continuity. Shot (1) is someone with a beer on a table, shot (2) is the same person lifting the beer and shot (3) the person drinking the beer. Traditionally in the continuity editing system we would see the order 1-2-3 in a simple representation of cause and effect. The jump cut removes shot (2) ensuring a jerky and overt instance of loss in aesthetic continuity. The jump cut is like a skip in the playing of a record or CD; an overt loss of continuity.
As A. R. Duckworth explains in an earlier article about A Bout de Souffle Godard’s use of the jump cut:
represents a significant divergence from the continuity editing system, The basic purpose of the continuity editing system is to establish a smooth continuous flow from shot to shot.(1.) The graphic, rhythmic, spatial and temporal relationship is edited so as to look smooth and uninterrupted. The movement from shot to shot is edited so that at all times an aspect of a shot, such as ’shapes, colours, tones of light or dark, or the direction or speed of movement’ is graphically matched to its corresponding shot, thereby ensuring a sense of aesthetic continuity. (2.) In A Bout de Souffle Godard uses the jump shot to create a sense of anxiety and dislocation. In a scene where Michel is explaining the physical aspects of Patricia he loves the camera jumps from shot to shot. The viewer becomes dislocated, unable to grasp the scene’s location: Godard is using the jump shot to replicate the character’s sense of isolation. Both Patricia and Michel are isolated from the culture they belong to, Michel is a criminal and Patricia is in a foreign county, and they attempt to find friendship in each others company. This attempt is futile because Godard refuses to use the shot-reverse-shot technique which would signify their connection; the jump shot ensures that both Michel and Patricia remain isolated individuals even when in each others company. The form of the jump shot ensures the characters in A Bout de Souffle remain isolated individuals without any hope of deep meaningful connection. This sense of isolation is repeated in the scene where Patricia and Michel making love, yet they still struggle to connect and ultimately remain isolated. Although they both constantly talk to each other they barely look at each other. Patricia looks past Michel as he talks to her, the scene then jumps to Michel alone looking into his reflection. This signifies the failure in communication that typifies Michel and Patricia’s relationship.
(1.) M, Pramaggiore & T, Wallis. (ed), Film a Critical Introduction, p. 356.
(2.) David Bordwell & Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction, Third Edition, London: McGraw-Hill Publishing, (1990) p. 218.
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].