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].