【翻译】Film Theory: Why Don’t We Notice All Those Editing Cuts?



JULY 10, 2018

Edits are cuts in the “reality” of a film or television show, so they should be jarring. So why don’t we really notice them?


Bertolt Brecht is a well-known playwright and director of the early twentieth century. The Brechtian approach to theater alienated the audience to remind them that they were watching a production and not something real. This was a far cry from other playwrights at the time, who sought to immerse their audiences in their stories. A few of the techniques Brecht used included breaking the fourth wall, displaying placards that informed the audience of the location or time of the scene, and including song and dance.


These techniques kept the audience aware that they were an audience. And in film and television today, these techniques are standard practice. However, why is it that, unlike the Brechtian theater, these elements do not pull the audience out of a film? Surely such an intrusive element should have a disruptive effect? So, why don’t we notice edit cuts?


Of course, there are cuts we do notice — the bad ones. The edits that cut too soon or too often. We lose sight of the fight in action scenes when the filmmakers use quick cuts instead of showcasing a well-choreographed scene in its entirety. However, excellent editing goes unseen. After all, the editor’s job is to be invisible. The American Cinema Editors Association quite literally calls it the invisible art.


Still, the fact that we remain locked into the narrative when watching cuts of unrealistic viewpoints, such as a long shot of a tall bell-tower clock to a close-up of the ticking clock hand, is quite remarkable. Each of these actions is entirely alien to the real world. Famed editor and theorist Walter Murch puts it more poignantly: Every theatrical film, except perhaps Hitchcock’s Rope, is made up of many different pieces of film joined together into a mosaic of images. The mysterious part of, though, is that the joining of those pieces – the ‘cut’ in American terminology – actually does seem to work, even though it represents a total and instantaneous displacement of one field of vision with another, a displacement that sometimes also entails a jump forward or backward in time as well as space.

然而,当看到不切实际的视点(如从高大钟楼的长镜头深入时钟指针的特写镜头)时,我们仍然会陷入叙事中不可自拔,这一事实确实令人瞩目。每一个这样的情节都与现实世界毫无关联。著名的剪辑师和理论家沃尔特·默奇更加含蓄地说: “除了像是希区柯克的《夺魂锁》这样的作品外,每部院线电影都是由许多不同的片段组成的,它们首尾相连,构成一种影像的镶嵌画。不过,其中一个神秘的部分是,这些片段的连接,即美国术语中的“切”,实际上是有效的,尽管它表示一个画面与另一个画面的整体或瞬时的位移,有时这种位移还会导致在时间和空间上向前或向后跳跃。”

In the same chapter from his book In The Blink of An Eye, Murch goes on to say that it’s almost surprising that we were able to concede to the idea of editing without completely rejecting the disparity between two images conjoined to tell a story. That’s true. From the moment we wake to the moment we sleep, everything we see, even edited films, are in a single stream of continuous information.


Although, is that the case? Well, using a similar exercise to the one that gave Walter Murch the idea of using the blink as an edit point, we can see that we often omit visual information to stop becoming inundated with useless data.


First, find an area of the room away from your monitor or phone to focus on. It could be a mirror, a television, a lunch menu — anything. After reading this sentence, look at the object, hold your focus for a few moments, then come back to the article. Unless you’re superhuman, all of the information between looking from the screen to the other area of the room gets omitted. And we’ll blink often while looking at the two points of focus, just like an edit cut.


It’s not only the blur between focus points that we systematically edit out. Everyone makes the mundane commute from point A to B, whether it’s for work, school, or traveling to the airport, and these are the elements often “edited” out from our recollection of that day. It’s easy to recall what happened at work, or how great the holiday was, but remembering the drive to the point of interest gets left on the cutting room floor. And of course, it bears pointing out that often in film and television, unless a meaningful conversation is taking place inside a car, these traveling scenes from A to B are very rarely in the script.


However, our brains are also editing what we see to help us process what comes next.In 2014, Wired published a series of articles exploring the science of cinema and the nature of perception. One report, “Cinematic Cuts Exploit How Your Brain Edits What You See,” by Greg Miller, delves into how we digest visual information, and it includes a section about psychologist and author Jeff Zack‘s work: His research suggests our brains are constantly dividing up the torrent of information streaming in through our senses into more manageable chunks in order to help us make sense of what’s happening around us and predict what’s likely to happen next . . . He thinks this is a manifestation of our brains’ never-ending effort to predict the future. We have a mental model of what’s happening that we use to predict what’s likely to happen next. ‘You do this because it’s super adaptive,’ Zacks said. ‘If you can anticipate what’s coming up in a few seconds you can react adaptively.’ But whenever the action changes — when the stoplight turns from red to green, say, or when your boss suddenly appears at your desk — you have to update your mental model to reflect what’s happening now.

但是,我们的大脑也在剪辑我们所看到的内容,以帮助我们处理接下来发生的事情。2014年,《连线》(是一份在全美国发行的彩色月刊杂志。该杂志于1993年3月开始发行,着重报道科技对文化、经济和政治的影响。)发表了一系列文章,探讨了电影的科学原理和接受的本质。格雷格·米勒撰写的一份名为《电影剪辑如何利用大脑编辑你所见之物》的文章深入研究了我们如何消化视觉信息,其中包括有关心理学家和作家杰夫·扎克的作品的部分内容: 他的研究表明,我们的大脑会不断将感知中迸发的信息流划分为更加易于管理的数据块,以帮助我们了解周围正在发生的事情,并预测接下来可能发生什么……他认为这是我们的大脑对未来进行不懈努力的预知的表现形式。对于即将发生的事情,我们可以通过心智模式来预测它。扎克斯说:“你这么做是因为它具有超强的适应性。如果你能预料到几秒钟后会发生什么,你就可以做出合适的反应。”但是只要动作发生变化——比如当信号灯从红色变为绿色时,或者是你的老板突然出现在办公桌旁的时后——你都必须更新你的心智模式来应对当前的状况。

Editing is unnoticeable because, to an extent, it’s built on the foundation of how we perceive the world around us. While we don’t cut from location to location, we do neglect the non-important visual cues, and we delegate moments of time into event boundaries, like scenes, which allow for greater memory recall.

剪辑之所以不可忽视,是因为它在一定程度上建立在我们对周围世界的感知基础之上。 虽然我们不会在各个地点之间硬切,但我们的确会忽略无足轻重的视觉提示,转而将时间分配到事件的衔接点(例如场景)上,以增强记忆唤起。

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