This article proposes that inquiry into the cognitive complexity of film editing processes could provide insight into how edits affect audiences beyond convincing them of temporal and spatial continuity. Application of two influential theories in cognitive studies of the moving image to this inquiry suggests that editors make some decisions to maximize the smooth transference of their own attention and some in response to their own embodied simulation. However, edited sequences that do not conform precisely to the principles of maximum attentional efficiency or that significantly reshape the cinematographer’s “kinematics” (Gallese and Guerra 2012) reveal other cognitive expertise at work. Sequences generated by editors’ feeling for rhythmic phrases of movement, tension, and release create unique expressive forms in film. They require artistry of a higher order, rather than following the relatively straightforward rules of continuity cutting, and may have distinctive affective or cognitive impact on audiences.
A Cinematic Case Study
James E. Cutting and Karen Pearlman
We investigated physical changes over three versions in the production of the short historical drama, Woman with an Editing Bench (2016, The Physical TV Company). Pearlman, the film’s director and editor, had also written about the work that editors do to create rhythms in film (Pearlman 2016), and, through the use of computational techniques employed previously (Cutting et al. 2018), we found that those descriptions of the editing process had parallels in the physical changes of the film as it progressed from its first assembled form, through a fine cut, to the released film. Basically, the rhythms of the released film are not unlike the rhythms of heartbeats, breathing, and footfalls—they share the property of “fractality.” That is, as Pearlman shaped a story and its emotional dynamics over successive revisions, she also (without consciously intending to do so) fashioned several dimensions of the film— shot duration, motion, luminance, chroma, and clutter—so as to make them more fractal.
When Sam Peckinpah turned over his raw footage for Ride the High Country
(1962) to the MGM studio editor, she declared that the material he had filmed
for the final gunfight was incompetent and that it could not be edited together
in a coherent way. Viewed today, the scene does not seem especially
transgressive in its treatment of continuity, but in that earlier period when
studio editing rules were more conservative, Peckinpah’s disregard for standardized
camera set-ups and conventional coverage perplexed and infuriated
The connection between film elements and brain responses has been suggested by a number of neurocognitive studies. The studies of event segmentation, in particular, support that film editing conditions cognitive responses. After discussing the findings of these studies, this article draws on Münsterberg and Arnheim's classical cognitive approaches to film as well as on poststructuralist film theory to argue that the event segmentation approach still falls short of accounting for the impact of noncontinuous film stimuli on the brain's event segmentation, while it shares with other neurocognitive film research the tendency to naturalize narrative and continuity editing. Finally, the article points out that by approaching the findings of event segmentation studies from the perspective of complex systems neuroscience, new hypotheses can be drawn on how noncontinuous and complex film stimuli condition our brains by mediating (enabling or disrupting) event segmentation and cognitive patterning.
A Bibliography of Books Written or Edited by John Lucas in Chronological Order
Jeffrey M. Zacks
This article is a précis of the book Flicker: Your Brain on Movies (Zacks 2014). Flicker aims to introduce a broad readership to the psychology and neuroscience that underlies their experience in the movie theater. The book covers a range of topics, including emotional experience, adaptation from texts to films, memory and propaganda, movie violence, film editing, and brain stimulation. Cutting across the specific topics are a few broad themes: the evolution of the brain and mind, the role of automatically evoked responses in film viewing, and the role of behavioral and neural plasticity in everyday experience.
Tim J. Smith
The intention of most film editing is to create the impression of continuity by editing together discontinuous viewpoints. The continuity editing rules are well established yet there exists an incomplete understanding of their cognitive foundations. This article presents the Attentional Theory of Cinematic Continuity (AToCC), which identifies the critical role visual attention plays in the perception of continuity across cuts and demonstrates how perceptual expectations can be matched across cuts without the need for a coherent representation of the depicted space. The theory explains several key elements of the continuity editing style including match-action, matchedexit/entrances, shot/reverse-shot, the 180° rule, and point-of-view editing. AToCC formalizes insights about viewer cognition that have been latent in the filmmaking community for nearly a century and demonstrates how much vision science in general can learn from film.
Patrick Colm Hogan
Our emotional responses are determined not only by actual experience, but also by anticipation. Indeed, we respond not only to anticipations per se, but to the relation between anticipations and experiences. Such anticipations operate on different time scales, linked with distinct neurological substrates. Some—such as those involving expectations about the immediate trajectory of objects—are very brief. The relations between experience and very short-term expectations can have significant emotional consequences. One purpose of the standard continuity editing system is to avoid disruptions in our short-term projections. However, the manipulation of discontinuities, thus the controlled disruption of short-term anticipations, can significantly contribute to the emotional impact of film. It is possible to isolate distinct varieties of anticipation and disruption, examining their emotional consequences in different cases. Muzaffar Ali's Umrao Jaan provides a virtual catalogue of such disruptions and their emotional effects.
Beyond the Kuleshov Effect
While the Russian film actor Ivan Mozzhukhin has been recognized by film scholars such as Jean Mitry as one of the important actors of the silent screen the nature of his contributions has gone unexplained and, ironically, Mozzhukhin is perhaps best remembered for a lost experiment, presumably carried out by Lev Kuleshov around 1920, that showed how the editor can construct character emotions with shots of contextual objects. The historical record and scientific attempts to replicate the experiment indicate that we need to pay attention to Mozzhukhin’s role as performer and my study of his performances suggests that we may have to rethink long-held assumptions about the relationship between performer expressiveness and editing.
Paul Messaris, Cynthia Freeland, Sheena Rogers, Malcolm Turvey, Greg M. Smith, Daniel T. Levin, Alicia M. Hymel and Tim J. Smith
CONTINUITY AND ITS DISCONTENTS
CONTINUITY, NARRATIVE, AND CROSS-MODAL CUING OF ATTENTION
AUTEUR OF ATTENTION: THE FILMMAKER AS COGNITIVE SCIENTIST
THE CONTINUITY OF NARRATIVE COMPREHENSION
CONTINUITY IS NOT CONTINUOUS
Greg M. Smith
MAKING THE CASE FOR NONPREDICTIVE CONTINUITY PERCEPTION
Daniel T. Levin and Alicia M. Hymel
EXTENDING ATOCC: A REPLY
Tim J. Smith