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Editing is a postproduction phase of filmmaking that begins following the completion of principal cinematography. An editor (and his or her team of assistant editors) works in close collaboration with the film's director and producer. This means that, as with all areas of filmmaking, editing is a collaborative enterprise, even though, in practice, the film editor is typically responsible for the overall ordering and design of the shots in sequence.

Many editing decisions, however, may originate from the film's director or producer. The famous and unconventional series of dissolves in Taxi Driver (1976) that join shots of Robert DeNiro walking down the same street originated from director Martin Scorsese (b. 1942) rather than editor Tom Rolf (b. 1931). The editing design that opens The Wild Bunch (1969), first establishing the band of outlaws riding into town and then cutting to close-ups of a pair of scorpions struggling in a nest of fire ants, was the idea of producer Phil Feldman (1922–1991). Anne V. Coates (b. 1925) was hired to edit Lawrence of Arabia (1962) after first cutting a trial sequence, prompting director David Lean (1908–1991) to proclaim that for the first time in his career he'd found an editor who cut a sequence exactly the way he would have. Many directors, in fact, are known for having excellent editing skills, including Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998) (Shichinin no samurai [Seven Samurai, 1954]), Nicolas Roeg (b. 1928) (Don't Look Now [1973]), Frederick Wiseman (b. 1930) (Hospital [1970]), and Sam Peckinpah (1925–1984) (The Wild Bunch). Even many of these directors, though, employ first-rate editors on their productions.


What is true about editing, therefore, is common to all phases of film production—the creative decisions involved typically have numerous authors. What, then, as a key collaborator on the production, does the editor do? The film editor reviews all of the footage shot on a production, selects the best takes of individual shots, and then orders these to produce an edited sequence that will convey the narrative action and emotion of the film's scenes. To accomplish this, editors must continually view and re-view the footage, trying different combinations of shots and gradually shaping the correct ones. Doing so moves their edit from a rough cut to a fine cut of the material. To maximize their ability to see all of the creative possibilities for combining the shots, most editors will not go on location while the film is being shot or watch the director at work. Seeing the actual layout of a set or other physical locale will tend to inhibit their perceptions about the ways that the shots may be joined, causing them to think in terms of the physical realities of place rather than the spatial realities they can create through editing.

Indeed, in earlier decades throughout most of the medium's history, editors worked on celluloid, physically cutting and splicing film using large bulky machines that ran footage in a linear and sequential fashion, from the beginning of a take to its end. The Moviola was an upright editor with a single screen that was used throughout much of Hollywood's history. Of European derivation, the Steenbeck, or KEM, was a horizontal, flatbed machine equipped with two screens and two soundtracks. It, too, was a linear editor because the footage could advance only in a sequential fashion, from head to tail of a clip or vice versa. Since the 1990s editors have been working on digital, nonlinear machines, such as Avid or Lightworks. These machines do not work on celluloid film; they provide computerized access to footage on digital video and enable an editor to go instantly to any point in this footage without having to scroll manually through every frame, the way a Moviola or Steenbeck requires. Rather than physically cutting and splicing film, the editor using a nonlinear system works at a keyboard, manipulating via computer the footage that has been digitized as video. Once the fine cut is finished, the camera negative is conformed to the final cut. Nonlinear editing has become the industry norm today, and it has had some important consequences for the stylistics of editing in contemporary film.

The foregoing description of editing makes it seem to be a very straightforward and relatively simple process. It is not. Many editors have a background in music or have musical affinities, and they speak of feeling where the cut needs to go, of responding kinesthetically to the emerging rhythms of the sequence. Edit points, therefore, often owe more to an editor's intuitive response to the emerging flow of the sequence than to coolly intellectual decisions. Indeed, there is no single right way to cut a sequence. There are many possible cuts, all of which will inflect the material in different ways. As this suggests, while editing plays a variety of narrative functions, presenting basic story information that advances the story, it also helps set the emotional tone and coloration of a sequence, the rhythm and pace of scenes; helps create performances by the actors; and solves the innumerable continuity problems that arise when trying to connect the footage shot during production.

These are very powerful interventions into the material of the film, and they suggest why so many directors have found editing to be a supremely decisive phase of filmmaking. It is commonly said that a director makes his or her film three times—first, as the screenplay is written; second, as the screenplay is altered at the point of filming; and third, as the material that has been directed and photographed is changed again in the editing process. For this reason, directors frequently partner with a favorite editor across many film productions, finding that this collaboration is a key means of achieving the results they want. Martin Scorsese regularly teamed with editor Thelma Schoonmaker (b. 1940) (Raging Bull [1980],GoodFellas [1990], Gangs of New York [2002]). Susan E. Morse has edited most of the films that Woody Allen (b. 1935) has directed (Manhattan [1979], Crimes and Misdemeanors [1989], Celebrity [1998]). Clint Eastwood (b. 1930) likes to work with Joel Cox (Every Which Way But Loose [1978], Unforgiven [1992], Mystic River [2003]). Blake Edwards (b. 1922) used Ralph E. Winters (1909–2004) (The Pink Panther [1964], 10 [1979], Victor/Victoria [1982]).


Although the earliest films in cinema were done in one shot without any editing, cutting is so fundamental to the medium that it began to emerge relatively quickly. There was a basic disparity between the amount of film that a camera's magazine could hold and the evolving desire of filmmakers and audiences for longer and more elaborate story films. Only by editing shots together could longer narrative forms be achieved. A Trip to the Moon (1914), directed by Georges Méliès (1861–1938), for example, creates a narrative by assembling a series of scenes, with each scene filmed in a single shot. The edit points occur between the scenes, in order to link them together.

Life of an American Fireman (1903), directed by Edwin S. Porter (1870–1941), presents the same narrative events—a fireman rescuing a woman from a burning building—as seen first from inside the building and then from camera setups outside the building, repeating the same narrative action. From the standpoint of continuity as it would develop in cinema, this duplication of event was a deviant use of editing, although other early films feature this kind of overlapping action. It demonstrated, however, the manner in which cutting could impose its own laws of time and space on narrative.

Porter's The Great Train Robbery (1903) follows a band of Western outlaws robbing a train and interrupts the chronology of the action with a cutaway showing the rescue of a telegraph operator whom the outlaws earlier had tied up. Following the cutaway, Porter introduces a second line of action, showing the roundup of a posse and the pursuit of the outlaws. Film historians commonly cite this as an early example of parallel editing, showing two lines of narrative action happening at the same time, although Porter's use of this device here is ambiguous. It is not clear that he means for the parallel editing to establish that the two lines of action are in fact happening simultaneously. In other respects, editing in The Great Train Robbery remains very primitive, with cuts used only to join scenes and with no intercutting inside a scene.

In contrast with Porter, D. W. Griffith (1875–1948) freed the camera from the conventions of stage perspective by breaking the action of scenes into many different shots and editing these according to the emotional and narrative rhythms of the action. Griffith explored the capabilities of editing in the films he made at Biograph studio from 1908 to 1913, primarily the use of continuity matches to link shots smoothly and according to their dramatic and kinesthetic properties. Cutting from full-figure shots to a close-up accentuated the drama, and matching the action on a cut as a character walks from an exterior into a doorway and, in the next shot, enters an interior set enabled Griffith to join filming locations that were physically separated but adjacent in terms of the time and place of the story.

Griffith became famous for his use of crosscutting in the many "rides to the rescue" that climax his films. In The Girl and Her Trust (1912), for example, Griffith cuts back and forth from a pair of robbers, who have abducted the heroine and are escaping on a railroad pump car, to the hero, who is attempting to overtake them by train. By intercutting these lines of action, Griffith creates suspense, and by shortening the lengths of the shots, he accelerates the pace. Crosscutting furnished a foundation for narrative in cinema, and there is little structural difference between what Griffith did here and what a later filmmaker such as Steven Spielberg (b. 1946) does in Jaws (1975). Griffith extended his fluid use of continuity editing and crosscutting in his epics The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). The latter film is a supreme example of crosscutting, which is here used to tell four stories set in different time periods in simultaneous fashion.

The Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (1898–1948) wrote that Griffith's crosscutting embodied the essential class disparity of a capitalist society. He meant that the lines of action in Griffith's editing remained separated, like the classes under capitalism. Inspired by the October Revolution, Eisenstein and other Soviet filmmakers developed in the 1910s and 1920s a more radical approach to editing than Griffith had countenanced. Griffith had championed facial expression and used close-ups to showcase it, but Lev Kuleshov (1899–1970), teaching at the Moscow Film School, proclaimed that editing itself could essentially create facial expression and the impression of an acting performance. The "Kuleshov effect" has become part of the basic folklore of cinema. Kuleshov allegedly took a strip of film showing an actor's emotionless face and intercut it with shots of other objects—a bowl of soup, a woman grieving at a gravestone, a child playing with a toy—and the edited sequence (according to Kuleshov) led audiences to remark on the skill of the actor, who looked hungry when he saw the soup, sad at the sight of the woman, and happy when he saw the child. Because the face remained unchanged, Kuleshov announced that his

b. Riga, Russian Empire (now Latvia), 23 January 1898, d. 11 February 1948

Sergei Eisenstein is a wholly unique figure in cinema history. He was a filmmaker and a theoretician of cinema who made films and wrote voluminously about their structure and the nature of cinema. Both his filmmaking and his writing (which fills several volumes) have been tremendously influential.

Frustrated by the creative limitations of his work in the theater, Eisenstein turned to cinema and in 1925 completed his first feature, Stachka (Strike), which depicted the plight of oppressed workers. Eisenstein's next two films are the ones by which he remains best known, Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin, 1925) and Oktyabr (Ten Days That Shook the World and October, 1927), each depicting political rebellion against czarist rule.

Eisenstein believed that editing was the foundation of film art. For Eisenstein, meaning in cinema lay not in the individual shot but only in the relationships among shots established by editing. Translating a Marxist political perspective into the language of cinema, Eisenstein referred to his editing as "dialectical montage" because it aimed to expose the essential contradictions of existence and the political order. Because conflict was essential to the political praxis of Marxism, the idea of conflict furnished the logic of Eisenstein's shot changes, which gives his silent films a rough, jagged quality. His shots do not combine smoothly, as in the continuity editing of D. W. Griffith and Hollywood cinema, but clash and bang together. Thus, his montages were eminently suited to depictions of violence, as in Strike, Potemkin, and Ten Days. In his essays Eisenstein enumerated the numerous types of conflict that he found essential to cinema. These included conflicts among graphic elements in a composition and between shots, and conflict of time and space created in the editing process and by filming with different camera speeds.

As a political filmmaker, Eisenstein was interested in guiding the viewer's emotions and thought processes. Thus, his metric and rhythmic montages were supplemented with what he called "tonal" and "intellectual" montage, in which he aimed for subtle emotional effects and to convey more abstract ideas. Ten Days represents Eisenstein's most extensive explorations of intellectual montage, as he creates a series of visual metaphors to characterize the political figures involved in the October Revolution, such as shots that compare Alexander Kerensky with a peacock.

Stalin's consolidation of power in the 1930s accompanied cultural and artistic repression, which forced Eisenstein, now criticized as a formalist, to recant the radical montage style of his silent films. Thus his last films, Aleksandr Nevskiy (Alexander Nevsky, 1938) and Ivan Groznyy I and II (Ivan the Terrible Part One [1944] and Two [1958]) lack the aggressive, visionary editing of his work in the silent period. Although he completed only seven features, these contain some of the most famous sequences ever committed to film, such as the massacre on the Odessa steps in Potemkin. Together, Eisenstein's films and essays represent the supreme expression of the capabilities and power of montage in the cinema.


Stachka (Strike, 1925), Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin, 1925), Oktyabr (Ten Days That Shook the World and October, 1927), Ivan Groznyy I (Ivan the Terrible Part One, 1944), Ivan Groznyy II (Ivan the Terrible Part Two, 1958)


Bordwell, David. The Cinema of Eisenstein. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Eisenstein, Sergei. Film Form. Translated by Jay Leyda. New York: Harvest, 1969.

——. The Film Sense. Translated by Jay Leyda. New York: Harvest, 1969.

Leyda, Jay, ed. Film Essays and a Lecture. New York and Washington: Praeger, 1970.

Taylor, Richard. October. London: British Film Institute, 2002.

Stephen Prince

experiment proved that editing had created the meanings viewers attributed to the sequence.

While it is extremely doubtful that Kuleshov's experiment worked exactly as he claimed (for one thing, it is likely that the actor's face actually contained an ambiguous expression since Kuleshov had taken the footage from an existing film), the Soviet filmmakers of the 1920s followed Kuleshov's lead in fashioning a much more aggressive method of editing than what they had found in the films of Griffith. Eisenstein believed that editing or montage was the essence of cinema, and beginning with his first film, Stachka (Strike, 1925), and continuing most famously with Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin, 1925), he created an editing style that he called "dialectical montage" that was abrupt and jagged and did not aim for the smooth continuity of Griffith-style cutting. The massacre of townspeople on the Odessa Steps in Potemkin exemplifies the principles of dialectical montage and is possibly the most famous montage in the history of cinema. The jaggedness of Eisenstein's editing in this sequence captures the emotional and physical violence of the massacre, but he also aimed to use editing to suggest ideas, a style he termed "intellectual montage." The massacre sequence concludes with three shots of statues of stone lions edited to look like a single lion rising up and roaring, embodying the idea of the wrath of the people and the voice of the revolution.

Although Eisenstein's sound films, Aleksandr Nevskiy (Alexander Nevsky, 1938) and Ivan Groznyy I and II (Ivan the Terrible Part One [1944] and Two [1958]), do not exhibit the radical editing of his silent films, Eisenstein's approach to montage—the extreme way he would fracture the action into tiny, brief shots—proved to be tremendously influential. The gun battles in Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, edited by Lou Lombardo (1932–2002), was quite consciously based on Eisenstein, and the hyperactive editing of much contemporary film, with edit points only a few frames apart, is part of Eisenstein's legacy.

The dominant style of editing practiced during the classical Hollywood period, from the 1930s to the 1950s, was quite different from Soviet-style montage. It is sometimes called "invisible editing" because the edit points are so recessive and so determined by the imperative of seamless continuity. Hollywood-style editing carefully matches inserts and close-ups to the physical relations of characters and objects as seen in a scene's master shot, and follows the 180-degree rule (keeping camera setups on one side of the line of action) so that the right–left coordinates of screen geography remain consistent across shot changes. Cut points typically follow the flow of dialogue, and shot–reverse shot editing uses the eyeline match to connect characters who are otherwise shown separately in close-ups. This style of editing assured the utmost clarity about the geography of the screen world and the communication of essential story information. For these reasons, it is sometimes called "point-of-view" editing or "continuity editing." That it became the standard editing style of the Hollywood system is evident in the fact that it can be found in films across genres, directors, and studios.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, films of the French New Wave introduced a more aggressive editing style than was typical of the Hollywood studios. À bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960), directed by Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930), used jump cuts that left out parts of the action to produce discontinuities between shots, and American directors a decade later assimilated this approach in pictures such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Easy Rider (1969). As a result, by the 1970s the highly regulated point-of-view editing used in classical Hollywood began to break down as an industry standard, and the cutting style of American films became more eclectic, exhibiting a mixture of classical continuity and more abrupt, collage-like editing styles.


Along with the breakdown of classical continuity as the industry's sole standard cutting style, the other major stylistic development in recent films has been due to the switch from linear to nonlinear editing systems. This changeover has helped produce an increase in the cutting rate of contemporary film and a bias in favor of close-ups. Edit points occur more rapidly than in films of previous decades, with a much greater profusion of shot changes. Moulin Rouge (2001) exemplifies the hyperactive editing style found in many films today.

Several features of nonlinear systems have motivated this shift. For one, they give editors much greater control over the available footage, with greatly increased abilities to access individual shots and manipulate them more easily in complex editing constructions. But there is a paradox. Editor Walter Murch (b. 1943) (Apocalypse Now [1979], The English Patient [1996]) points out that an editor working on a linear system may actually come to know the footage better as a result of having to search it sequentially looking for a particular piece of film. Editors on nonlinear systems are more dependent on their notes about the footage and may overlook valuable material because their notes have excluded it.

In addition, the image as viewed on the editor's monitor tends to be of relatively low resolution because of the necessary trade-off between resolution and the computer storage space needed for the digitized video of the film footage. The higher the resolution, the greater the storage space that is needed. The low-res image will tend to bias editors toward close-ups rather than long shots and toward frequent shot changes as a means of maintaining visual interest. As a result, many contemporary films have come to look more and more like television, with quick editing and a tendency to play the story as a montage of close-ups.

What this approach loses is not so much the aesthetic tradition in cinema that developed in opposition to montage, such as the long shot–long take style celebrated by French critic André Bazin and found in such films as La Grande illusion (The Grand Illusion, Jean Renoir, 1937), Csillagosok, katonák (The Red and the White, Miklós Jancsó, 1967), Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967), and Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941). This style never had much presence in American cinema. Rather, what is vanishing from American film are all of the ways that an individual shot can function as a unit of meaning, through composition, production design, lighting, and the actor's performance as it unfolds in the real time of a shot that is held. An essential component of editing is knowing when not to edit, when to hold the shot. Films of earlier decades routinely exhibit this quality. Many contemporary films do not, and in this respect it can be said that their hyperactive editing style is cannibalizing other essential elements of cinema. When every shot is only a few frames long, the art of the cinematographer, of the production designer, and of the actor necessarily suffers. Sergei Eisenstein always maintained that the point of montage was to overcome the characteristics of the single shot taken in isolation. Ironically, his objective is being realized in the montage style that has emerged with the advent of nonlinear editing.


Editors join shots using a variety of optical transitions. These serve narrative, dramatic, and emotionally expressive functions. The most common transitions are the cut (which creates an instantaneous change from one shot to the next), the fade (during which one shot fades completely to black before the next shot fades in from black), and the dissolve (which overlaps the outgoing and incoming shots). Cuts are the most frequent transitions, and typically indicate an uninterrupted flow of narrative information, with no breaks of time or space. Dissolves and fades, on the other hand, may be used to indicate transitions in time and space.

Other optical transitions are available but are used infrequently, and some have become archaic in that they were more common in earlier periods of cinema. The iris was used throughout silent cinema, and the wipe in early sound film. George Lucas (b. 1944) regularly uses irises and wipes in his Star Wars films in order to evoke the visual qualities of early cinema (one source for the films being the old cliff-hanging serials that moviegoers saw in the first half of the twentieth century). Editors may also create split screen effects, putting several shots on screen at once by splitting the image into small windows. This technique enjoyed a brief vogue in the late 1960s and 1970s (The Thomas Crown Affair [1968], Junior Bonner [1973], Twilight's Last Gleaming [1977]). It has been revived in recent years (Timecode [2000]) and can be found in the films of Brian De Palma (b. 1940).

As noted, parallel editing and crosscutting are building blocks of narrative, and they enable editors to control time and space. Indeed, this control of time and space is Miklo one of the key functions of editing. Editors may use continuity cutting to create a stable and reliable spatial geography onscreen, or they may break continuity to undermine spatial coherence, as in films such as Straw Dogs (1971) and Gladiator (2000).

With respect to time (i.e., the duration of an event onscreen), editors may expand it by using devices such as slow motion, or by increasing the number of cutaways from a main line of action or increasing the number of shots that are used to cover the action. In either case, the screen time of the event stretches out. During the Odessa massacre scene in Potemkin a mother with a baby carriage is shot in the stomach, and Eisenstein prolongs the moment of her agony by covering the action with numerous shots and then editing among them. The result is that it takes her a very long time to collapse to the ground, and this duration is a function of editing rather than the actor's performance. Conversely, editors may shrink or contract time by leaving out portions of the action. Jump cuts are an obvious and aestheticized way of doing this. The more common method, however, is to employ a "cheat." In Vertigo (1958), James Stewart has to walk down a very long chapel corridor in order to reach the bell tower, where an important scene will occur. It would be tedious to show him walking the length of the corridor. A judicious cut telescopes the action in a way that is imperceptible to the viewer.

Editors employ cheats all the time, and they routinely do many other things that viewers never notice. They may flip shots to get a proper eyeline match or screen direction, make the action move backwards (when Jack Palance mounts his horse in Shane [1953], it's the dismount shot played in reverse), or solve problems in the continuity or blocking of a scene's action by using cutaways to move things around.

Editors also help shape the actors' performances, and in doing so they help create the dramatic focus of a scene. An editor's decision to play a line of dialogue with the camera on the speaker will inflect the scene in one direction, whereas the decision to use a reaction shot of another character while the line is spoken will give the moment a different tone and emphasis. Film viewers are typically quite unaware of the extent to which editing intersects with film acting. Viewers may attribute to the actor much that results, in fact, from editing. If the editor elects to respect the performance, he or she may work with the master shot, allowing the performances to unfold in the relatively unbroken time of unedited shots. On the other hand, if the editor goes to coverage, building a scene with cutaways, inserts, and switches in camera position, then the editing is subtly reworking the performance. Examples include trimming the ends of shots to tighten an actor's apparent psychological reflex or to make him or her seem to jump on another character's line, or dropping inserts into the action to draw out the length of an actor's pause.

b. 15 February 1932, d. 8 May 2002

Lou Lombardo's seminal contribution to the history of editing is his work on The Wild Bunch (1969), directed by Sam Peckinpah. The complex montages of violence that Lombardo created for that film influenced generations of filmmakers and established the modern cinematic textbook for editing violent gun battles. Lombardo didn't originate the essentials of this design. Dede Allen's editing of Bonnie and Clyde (1967) furnished an immediate inspiration, and Allen's work in turn was modeled on Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954) and Sergei Eisenstein's general approach to montage. But it was Lombardo, working under Peckinpah's guidance, who created the most elaborate and extended design and set the style for other filmmakers.

Peckinpah shot the film's violent gun battles using multiple cameras, and Lombardo took this footage and wove it into complex collages of action, meshing multiple lines of action by intercutting them and mixing normal speed action with varying degrees of slow motion. The editing is audacious and visionary, as the montages bend space and elongate time in a manner whose scope and ferocity was unprecedented in American cinema. Working without benefit of today's nonlinear editing systems that facilitate the control of huge amounts of footage, Lombardo created a final cut that contained more edit points than any American film in history to that time. Making this achievement more impressive yet is the fact that The Wild Bunch was Lombardo's first substantive feature film. Prior to this he had worked on television (editing Felony Squad, where he tried integrating slow-motion and normal-speed footage) and had edited the feature The Name of the Game Is Kill (1968).

Lombardo continued his partnership with Peckinpah on The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), where they experimented less successfully with edits combining normal speed and accelerated action. Peckinpah wanted to use Lombardo again on Straw Dogs (1971), but Lombardo was by then busy editing Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), one of five Altman pictures that he cut (the others were Brewster McCloud [1970], The Long Goodbye [1973], Thieves Like Us [1974], and California Split, 1974). Though his work for Altman was less trendsetting than that for Peckinpah, the partnership with Altman lasted much longer, and Lombardo found the perfect visual rhythms for Altman's wandering and diffuse audio style.

Lombardo was also a very effective editor of comedy (Uncle Buck [1989], Other People's Money [1991]), with Moonstruck (1987) being a particular standout. The superb comic timing of that film is due to Lombardo's editing as much as to the fine direction by Norman Jewison and the sparkling performances.

Lombardo's career was cut short by a stroke in 1991, and he spent the last decade of his life in a coma. But he had left an indelible mark on modern cinema with The Wild Bunch.


The Wild Bunch (1969), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), The Long Goodbye (1973), Moonstruck (1987)


Lobrutto, Vincent, ed. Selected Takes: Film Editors on Editing. New York: Praeger, 1991.

Weddle, David. If They Move … Kill 'Em!: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah. New York: Grove Press, 1994.

Stephen Prince

More extreme examples include using close-ups that have been lifted from other action but that seem to work best in the new context. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), editor Sheldon Kahn (b. 1940) took some footage of actress Louise Fletcher (b. 1934) in conversation with the film's director, Milos Forman (b. 1932), lifted a piece of her expression from this footage, and used it in a scene where her character looks archly at the film's hero (Jack Nicholson). It worked in the scene but, in reality, it was not a moment in which the actress was acting. The surrounding material of the scene, organized by the editing, effectively recontextualized her expression. George Lucas used editing to completely rework his actors' performances in the recent Star Wars film, Attack of the Clones (2002), to the point of cutting and pasting eye blinks and lip movements from one scene to the next.

These considerations suggest that the term "invisible editing," as critics have selectively used it to describe the cutting style of classical Hollywood cinema, is a naïve description. In fact, nearly all editing is invisible editing because the vast bulk of what the editor does, the myriad ways that editing transforms the raw footage of a shoot, remains subliminal and imperceptible to viewers. Some films call attention to their editing style by virtue of aggressive montage or jagged, discontinuous cut points (Easy Rider, Don't Look Now, Moulin Rouge), and it is this kind of filmmaking that scholars and critics commonly posit as the alternative to the "invisible" style of classical Hollywood. But such a dichotomy of Hollywood and anti-Hollywood editing styles is too simplistic. It minimizes the numerous ways that editors on every production work "below the radar," creating effects, emphasis, and continuity in ways that do not advertise themselves as editing.

Shooting on digital video now makes it possible to create a feature film in one shot, without any traditional editing (as in Russian Ark [2003]). Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) once tried to do without editing by making Rope (1948) as if there were no edits between shots. But these superlatively designed films are aberrations from cinema's essential nature, which is, and has always been, an edited construction transforming the realities of what has existed before the cameras.

SEE ALSO Direction;Narrative;Production Process;Technology


Dmytryk, Edward. On Film Editing. Woburn, MA: Focal Press, 1984.

Murch, Walter. In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing. Los Angeles: Sliman-James Press, 1995.

Oldham, Gabriella. First Cut: Conversations with Film Editors. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

Ondaatje, Michael. The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. New York: Knopf, 2002.

Prince, Stephen, and Wayne Hensley. "The Kuleshov Effect: Recreating the Classic Experiment." Cinema Journal 31, no. 2 (Winter 1992): 59–75.

Reisz, Karel, and Gavin Millar. The Technique of Film Editing. Boston: Focal Press, 1983.

Stephen Prince