Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Solving a problem with scissors

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In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, audience attendance at films dropped so spectacularly that thousands of film houses closed and the studio system itself was destroyed. The decline is normally attributed to television. But in certain Rocky Mountain states where television was not yet available, the falloff was exactly as precipitous. Filmmakers had put their audiences to sleep. They had done it by taking care of everything—smoothing the way with slow dissolves that made transitions plain, firmly ending sequences with fade-outs followed by a few seconds of blankness to indicate the passage of time, beginning new sequences with fade-ins that made adjustment easy, always indicating shifts of time and place with calendar leaves slipping from the wall, candles burning down, railroad wheels racing…

The problem was solved, more or less, with a scissors. Directors and editors began leaving things out: indications of time, place, advancing steps in the story. Suddenly we were hurtled from room to room, country to country, year to year, event to event—and left to account for the spaces between jumps for ourselves. The new game was to see if one could follow the film, so swift were its leaps, so wide its gaps. The audience, now put to work again, promptly woke up.

Walter Kerr, The Silent Clowns

Written by nevalalee

November 24, 2012 at 9:50 am

Posted in Movies

Tagged with ,

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