Discontinuity Editing


Mark Cousins once said that continuity editing is the equivalent of using the word “then” in a story. There are three general formats of continuity editing;

  1. Temporal connections: the relationship between a symptom and result, for example one shot may show a glass being pushed off a table and the second will show glass smashing on the floor below.
  2. Spatial connections: the relationship between an object and its environment. This could be a wide shot which cuts to show a closer detail.
  3. Logical connections: for example a wide shot of the white house which cuts to a shot of the President sitting in his office; the connection between the two shots is implied to the audience.

Discontinuity editing is the antithesis to the above; it challenges the audience’s expectations and causes them to feel alienated or disorientated. Below is an example of discontinuity editing from Apocalypse Now (1979), directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Soviet Montage Theory

Soviet montage theory is an approach to film-making which relies heavily on editing. After the first world war, particularly during the Russian Revolution, the need for film as a mass-communication tool grew. Newsreels were produced with aims of propaganda and agitation, to consolidate the masses. The first film school was built in Moscow, All-Russian State University of Cinematography.

Lev Kuleshov was a pre-revolution film artist who explored the notion of meaning being more than merely spatial. He claimed that the arrangement of images creates meaning, and the order of that arrangement modifies the meaning.

Creative geography, in the film-making sense, refers to the illusion of arranging images from different locations. This began the notion of film as immune to barriers of space. The following scene from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is an example of this. Editing makes the the inside of the tent seem magical and lavish, although the logical mind can tell that the outside of the tent and its ‘inside’ are filmed on separate locations.

Eisenstein, a student of Kuleshov, developed a five methods on montage;

  1. Metric: varying the lengths of shots and edits;
  2. Rhythmic: using editing in such a way that it creates a rhythm in the film piece;
  3. Tonal: aims to create resonance with the audience through associating colours with different characters, places or events;
  4. Overtonal: the combined effect of the previous three. It aims to extract an emotional response from the audience; and
  5. Intellectual: the expression of ideas through various editing techniques, for example through visual metaphors.


“This is I, the machine, maneuvering in the chaotic movements, recording one movement after another in the most complex combinations. Freed from the boundaries of time and space, I co-ordinate any and all points of the universe, wherever I want them to be. My way leads towards the creation of a fresh perception of the world. Thus I explain in a new way the world unknown to you.” – Vertov 1923

This is a movement which is somewhat against typical video camera design and usage. Since the video camera created cinema as a medium, it was treated as similar to the theatre, despite cinema possessing the ability to host its own language. It was used to record what the human eye could already see and observe – which is confined by boundaries of time and space – rather than expand that field.

In the 1920’s Vertov broke away from this idea.

“To this day we raped the movie camera and forced it to copy the work of our eye, and the better the copy, the better the shots were considered. As of today we will unshackle the camera and we’ll make it work in the opposite direction.”

In the film The Man with the Movie Camera (1929), Vertov played with editing and time to acquaint his audience with the new language of cinema, specifically condensing and freezing time via editing.

Contemporary Montage

Intellectual montage is now a very common element in twenty-first century films and music video productions. Film language has grown exponentially in sophistication and the ability of editing to create meaning in film (and an audience’s subsequent ability to interpret that meaning) has developed immensely.

One thought on “Discontinuity Editing

Tell me what you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s