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Parallel Editing

Page history last edited by Air Dupaix 12 years, 11 months ago

Parallel editing (also known as cross-cutting), is a film editing technique of continuity editing that establishes the relationship between two subjects by cutting from one to the other. One of the most important effects of the parallel edit (but not a necessary one) is that of simultaneousness, suggesting that two events occur at the same time.  By employing this sequence of alternating focus, the filmmaker is able to place subjects in relation to one another, allowing complex and subtle relationships to establish themselves by way of cinematic proximity.  Kenneth Dancyger notes, "[this technique] links stories and supports the narrative" (38).


In D.W. Griffith's 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, cross-cutting is famously employed to establish relationships and drive the narrative.  However, as Michael Rogin observes, "parallel editing didn't simply contribute to storytelling; it [brought forth] juxtapositions, contrasts, contrasts, and dismemberments" (158).  Griffith's understanding of the importance of editing in establishing relationships on screen produced complex and dynamic filmmaking.   (film clip here)


An example of this style occurs during the scene of Lincoln's assassination in the Ford Theatre. In this instance, parallel editing is used to increase dramatic tension in service of the narrative, rather than to complicate it.  The camera cuts between shots of the stage, the President's viewing box, and close-up shots of the Stonemans (who are in attendance).  While all of the subjects inhabit the same theatre, Griffith uses editing to map out the seperate spaces.  The emphasized relationship between these spaces is used to increase the tension within the scene.  The various locales within the theatre are intercut with shots of John Wilkes Booth preparing to assassinate the President, allowing the audience to connect and relate the characters and their locations to the eventual, violent climax.   




Parallel editing is essential to nearly every race and chase scene in modern movies. The idea is to build up tension between two subjects while relating them to one another, which I think this clip from the Matrix Reloaded does well. First, we see the initial, basic action of the sequence, but have no frame of reference for Neo's action. Then comes a quick cut to a completely different location (in this case, not even technically in the same realm) that implies Morpheus and Link's relation to Neo's action. They make a quick comment on his action, a clear indication of the link between the two scenes. The next cut is clear parallel editing: the city, Neo flying as fast as he can through it, then a cut to the new action sequence of Trinity's fall from the building. This rapid cutting, from the city, to Neo, to Trinity, all weigh on the viewer's mind to infer their relation to each other, and because of their quick succession, we assume that these actions are all occuring simultaneously. The feeling of simultaneous action grows as the cuts become more frequent and close in on our two main lines of action: cut to Neo's flight, back to Trinity falling, back to Neo flying, then closer as the bullet is fired at Trinity, another cut closer to Neo's face, then a clear close-up of the bullet entering Trinity's chest and her reaction. Then, our two lines of action come together in the final few shots of the clip, confirming our assumptions that all the action was occuring simultaneously. Neo saves Trinity just in time, and he carries her off above the city, away from danger.



Work Cited

"Cross-cutting." Wikipedia. 16 Sept. 2009 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-cutting.

Dancyger, Kenneth. "Editing For Subtext: Altering the Meaning of the Narrative." Cineaste 34 (2009): 38-42.

Gaudreault, Andre. "Detours in Film Narrative: The Development of Cross-Cutting." Cinema Journal 1st ser. 19 (1979): 39-59.

Rogin, Michael. ""The Sword Became a Flashing Vision": D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation." Representations Winter (1985): 150-95. 

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