In response to:“Vsevolod Pudovkin: From Film Technique (On Editing)” from the book “Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings” by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen
A response paper for my Advanced Film Theory and Criticism class
This chapter entitled “Vsevolod Pudovkin: From Film Technique (On Editing)” from the book “Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings” by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen showed how early on, editing played a significant role in convincing the world that film is an art form. Soviet filmmaker Vsevolod Pudovkin discussed how a narrative works in telling stories for the human species who are naturally born storytellers and story audiences. Considering the time he wrote this discussion on structural and relational editing, it was interesting to read about terms like scenarist as the scriptwriter and pieces pertaining to shots. He mentioned numbers in relation to reels and feet of celluloid that are clearly dated in today’s world of digital cinema, but they are worth encountering – rightfully looking back at film’s roots and paying respect to the discipline. He mentioned a narrative structure’s “moment of greatest tension,” pertaining to the climax of a story, as how today’s filmmakers would address it. Indeed, some terms have evolved through the decades, but the creative process involved in telling a narrative using the film medium has remained the same. In discussing shot, scene, and sequence and how they function in film editing, he empowered the use of film in presenting how a logical order of events unfolds from one shot to the next, how an attentive person witnessing these events responds accordingly, and how culture and memory play vital roles in understanding what is being watched.
Pudovkin expressed how crucial is the decision-making process involved in setting up a scene and utilizing editing techniques to not just understand narrative flow, but also allow dramatic continuity of action and investment and manipulation of emotions in a story. Expounding on the proper use of the camera lens, which mimics the function of the human eyes in reality, he explained the significance of the close-up in directing, focusing, and highlighting the context of the story being told on screen. He believed that each close-up of subjects or objects should be in service to scene construction and should not serve as an interruption. In telling the story, he discussed setting up the narrative using a selected character’s perspective, while acknowledging the dynamics of human interaction to make the right call on deciding to show the turning of the character’s head and moving the eyes from one part of the scene to the next – based on where the eyes would logically be attracted to. In so doing, the character guides the audience’s attention and this propels the understanding of story details as they unfold on screen. He said, “There is a law in psychology that lays it down that if an emotion give birth to a certain movement, by imitation of this movement the corresponding emotion can be called forth. If the scenarist can effect in even rhythm the transference of interest of the intent spectator, if he can so construct the elements of increasing interest that the question, ‘What is happening at the other place?’ arises and at the same moment the spectator is transferred whither he wishes to go, then the editing thus created can really excite the spectator.” For him, editing should provide “a compulsory and deliberate guidance of the thoughts and associations of the spectator.”
Pudovkin explained how editing works as an instrument of impression, controlling the “psychological guidance” of the spectator in the process. It is interesting to find out how his insights on contrast, parallelism, symbolism, simultaneity, and leit-motif still apply well in these modern times. He also noted the value of the scenarist saying, “It has merely been important to show that constructional editing, a method specifically and peculiarly filmic, is, in the hands of the scenarist, an important instrument of impression. Careful study of its use in pictures, combined with talent, will undoubtedly lead to the discovery of new possibilities and, in conjunction with them, to the creation of new forms.” Now, in understanding what happens in a narrative, as shots are now expected to be connected literally and/or figuratively depending on the context of the story, the advancements in understanding film language in the contemporary setting continues to present editing as a critical factor in mounting straightforward narratives, poetic films, and experimental pictures. Indeed, cinematic storytelling further develops as years and decades pass by, but cinema’s roots from many decades back carries on to provide a formidable foundation in effectively telling stories using the film medium.
Braudy, Leo and Cohen, Marshall. “Vsevolod Pudovkin: From Film Technique (On Editing)” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, Oxford University Press, New York, 1999.