From the earliest days, film has struggled with two opposite impulses—to make its narratives as realistic as possible and to create the fantastic, the reimagined reality. These two impulses were represented in the late 1890s and early 1900s by Louis Lumière and his brother, and by George Méliès. Now, over 100 years later, digitization of the image, including special effects and post-production, has fused the two opposite worlds. Now images can look real and yet can originate out of an imagined reality rather than out of a captured (filmed) reality. In this chapter our goal is to examine how artifice has become real and how realism of the old-fashioned sort has taken on a new meaning in the film experience.
What needs to be said at the outset is that editing has always actively supported both impulses. The extreme long shot and the long shot were the primary means editors and directors first used to articulate imagined reality and the fantastic. The long shot, the close-up, and the cutaway were used to convey both physical and emotional reason. In terms of editing styles, the jump cut and pace have been used to create imagined reality, while seamless continuity cutting—parallel action, match cutting—follow the principles of screen direction and have supported a sense of physical and emotional realism.
Immediately the contributions of digital reality have challenged both sides. The consequence has been an increased effort to create and exploit imagined reality and physical reality. As editors and directors appropriate new stylistic choices to gain advantage in one direction or the other, audiences are left in a state of suspended belief. For them, the questions become: "What is real?" or "I can't believe anything!" or "I surrender to the film, knowing it's not real." This begins to sound cynical, but it is not meant to be. Editors and directors are taking more extreme stylistic positions and the result is a kind of transparency about pushing artifice or pushing realism. Peter Jackson (King Kong) is having lots of fun on that island as a giant gorilla; numerous dinosaurs and innumerable giant insects all pursue the humans. And so are we having fun. But we know it is digitized reality.
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