. . . if I am in the middle of a scene of action, I shall fi nd my attention and with it my glance, attracted now in this
direction and now in that. I may suddenly turn a street corner to fi nd a small urchin, thinking himself unobserved,
carefully aiming a fragment of rubble at a particularly tempting window. As he throws it, my eyes instinctively and
instantly turn to the window to see if he hits it. Immediately after they turn back to the boy again to see what he does next.
Perhaps he has just caught sight of me and grins derisively; then, he looks past me, his expression changes, and he bolts
off as fast as his short legs will carry him. I look behind me to discover that a policeman has just turned the corner. . . .
The fundamental psychological justifi cation of editing as a method of representing the physical world around us lies
in the fact that it reproduces this mental process described above in which one visual image follows another as our
attention is drawn to this point and to that in our surroundings. In so far as the fi lm is photographic and reproduces
movement, it can give us a life-like semblance of what we see.; in so far as it employs editing, it can exactly reproduce
the manner in which we normally see it.
In this passage, Ernest Lindgren suggests a theoretical justifi cation for editing. He shows that cutting a fi lm is not
only the most convenient but also the psychologically correct method of transferring attention from one image
to another. The mind is, as it were, continually cutting from one picture to the next, and therefore accepts a
lmic representation of reality through abrupt changes of view as a proper rendering of observed experience.
This theoretical argument must, however, be applied with caution. In the incident quoted, all the images
seen by the observer are viewed from a roughly stationary position: the image is changed in each case by the
observer altering the direction of his view without appreciably changing his position in the street. In assem-
bling a fi lm, an editor is often called upon to make cuts which are not strictly comparable to these conditions.
He may have to cut from a shot of an object to a closer or more distant shot of the same object i.e., to cut
from a mid-shot to a close-up or a long shot. In a case of this sort the cut instantaneously changes the posi-
tion of the observer, a manœuvre which in real life is physically impossible. Yet when an editor cuts from a
medium shot to a close-up he is not taking an unwarrantable liberty: he is merely interpreting a mental pro-
cess different from the one we have discussed so far.
Chapter 14
Editing the Picture
The Art of the Film by Ernest Lindgren. Allen & Unwin, 1948, p. 54. My italics.

Get Technique of Film Editing, Reissue of 2nd Edition, 2nd Edition now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.