Whatever happened to the jump cut?

I learned way back in film school about the jump cut. As presented by the illustrious film teacher, Brian Winston, Godard put the first jump cuts into film, creating a new kind of grammar for the language of film. When Jean Seberg comes up the escalator, a new way of using film was created.

So what happened to the jump cut? You never see it anymore. It’s relegated to the audition scene – a mind-numbingly unimaginative way to the jump cut.

The last time I remember seeing it was in Boys Don’t Cry, when the main guy took off his shirt. It really made the scene take off. But that was a while ago.  Wes Anderson, who is nothing if not a director who loves technique, has his own take on the jump cut, which is usually bridged with some dialog.  But that’s kind of a backwards take on it, because, while it moves the action forward, the “jump” is sort of smoothed out, because Wes Anderson likes his movies to be spotlessly beautiful, and they are, but his jump cuts also lack that urgency that makes them so powerful.  Jump cuts can give us the feeling that we’re suddenly moving a little faster than we thought, that our destination could show up at anytime, that anything can happen at any time, because we’re not a slave to that conventional editing style.

The films of the 70’s had it all over the place, as the great American directors of the time were stealing all sorts of stuff from the French New Wave. But then (the 80’s came) it stopped.  In fact, all the great stuff, all the innovations of the French New Wave were brought into the American mainstream in films like Bonnie and Clyde and Annie Hall, and then it all vanished.  That’s what’s amazing: it wasn’t just art films that used this stuff, it was Hollywood.  And now it’s like it was never there.

It’s as if physicists had discovered relativity, and then forgotten it.

I guess it’s closest evolutionary cousin might be found in the “handheld” look that I’m always bitching about.  Then you’re “allowed” to use a jump cut because the whole thing is supposed to look like a piece of shit, and somehow that’s supposed to make it more realistic.

What happened?  Did everybody just get stupider?  Doesn’t anybody remember that there are all these interesting techniques at their disposal?  How could action movies have passed up jump cuts?  Why not try a few of them out?  Get some jump cuts in your film.  Let a character walk out of frame once in a while.  Hold on a character who’s not talking for a scene.

I’ve been storyboarding a film, and while I’m still figuring things out, there’s one thing I’m sure of: there will be jump cuts in it.


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