The Physics of Classical Continuity

This is a two-shot sequence. In the overall schematic on the left, we see that the character is approaching a staircase. Shot 1 will be taken from a camera setup directly behind him; Shot 2 will be taken taken from a camera setup to his right, at the foot of the stairs. The schematic in the center shows the character’s position in Shot 1 and the schematic on the right his position in Shot 2. In the editing room, we will cut away from Shot 1/Position I before the character has reached the lower horizontal dotted line and the area marked X in the overall schematic. Shot 2 will pick him up at Position II—that is, when he’s already on the stairs. Now, this cut will transpire in 1/24 of a second—the amount of time that it takes one frame to replace another at standard (sound) projection speed. Technically, therefore, we might ask ourselves: How could the character possibly traverse the distance between Position I, at which he’s still moving toward the stairs, and reach Position II, where he’s already on the stairs, in a mere 1/24 of a second? In real time and space, of course, he couldn’t. Unfortunately, following the character in one unedited shot as he covers the entire distance from Position I through Position II would make for tedious onscreen action. Thus we condense both time and space, but each will retain its integrity because the spectator accepts the action as continuous and overlooks the discontinuity. The classical continuity system, therefore, does not reproduce literal time-space relationships: it reconstructs them in a manner that doesn’t violate the spectator’s psychological perception of a logical time-space relationship.

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