Mental Continuity

Old Isaacs the Pawnbroker

Wallace McCutcheon, American Mutoscope & Biograph Co., USA, 1907

While her mother lies sick in bed at home, a little girl tries to raise money by hocking some old shoes. The shot here is inserted into a scene at a charity auction, where the girl’s plea for help is rejected by a clutch of callous well-to-do philanthropists. Do we get this shot because the audience is supposed to remember the mother’s plight or because the girl is thinking about it? There’s no visual clue to suggest one cinematic motive over the other (if the image has emerged in the girl’s mind, she shows no emotional reaction to it). Another filmmaker might have clarified matters by superimposing the “subjective” shot onto a shot depicting the character who’s responsible for it, but the effect of the direct cut, though technically confusing in this instance, suggests an effort to maintain continuity despite a jump across space: it’s an entirely different means of using narrative to link characters and events, and because it demonstrates a means by which an “invisible” narrator can enter into the narrative, it’s potentially much more flexible.

Note the Biograph trademark (“AB,” for American Biograph) on the wall: the tactic was cheaper than copyrighting a film, and because it prevented pirates from passing off duplicates as their own product, it served pretty much the same purpose.

Back to CHAPTER 8/Part 2