Watching a film is reading a book, and reading a book is watching a film. There’s really no difference. In one case you sit quietly in the dark as the light flows over you; in the other case you sit quietly in a lighted room as the text washes over you. The difference between the two is an academic distinction. In both cases, you take in what you see, either on a screen or on the page; you take an experience away from it; you make it yours as you assign structure and significance to its parts. Why else do you think so, so many films are based on books? This video essay by Max Tohline is an important one, which takes up this overlap with considerable energy and intelligence. Twenty minutes in length, it takes its inspiration from a Kathryn Schulz piece on the 5 best punctuation marks in literature, such as a famous ellipsis in T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ or an oddly placed colon in Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol.’ What Tohline manages to do is apply Schulz’s observations to film analysis, with wholly convincing results. A comma placed between two items which implies a relationship between the two (as in Nabokov’s famous "(picnic, lightning)" in ‘Lolita’ becomes the equivalent of a jump cut which makes equivalencies where there would seem to be none on the surface, as in the leap from the bone flung in the air in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ to a vast white craft floating smoothly through outer space, centuries later. The ellipsis from ‘Prufrock’ becomes the equivalent of a moment in which Woody Allen’s malcontent in ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ seeks respite from despair by seeing, in an example of omitting a part of a story for comic effect… a Marx Brothers film. And so it goes. Tohline shows us clips from 100 films in which editing made all the difference; the list, posted at Tohline’s blog, includes everyone from the Coen Brothers to David Lynch to George Melies to Martin Scorsese to Dziga Vertov to Francois Truffaut–and could serve as a great primer for students of film editing, in and of itself.
Watch: 100 Great Moments of Film Editing and 5 Crucial Visual Punctuation Marks