Editing – Jump cut

Most people (including me) loosely use the term jump cut to describe any cut that creates a jerk in the action. Let’s be more specific. A jump cut is a cut that makes the action inadvertently jump forwards or backwards in time, as though a part of the film was missing or edited without regard for continuity. Well, what was once a major editing ‘no-no’ has become a storytelling technique in its own right.


Intentional jump cuts

Because they disrupt the continuity of the action, jump cuts are very efficient at making the audience feel the physical or mental instability of a character. In Solaris (S. Soderbergh, 2002), a jump cut occurs as Rheya suddenly regains consciousness of her environment (more on sound in a moment). In Dancer in the Dark (L. von Trier, 2000), jump cuts bring out Selma’s mixed feelings as she watches her son riding his first bike against her wishes.

Jump cuts are also commonly used to shrink down long-lasting actions to make their evolutions more apparent. This approach is used in Bad Lieutenant (A. Ferrara, 1992) to describe the descent into hell of the character as he learns from the radio that the baseball team he has bet on is losing the game (a lot of money is at stake). In Oldboy (C-W Park, 2003), jump cuts are used to shorten a training session and emphasize the character’s determination to survive in his jail cell.

Not only do jump cuts disrupt the continuity of images, they also disrupt the continuity of sound, which can be taken advantage of to dramatize the action. Conversely, sound can be used as a binder for the audience to maintain temporal consistency through mismatched shots. In District 9 (N. Blomkamp, 2009), jump cuts interrupt both images and sound to emphasize the disruptive attitude of the character as he searches a shack. At the opposite end of the spectrum, in JFK (O. Stone, 1991), Garrison’s voice (in voice-over) binds muted shots of Oswald’s fleeing a crime scene in a completely random order (i.e. forwards or backwards in time). The scene is an evocation of Oswald possible attitude, a kind of Brownian motion that makes the character look as if he didn’t know which way to go. The visual jaggedness is not repeated with sound to better link the shots.


Typical uses of jump cuts

Jump-cut sequences are frequently used to support typical situations or actions. One of them is what I call the ‘parade’ effect. In Kindergarten Cop (I. Reitman, 1990), Kimble interviews the children of his classroom one by one to identify the child of a criminal’s ex-wife he has been seeking. This effect is typically used to display series of different characters in the exact same environment, as with job interviews, checkout lanes or police line-ups. Note how the camera remains (relatively) still from one shot to the other to emphasize the shift in characters.

The ‘parade’ effect also works with just one character showing off different aspects or poses. In The Party (C. Pinoteau, 1980), jump cuts depict the character’s fitting of clothes as a fashion parade. In Kick-Ass (M. Vaughn, 2010), jump cuts ridicule the character’s ‘training’ and turn it into a kind of selfie album.

The ‘parade’ effect can even be used as an instant transition between two scenes centered on the same subject, but taking place in different locations or situations, as in Ocean’s ElevenOcean’s Eleven (S. Soderbergh, 2001) or in The Hurt Locker (K. Bigelow, 2008).

Finally, the noteworthy ‘investigation’ effect. The character can be seen instantly moving from place to place as he searches the set. For this effect to work, the camera has to remain perfectly still as the character seems to jump around in the frame, as in Kirikou and the Wild Beasts (M. Ocelot & B. Galup, 2005), when Kirikou tries to figure out why a hyena destroyed the villagers’ crop. Note: Did you notice those slight dissolve transitions as the character jumps from place to place? Good job, read on.


Smoothing out jump cuts

If necessary, the jaggedness of jump cuts can be smoothed out. Jump cuts can go hand in hand with cross-fading as both techniques deal with the passing of time. In Cube (V. Natali, 1997), one shot dissolves to the exact same shot with only characters shifting positions, resulting in a smoothed out jump cut. The same approach is used in series in the following excerpt from OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (M. Hazanavicius, 2006) as the character idles the evening away in his office.


What’s up?

Jump cuts make the action unexpectedly jump forwards (or backwards) in time, as though parts of the reel were missing. Used intentionally, jump cuts can shift from a major editing ‘mistake’ to a stunning storytelling technique for conveying mental instability, making the evolution of long sequences more apparent or supporting typical actions. If necessary, cross-fading can help smooth out the jarring effect of jump cuts.


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