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There are several ideas that are associated with the role of editing in film criticism, which can be categorized generally according to the stylistic elements of realism and formalism and the ways in which they both build into the classical paradigm.
A technical definition of editing is the splicing together of strips of film footage (two strips of film, two shots cut together, for example).
However, there are many conceptual issues involved with the way film editing makes meanings within narratives.
Montage, from the French for mounting or assembling, is synonymous with editing in some respects. It can mean a transitional sequence suggesting a lapse of time and/or a passage of space and/or action of a process.
Consider, for example, when Thelma and Louise are driving across country, we have short sequences that reveal our two heroines in different landscapes and at different times of the day, so time and space is compressed to highlight the dramatic points of interest within the story. One might even argue that a sequence as such might also reveal symbolically a process toward liberation (or at least a process of separation from authoritative control) and/or individual growth.
The second definition of montage is historically more American and less European.
In France and Russia, especially, montage has traditionally stood for a more broad and theoretical notion for how shots, when placed in series and combination with one another, accrue specialized meanings.
At first glance, we might think that this would be a logical and linear progression: shot a+ shot b + shot c = meanings a+b+c. These meanings transcend, though, an additive structure; therefore, an equation for the assemblage of shots a, b, and c would be more than a+b+c, but rather it would look like: a+b+c= d, where d is an entirely new meaning.
Continuitythe linearity of a films narrative, where shot follows shot, scene follows scene in an understandable and smooth way. Although a films continuity depend on some formalist elements as well as some realist elements, it has the connotation of emphasizing the realistic elements and the literal points of the narrative, which can be seen in the following explanation of a definitive characteristic of classicism, invisible style.
Invisible style: An effective continuity makes viewers unaware of the ways in which the camera and cutting control our response.
Properly (and logically) matches details, movements and action, and dialogue from shot to shot within scenes matches scene to scene through the development of the film plot and theme.
Time and space are represented in the film form with emphasis on coherence and unobtrusive style.
Associational meaningthe conscious construction of ideas dependent upon the relationship of shot to shot, scene to scene for the expression of emotional or symbolic ideas. Again, this assumes that a film text takes advantage of both realistic and formalistic elements, though associational meanings emphasize the figurative signification of film concepts and depend greatly on abstractions of the film text.
Its worth considering (especially since most narrative feature films take advantage of both realistic and formalistic elements as they blend, merge, and/or collide) how a films continuity establishes certain aspects of the film narrative, while other parts of the film (highly stylized shots, explicit suspensions of narrative perspectives and voices, etc.) can work alongside or within the continuity to create symbolic meanings. These symbolic meanings very often invoke an emotional charge from the viewer and can play rhetorical games with the poetics of the film narrative. The best, most persuasive, and original analyses of film texts take into account these various dimensions of the film text; this is not limited to the film concept of editing and montage, but is certainly an important part of reading the editing and montage.
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