Film Editing: Task 1

The Development of Film & Editing

Assessment Task 1 – (Criteria 1.2 & 1.2)

A Critical Review of the Development of Editing Practice, Theories and Practitioners.

Since the invention of the video camera in the late nineteenth century, film and editing has developed and evolved a substantial amount and this ongoing development in the film industry has enabled stories to be told in new and exciting ways. I will be discussing the development of film and editing and how actualists, storytellers and expressionists have aided this development throughout the years.

Auguste Marie Louis Nicolas and Loius Jean Lumière, more commonly referred to as The Lumière Brothers, are widely recognised as the earliest filmmakers in history. Practitioners between the years of 1885 and 1903, such as The Lumière Brothers, are known as Actualists. The Lumière brothers were known for filming ordinary everyday behaviour such as workers leaving a factory and people boarding trains and although by today’s standards this sounds mundane, at the time this was something never before seen so was both exciting and frightening. One of the Lumières most famous contributions to film was the ‘Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat’ (show below), a short and simple film dating back to 1895 showing the arrival of a train at a station. This film caused great controversy because people had never seen a moving picture before and many people believed the train was going to come out of the screen and crash in to them.


Thomas Edison is also a core practitioner of this era. In 1896, Edison directed a piece called ‘The Kiss’,  (Video) a 47 second clip originally projected in West End Park, Ottawa,  in which a couple are seen hugging and kissing. This depicts the first ever on-screen kiss. In 1899 Thomas Edison employed Edwin S Porter and not long after, he took charge of motion picture production at Edison’s New York Studios, directing many films and collaborating with many other filmmakers. After 10 years of directing and camera operating at Edison’s studios, Edwin S Porter established himself as the most influential filmmaker in America and even today, is still regarded as one of the most important filmmakers of all time. Porter is credited as the inventor of many alternative transitions that we still use today such as dissolves, fades and wipes as well as parallel editing as opposed to simple abrupt cuts. These revolutionary transitions can be seen in Porter’s 1903 films ‘Life of an American Fireman’ and ‘The Great Train Robbery’ shown here:



The life of an American fireman is a six minute film by Edwin S Porter. It depicts the rescue of a woman and child from a burning building by combining actors in set-up scenarios with footage of genuine fires to create a dramatic yet real story. The Great Train Robbery, a 12 minute film, follows four criminals and their attempts to rob a passenger train that ends with all of the bandits being shot. It is because of this visionary introduction of editing, shown in films like these, that film evolved into the art form it is today and why Edwin S Porter is now referred to as ‘The Father of Film Editing’.

These films demonstrate the changes that took place in film making during the early 1900’s. With the introduction of new editing techniques such as split screen and fades, Edwin S Porter was able to tell the story of ‘The Life of an American Fireman’ through new means and it is because of this that practitioners of this time are known as Storytellers.

One of the most successful storytellers of this era was French filmmaker George Melies , director and writer of the well known 1902 film Le Voyage dans la Lune or ‘A Trip to the Moon’, the first ever science fiction film. The film features a group of astronauts being launched into space by a bullet-shaped capsule in an attempt to explore the moon. Melies is credited as the first filmmaker to use special effects such as slow motion, sounds effects and explosions, as seen in this iconic piece of film.

Between 1915 and 1928, film and editing techniques developed even further. The practitioners of this era are known as expressionists because filmmakers of this time were able to convey meaning and emotion by joining seemingly unrelated clips to form one piece of film that portrays a single story. Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov took inspiration from the likes of Edwin S Porter to create another new editing technique that would later be referred to as ‘The Kuleshov effect’. This video demonstrates how we can depict emotion through certain images. The video features a short clip of a man initially showing little emotion; however when the clip is combined with the image of soup, the man appears hungry. The same clip of the man was shown combined with a child in a coffin and again with a posing woman. When the clip was combined with this series of different images, despite the fact that his facial expression does not actually change, different meanings were deduced, thus proving the effectiveness and power of suggestion in film editing. Many other filmmakers have used this technique since and arrived at the same conclusion, hence it is still commonly used in today’s cinema.


As technology has progressed throughout the years, the theory behind filmmaking has developed immensely as well. Since the earliest times of actualists such as the Lumière Brothers, storytellers such as Edwin S Porter and expressionists such as Lev Kuleshov, editing has become an essential part of film making and helped film in general establish itself as an art form within a relatively short period of time. The techniques that have been mentioned still feature heavily in the vast majority of films today, thus proving that without the work of pioneers such as the Lumière brothers, Thomas Edison, Edwin S Porter and Lev Kuleshov, the film industry would not be where it is today. Although there are still experimental filmmakers and creatively different films being produced every year, I personally don’t think there will be anything as substantially significant in the film industry as has already been implemented by these actualists, storytellers and expressionists.