Look for examples of time being contracted or expanded in movies and write up your analyses of these on your blog.
I looked at a range of editing techniques used by filmmakers to represent the passage of time.
Transition wipes in ‘Star Wars’ (1977)
George Lucas uses transition wipes throughout ‘Star Wars’ to show the transition of time. He uses a range of wipes that give the film a comic book effect, like turning a page between scenes.
Shot 1 – Long shot of Luke Skywalker climbing aboard landspeeder
Shot 2 – Long shot of land speeder
Lucas uses a straightforward wipe from left to right across the screen to skip from Luke Skywalker climbing into the land speeder and to him racing through the landscape a few moments later. This helps keep up the momentum of the action, moving things quickly along from one scene to the next. The direction of the wipe, from left to right, follows the movement and pace of the land speeder, wiping across the first shot of C-3PO and R2-D2 watching Luke get onto the vehicle.
Shot 1 – Long shot of sandscrawler
Shot 2 – Medium Long Shot of stormtroopers
Lucas uses a clock wipe between two scenes to show the passage of time between night and day. The wipe sweeps clockwise around the scene, revealing the Imperial stormtroopers searching for C-3PO and R2-D2 in the desert. The clock wipe is provides a comic-like transition showing the passage of an extended period of time, from C-3PO and R2-D2 inside the sand crawler to the stormtroopers int he desert.
Foreground wipe in ‘Stranger Things’ (2016)
Shot 1 – Close up of character centre frame, looking at laptop
Shot 2 – Close up of character centre frame, from behind
A more recent use of the transition wipe. In the first shot, we see Eleven looking at the screen of a laptop. The camera tilts down, filling the screen with the back of the laptop. From there, the camera tilts up, revealing the back of a chair in another location in which Eleven is sitting. She is still seated, in close up, though in this shot she is seen from behind.
The technique is used here to transition into a flashback, a different time zone entirely. This is not simply the representation of the passage of linear time. It indicates an important shift in time and place, around a single character, revealing a scene in which we discover a little more about the character’s back story.
Transition cutaway in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1965)
Shot 1 – MS/two shot
Shot 2 – Close up
Shot 3 – MS/two shot
David Lean uses a transition cutaway as a way of showing the passage of time and change of location.
Loud noise cut in ‘Don’t Look Now’ (1973)
Shot 1 – Close up
Shot 2 – Close up
Transition cut in ‘Seven’ (1996)
Shot 1 – ELS
Shot 2 – MS/two shot
An example of a straight cut to show the passage of time within the same setting.
In the first shot, we see detectives Somerset and Mills on a sofa in the precinct hallway. This cuts to the next shot, in which we see the same two characters asleep on the sofa.
The transition indicates the passage of several hours. This is reinforced with the title card indicating we are now into Thursday, the next day of the investigation.
Fade to black in ‘Fitzcarraldo’ (1982)
Towards the end of ‘Fitzcarraldo’, Herzog uses a fade to black to indicate an extended passage of time. Do Aquilino offers to buy Fitzcarraldo’s ship. Fitzcarraldo tells the crew that Aquilino is the new owner of the ship. Fitcarraldo takes the Captain aside and hands him some money and asks him to buy to items, then whispers an instruction in his ear.
It is clear that a significant amount of time has passed between Fitzcarraldo’s conversation withe the Captain and the arrival of the boats from Iquitos. The fade to black at this point in the film also acts as an important structural device within the overall narrative. It marks the end of the main bulk of the story, Fitcarraldo’s failed business venture into the jungle and his attempt to take the ship overland between two tributary rivers. It marks the beginning of the final sequence, in which Fitcarraldo fulfils his dream of bringing opera to the native indians.
Transition dissolves in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’
John Ford uses the dissolve in the opening sequence of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, in which we see Tom Joad travelling home on foot following his release from jail. The film opens with an extreme long shot (ELS) of Joad walking towards camera along an empty highway, with crossroads in the foreground.
The shot is cut and dissolves into a second shot from the same camera position, this time showing Joad approaching and walking through the crossroads we had seen in the previous shot. The dissolve indicates a short passage of time. The second shot pans with the character as he walks through frame, revealing a roadside restaurant with a truck parked outside.
Transition dissolves in ‘Dr Zhivago’
A wonderfully composed sequence demonstrating an economy of shots. In this sequence there are nine shots, covering a screen time of 3 minutes 18 seconds.
This example shows how you can develop a narrative covering an extended period of time with only a handful of shots.
The sequence, starting in Yuriatin Park and ending in Varykino, contains three transition dissolves:
- between shots 1 and 2
- between shots 6 and 7
- between shots 8 and 9
The first dissolve indicates a fairly short passage of time, between Lara and Yuri leaving the park and arriving in the lane leading up to Lara’s apartment.
Shot 1 – LS of the two characters sitting on a bench in the park. They stand and walk through frame, from right to left.
Dissolve – creates an overlay of white graffiti and a red star painted on a wall
Shot 2 – as the dissolve completes, the two characters enter the frame from the right, creating an MS/two shot. The camera pans with the two characters as they walk along the lane away from the camera, creating a Long Shot of the characters. The camera holds for a few seconds, then tilts up, revealing the window of Lara’s apartment in MS.
Shot 3 – cut to interior of Lara’s apartment.
The first dissolve in this sequence contracts time, cutting out the bulk of their walk from the park to the apartment.
It also creates in interesting graphic quality, hinting at the turmoil of revolution underpinning the story.
In the second dissolve, the passage of time from Lara and Yuri entering in the apartment to waking up the following morning, cutting out the intervening evening and night.
Shot 6 – MS of the two characters, centre frame, kissing
Dissolve – creates an overlay of the rooms of the apartment
Shot 7 – MS of Lara’s apartment. Through an open door in left of frame we can see movement in the bed and the sun rise through the bedroom window. We can also see a vase of daffodils on a table at the right edge of the frame, presaging the field of daffodils two shots later.
One thing I have learned from my analysis of the ‘transition’ as an editing technique is that it needs to be seen within the context of the whole sequence in which it is employed.
The dissolve, for instance, is not simply a cross-fade between two shots. It is much more than a decorative way of joining two images within a film together.
With the opening sequence of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, the three dissolves are key to portraying the progression of time within the narrative flow. They allow Ford to contract time within the opening of the film, by skipping the irrelevant events and emphasising the important moments of Tom Joad’s journey home on foot: Joad walking along the dust highway; Joad hitching a ride in a truck; the conversation between Joad and the truck driver; and Joad meeting Cory at the roadside.
The three dissolves in the ‘Reunited’ sequence in ‘Dr Zhivago’ perform a similar function, contracting time in order to emphasise the key moments within the scenes at this point in the story: Yuri’s first impressions of Lara’s apartment; and Yuri and Lara in bed the following morning.
I think these three dissolves also perform a secondary graphic function in the way that they link the scenes together: the barren patch of ground across which Yuri and Lara walk, overlaid with graffiti and the red star; the symmetrically framed couple kissing, overlaid with the empty apartment from a different angle; the close up of the couple in bed, overlaid with a field of yellow flowers.
Contracting time, whether through a transition or any other editing technique, is fundamental to moving image storytelling.