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Cuts in Movies
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Cognitive Daily blogs about a recent study showing the effect of cutting to new angles in a movie and how it negatively affects the accuracy of memories regarding the event.


There was no significant difference in the results for a static camera versus a moving camera, but viewers were significantly less accurate when they saw an abrupt cut in the movie. This decrease in accuracy was almost entirely found at the point in the movie immediately following the cut, suggesting quite strongly that the cut itself momentarily disoriented viewers. So although the perceptual system can handle cuts in a movie presentation, those cuts do have some cost.


I imagine the effects of suddenly changing perspectives is more complex than this study might let on. I'm thinking variables like the emotional salience of the view that is cut to is important. For example, in the study, the movie cut from one angle of a simulated basketball game to another angle. But think about a common use of cuts in movies: A man walks into a room. We see a reaction shot (he's shocked!). Then we cut to a shot of what's on the floor (a dead body!). My guess is that in this case a quick cut would increase accuracy of recall over a slow pan to the dead body. But maybe not.

Some of the comments mention directors like Robert Altman (I remember reading somewhere that the opening scene of The Player was the longest, uncut continuous scene at the time). And I thought I read somewhere else that when it came out Armageddon featured the highest cuts/minute rate of any previous movie. Does anyone know of any sites that talk extensively about cut rates in films?

It's a little counterintuitive. I remember hearing that the reason for quick-cutting was the appease the short attention spans of viewers. The MTV generation supposedly didn't want to look at the same scene for more than a few seconds. But if quick cutting places more attentional demands on the viewer, and requires more cognitive resources to parse, then wouldn't fewer cuts be better?


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