Let’s answer the most basic question first. “Continuity” is the illusion that allows the cuts of a film to appear seamless, when in reality the two shots we see may have been filmed hours, days or even months apart. . For example, a character throws a punch and there is a cut at a wider angle in which the punch lands. In the second shot, we may not even be looking at the same two people; the actor who was punched in the face may have been stealthily replaced by a stuntman, with the shot angled to hide his face. It’s a great magic trick with a whole team of magicians working together to pull it off.
Perhaps because our brains are used to seeing continuous action in real life, they are quite easily fooled into thinking that the action of one shot was immediately followed by the action of the next shot. Most of the time, we are not even consciously aware of cutouts while watching a movie. As editor Walter Murch (“Apocalypse Now”) wrote in his book “At a Glance,” the ideal fit “should seem almost obvious and effortless, if even noticed.” He describes the ease with which humans have adapted to cuts in movies as something of a miracle:
The mysterious part, however, is that the assembly of these parts… actually seems to work, even though it represents a total and instantaneous displacement from one field of view to another, a displacement that sometimes also involves a jump in forward or backward in time as well as in space.
Murch goes on to explain that some edits have a greater tendency to confuse the viewer of the film, and from this came the “rules” of editing. One of the best-known rules is the line of action, or 180 degree ruler, which dictates that if we’re looking at two characters, the camera’s “eye” should stay on one side of them. If a character is on the left side of the frame and the camera’s eye suddenly jumps to the other side, so that it is now on the right, the result is shocking to the viewer. Suddenly they are aware of the cut. Murch continues:
The discovery at the beginning of this century that certain types of cutting “worked” led almost immediately to the discovery that films could be shot discontinuously, which was the cinematic equivalent of the discovery of flight: in a practical sense, the films were no longer “terrestrial”. in time and space… Discontinuity is king: it is the central fact of the production phase of a film, and almost all decisions are directly linked to it in one way or another : how to overcome one’s difficulties and/or how to make the most of one’s strengths.