WHAT it is...

A system of film editing directed at preserving the illusion of continuity of space and time during an action or conversation, in which consecutive shots bear a logical, causal and functional relationship with each other. Consisting of a number of guidelines or rules, this system “stitches” together disparate shots in order to sustain a realist aesthetic and assure the audience that it’s watching nothing less than the world itself.

WHY it is special...

The backbone of most of narrative cinema, Continuity Editing, more or less, has become the catechism for film editors, so much so that separate personnel are appointed to verify the continuity of clothing, makeup, décor, lighting, action and dialogue across shots and scenes. All of commercial cinema and television employs this system of editing.

WHEN it is deployed...

An arsenal of cutting techniques comes under the aegis of Continuity editing - Shot/Reverse Shot, Establishing Shot insertion, Eye-line matching etc. – which is now generally considered the classical method. Even though modern cinema and music videos, absorbing from the avant garde, break some of the continuity rules now and then, they do not take it so far as to violate the basic assumptions of the system.

WHERE to find it...

Continuity Editing pretty much exists in all types of films, video and television programmes intended for mass consumption. In Mani Ratnam’s Roja (1992), to cite a random example, Rishi (Arvind Swamy) runs towards a man who is burning the Indian flag and knocks him down. This information is presented in three shots, edited with spatial and temporal continuity, so that it appears like one continuous action.

HOW it is used...

Politics

Various critical theorists have noted how Continuity Editing, which characterises apolitical, industrial cinema, inherently perpetuates the dominant ideology by glossing over real problems and presenting the world as a harmonious pulsating unity. With every shot, Continuity Editing creates specific expectations which are satisfied by the successive one and prevents the viewer, as does the closed nature of the whole film, from engaging with pertinent questions.

Alternates

Through the years, experimental and political filmmakers have tried to find alternates to Continuity Editing. Intellectual Montage, for instance, doesn’t let one shot affirm and ‘flow’ into the next and, instead, has two shots conceptually colliding with each other to create a tertiary meaning. There have also been other atheoretical ways of synthesising images based on poetic intuition and visceral associations.