Outtakes: Cross-Cutting

Parallel narratives: Cross-cutting in Psycho; ratcheting up the tension

Parallel narratives: Cross-cutting in Psycho; ratcheting up the tension

What it is…

Cross-cutting (or Intercutting or Parallel Editing) is a technique in film editing in which shots of events unfolding at two different places (or times) are interspersed for specific emotional and narrative purposes. Although there is no concern about continuity of action here, Cross-cutting nevertheless comes under the purview of continuity editing practiced in the industry.

Why it is special...

Cross-cutting is one of the techniques that constitute what Alfred Hitchcock, perhaps its most important exponent, called Pure Cinema. This alternate presentation of images from two different geographies in quick succession - not possible in media such as theatre - facilitates the creation of meaning and emotion generation mechanisms unique to cinema.

When it is deployed...

Apart from the deployment for suspense and for comparing and contrasting, contemporary filmmakers use Parallel Editing, as the name suggests, to develop multiple storylines in parallel. This is especially prolific in new-age films where a number of storylines crisscross and the director, specifically during key dramatic moments, edits between these storylines to indicate how all these characters are, in fact, interconnected.

Where to find it...

Towards the end of Psycho (1960), Hitchcock cuts between shots of Lila (Vera Miles) exploring the Bates mansion and of Sam (John Gavin) trying in vain to divert Norman's (Anthony Perkins) attention meanwhile. We realise that Lila is in trouble and needs to get out before Norman finds her. Cross-cutting here ratchets up the tension by delaying knowledge of what is happening at the other space.

How it is used…


The most common and effective usage of Cross-cutting is seen in scenes of suspense or horror. In such instances, the protagonist whom the viewer identifies with and a threat (the hero running to defuse a bomb or escaping from it, for example) are presented in tandem. This way, the audience knows information that the protagonist doesn’t and finds itself in a state of anxiety about the plight of the character. By prolonging the time between the meeting of the threat and the hero, this tension can be sustained.


Cross-cutting is sometimes used to compare or contrast two events or personalities that are, unlike scenarios of suspense, really disparate. This type of intercutting is often instructive and, unlike Intellectual Montage, does not attempt to generate a secondary meaning with its juxtaposition. A typical example would be the way K Balachandar cuts cyclically between the three daughters-in-law of the house in Bhama Vijayam (1967).

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Printable version | Oct 3, 2022 6:39:42 am |