The Moviola: Raising Cinema Standards Since ‘24

This semester, we’ve targeted our focus on reading and analyzing novels, watching their associated film adaptations, and exploring trailblazing film technologies and techniques that all originate from the Hollywood studio era. One specific technology whose functions ultimately paved the way for a key feature of modern film editing today is the Moviola.

The toughest part of video production, editing is what allows us to stitch and weave pieces of a story into a crisp, cohesive narrative. In today’s day and age, it is a major component of virtually every sector or industry regardless of its size or nature. We use video editing software such as Final Cut Pro or iMovie right off of our laptops on a regular basis, letting the program itself basically work its magic for us; there is almost no physical intervention or action whatsoever.

Before any of this, earlier films were simply one dragged-out, static, and permanent shot. Movement was all filmmakers needed to appeal to their audience, so the first films showed simple motion such as people talking or walking. There was no plot without the ability to edit. A film’s running time relied on the amount of film in the camera. However, when film technology began to emerge, film editors would employ linear editing by using a positive copy of the film negative and manually cutting and attaching pieces of film.

The original editing Moviola device in which we can see where the film is entered.

Prior to the Moviola’s invention in 1924, these strips of film would be cut and pieced together with tape or glue. Editors were required to be very accurate since even one wrong cut would need a brand new, positive print, which would cost the producers money and time in waiting for the lab to process and reprint. With the invention of the Moviola by Iwan Serrurier, editing became a much more efficient task with cuts coming out cleaner and more accurate. Editors were able to view the film while also editing. This method of video editing is non-linear, meaning the editor can make quicker choices with which cuts to include and remove.

Editing was considered a technical job and since women were not able to take up positions that require more “creativity”, they used it as their place to claim their ground in filmmaking.

Renowned production studios back in the day such as Universal Studios, Warner Brothers, Charles Chaplin Studios, Buster Keaton Productions, Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, and MGM were immediate customers and used the Moviola as an editing tool on a regular basis. The need for sound, faster film, and portable editing equipment in the 1930s and 40s greatly expanded the market for the device. The upright Moviolas were what were usually used for standard film editing in the US up until the 1970s. After this point, horizontal flatbed editor systems were being used more.

A famous film that was known to have employed the Moviola is Double or Nothing produced in 1937 and edited by Eddie Dmytryk. Even today, a handful of very esteemed editors still prefer the features of the Moviola. One such person is Michael Kahn, who actually received an Oscar’s Academy Award nomination for Best Film Editing in 2005 for his work on Steven Spielberg’s Munich, which was edited with a Moviola.

Researching the Moviola has taught me more about how important the film editing process is and how meticulous certain features of its associated technologies need to be in order to get the perfect cuts and story, as a whole. Although I always knew technology and being in the digital age has worked in favor for a lot of filmmakers and their films today, I never understood until now the extent to which these technologies are relied on and how newer technologies we see now are just more digitally-infused versions of older film technologies.

Works Cited

“Moviola.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Feb. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moviola.

“The Moviola Story.” The Moviola Story, web.archive.org/web/20120308230830/http://moviola.com/book/export/html/12.

“Film Editing.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Oct. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_editing.

Serrurier, Mark. “The Origins of the Moviola .” IEEE Xplore Full-Text PDF 1966, ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?arnumber=7262776.

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