What is Parallel Editing?
From the earliest days of film, there was always a desire to express deeper narratives that were impossible due to technical constraints and artistic limitations. Over time, parallel editing emerged as an ideal method of telling a story that diverged, either spatially or temporally, and helped the audience understand both scenes as part of a larger and more comprehensive narrative.
Parallel editing is the technique of cutting between two different subjects to help establish the idea in the audience’s mind that both scenes are occurring at the same time. By alternating between each subject, seemingly unrelated scenes can be related to each other.\
What is its use?
Since those days, parallel editing has been extensively used in films of all genres, as it allows the director to develop interpersonal relationships between characters that were not directly interacting with each other. In addition, it’s a technique that assists in establishing a setting for the film.
Early Innovations and Later Developments
The scene above is from Edwin Porter’s 1903 film The Great Train Robbery. Although Porter doesn’t make full use of the technique, he was the first director to bring it to prominence and establish it as a serious film tool. He uses it to transition between the robbers holding the train’s passengers at gunpoint to the robbers’ getaway, implying that both events took place simultaneously or subsequently.
D.W. Griffith was also a pioneer of this technique, having employed it in his films Birth of a Nation and The Lonedale Operator. In both cases, the parallel editing is used to add suspense or some aspect of excitement to an otherwise mundane activity. When paired with other techniques like appropriate music, audio effects, and portrait shots, parallel editing adds a more compelling dimension of emotion to the scene.
Parallel Editing’s Significance
When I first learned of the existence of this specific film technique, I was surprised that it was even classified as a distinct technique worth studying. To me, its use in modern cinema is so ubiquitous that I didn’t even stop to consider that at one point in history, leaders in the film industry actually had to develop its purpose for it be this widespread today. Ultimately, it underscores a fundamental fact of the technology industry as a whole; the best solution often might be the simplest one. Parallel editing, at its core, uses no novel or revolutionary technology, but instead relies on simple techniques used in a creative way. As time passed, the works of other directors added on to the many possible uses for parallel editing, as supplemental film techniques were built around it and elevated its status.
As someone studying computer science, the gradual but consistent development of this technique over time gives me inspiration that the next major breakthrough in computing will start from the basics, only to slowly evolve due to contributions from different people in the field.
Ultimately, parallel editing is a technique that’s stood the test of time, and has been used to help create more cohesive narratives and reveal subtle plot points that otherwise might be missed. The power of association of unrelated imagery is the engine that drives parallel editing’s success, and the story of its creation and growth over time provides an optimistic outlook into the development of future film techniques.
Moura, Gabe. “Parallel Editing.” Elements of Cinema, 1 July 2014, www.elementsofcinema.com/editing/parallel-editing/.
“Parallel Editing.” film110 / Parallel Editing, film110.pbworks.com/w/page/12610274/Parallel%20Editing.
Porter, Edwin, director. The Great Train Robbery. YouTube, 1903, www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuto7qWrplc.