Even before I had a word to describe it, I loved discontinuous montage editing as discovered and used by early Soviet filmmakers.
The term sounds quite sobering. Counterintuitively, it basically means cutting clips together like you’re drunk. Yet, somehow the technique can make more sense, at least emotionally, than its more cogent counterpart, continuity editing. When this style is employed, time and place take a back seat to juxtaposed images that present replicate deeper psychological anchors.
That’s not to say that straight-ahead narratives don’t do it for me. They do and I’ll Guardians-of-the-Galaxy all day long. (And yes, I just verbified the MCU).
But, there’s something magical in the frenetic energy of Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, just about anything from Terrence Malick, or the open of Cage the Elephant’s surreal, Leonie influenced music video for “Trouble.” Heck, this Levi’s commercial, for that matter. Who cares about the jeans!? Instead we care about the principle at play. And that principle is portrayed in the timeless, placeless images that, were it not for the feeling they solicit, have little to do with each other. They are connected by the editing of sound and picture alone. And yet, I moved to pick up a pair of 511s and a pocket edition of anything by Charles Bukowski (rest his soul).
I offer that discontinuous editing is effective, at least in part, because the method reflects life, not as it is lived (linearly), but as it is experienced.
Anyone moment of mental time can be comprised from dozens of layers of memory - allusive images, smells, sounds and feelings that when extrapolated take up far more space than the mere seconds of chronological time into which they are crammed. The experience of a simple cup of coffee with a friend extends far beyond it’s scheduled calendar date. The sensation the meeting creates may pull from jokes told in elementary school, the shock of body oder as first experienced on a metro in Moscow and taste of chocolate your great aunt always gives you for Christmas.
The truth of this experience is famously conveyed by Proust in In Search of Lost Time when the protagonist bites into a madeleine cake and is overcome by a simultaneous flood of nearly tangible memories. 4,215 pages later… he dies and finally stops writing. Motion picture is uniquely suited, via discontinuous editing, to condense those experiences into a more manageable, and more accessible, form. If only Proust had a camera and a copy of Adobe Premiere.