Why I Hated What I Loved: Youtube and the Jump Cut
Like a lot of other film students in college, I had to watch the groundbreaking French film by Jean Luc-Godard, Breathless. Like a lot of other college students, I was a bit of an obnoxious, opinionated shit, so I spent my walk home ranting about how pretentious and useless Breathless was. Especially the jump cuts! I thought that they were amateurish, indulgent, disruptive, and a misplaced act of aesthetic rebellion that made a muddled film even more confused and pointless. When I finally made my way back to my dorm room, I opened up my computer and laughed at Youtube vlogs, until I realized that the same videos I loved were filled with the jump cuts which I had spent so much time insulting.
Jump cuts are cuts between two sequential shots in the film where the differences between the shot scales and the camera angles – usually less than 30° – is so small that it creates a disruptive transition, as if a time jump has occurred.
While most cuts between shots in a film are made to be seamless and invisible so the viewer is only subconsciously aware of the transition and stays immersed in the film narrative, jump cuts are almost always obvious and disrupt the diegetic space of the film. When they are used, they usually are done in a self-conscious way that wants to draw attention to itself. Because of this disruptive nature, jump cuts are seldom used in Hollywood-style narratives, but in Youtube vlogs and video essay scenes, they are almost everywhere.
I could justify my simultaneous dislike for the jump cut’s presence in films and my admiration for its use in vlogs because the former tend to be fictional narratives, while the latter is almost universally nonfiction. The jarring effect of the jump cut undermines the illusion of reality that filmmakers attempt to grant to the narrative; it brings the audience out of the story. However, vlogs and video essays are nonfiction, so they’re not burdened by the same need to uphold reality.
One could also argue for the jump cut’s dominance in Youtube media based on the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and ease of the jump cut itself. Most vlog creators record content inside a small single room, which doesn’t easily lend itself to repositioning cameras in that same space for multiple camera angles. Having multiple cameras running simultaneously is prohibitively expensive for several content producers. Also, the jump cut allows for creators to break up the recording process into multiple clips, to cover up flubs and mistakes, and to condense the duration of the video itself; ensuring a tighter, less expensive, and easier way to make videos. Even if you could create multiple shot angles inside such a space, would it even be worth it to do so? It would cost more, take more time and would most likely not look good. It might even make it more difficult for the viewer to internalize the content of the video itself.
But neither the argument for the jump cut based on the upholding of a fictionalized reality, nor the practical advantages of the editing technique ever actually acknowledge what the jump cut can contribute to media studies and criticism.
In his video, “Why The Jump Cut Is Here To Stay”, content-creator Dan Olson states, “There is a specific device than can only be acheived by using jump cuts and that is the use of the set as a stage.” In these single-camera confessional videos, the jump cut is often a tool not for temporal-disruptions, but instead to signify that the shot following the jump cut is an aside, to explain the context or to qualify a statement, to impart some specific emotion, or even to create the feeling of a conversation.
A jump cut is a multipurpose tool that can create the same effect in the video confessional that footnotes, punctuation, bolded or italicized text and visual cut-aways can do for their own media. This is not to say that the jump cut is no more than a way to recreate the effects of techniques in other mediums, but instead to recognize the particular value of the jump cut within this form of this medium, and, by extension, to recognize the particular needs and motivations of styles, techniques, and structures within each genre and medium in order to better understand, appreciate, and learn from art.
New mediums and genres are often held back not just by the conceptual limitations of the first to create them, but also because of the conceptual limitations of their audiences. The first movies were often treated like recorded plays, and to gain any artistic credibility they were fashioned in the same way as traditional theater. It’s the same impulse that makes an award-winning comic book a graphic-novel because comic-books are childish, whereas intelligent people read graphic-novels, and a good graphic-novel has to be the opposite of anything contained in a comic book.
It was easy for me to hate Breathless because it was something unlike anything I had ever encountered before. Its narrative, its cinematic language, and its themes were things I had never seen before. Because it was foreign to me and I was unable to understand it, I made the decision to not try to understand the work on its own terms and merits, because that would have taken work. It would have taken effort, and despite what I would like to think otherwise. There’s still the angry little voice in the back of my head that doesn’t like having to work. It’s the voice that lashes out at any art, idea, or person who even slightly suggests that we might be wrong or imperfect. It’s the little voice in the back of our minds that says, “I’m right, and you’re wrong. I don’t want to have to think about this. I don’t want to have to change anything about myself. I’m not going to listen to you anymore. Shut up.” And so we blind ourselves from the chance to grow bigger, to learn more, or to become better.