The Fast-cut Industrial Complex
A major influence music videos have had on modern film, is that they have increased the number of cuts per minute in films of all kinds. A typical music video, film trailer or modern summer block buster looks almost as if it's being fast forwarded, when viewed beside a thriller from the past like Steven Speilberg's JAWS.
Music video editors face a lot of pressure to make their clips exciting enough stand apart from both other music videos and the obnoxiously fast-paced television ads. An arms race has ensued between the two camps that has left directors insecure about holding shots for more than two seconds and audiences with twitchy ADD symptoms.
The downside to over cutting a sequence is that, while it does raise tension in the viewer, it often does so my disorienting them. Bärbel Garsoffky discovered cuts in a video feed can significantly hinder an audience's ability to follow action. This is why professional sporting events are almost always shot with no more than three camera angles, and always adhere to a strict stageline
Fast camera cuts can also make it more difficult for audience’s to remember a sequence after the fact. Consider the horribly edited James Bond film Quantum Solace. A cut a second on average with rapid-fire burst for variety. Notice that while all the flashing colours and explosions succeeds in making us tense, it also leaves us with no idea where the vehicles are in space, which direction they are heading.
Some of the most memorable sequences in all of filmmaking have had no cuts at all. Consider the Scorsese’s Copacabana sequence in Goodfellas, or the opening of Orson Wells’ Touch of Evil, or hammer fight sequence in Old Boy. Michel Gondry became legendary in the music video scene with a series of mind-blowing one cut videos for Kylie Minogue, Lucas with the Lid Off and Cibo Matto.
Tightly cutting footage to a track is most useful when making otherwise inappropriate visuals fit the song. An example would be if director wanted to ironically pair footage of 60s beach bunnies with an industrial rock song.
When conceiving and shooting original material, we can avoid the need to over-cut by simply staging more energetic shots in the first place. Consider Stop Making Sense, Jonathan Demme’s masterful collaboration with Talking Heads. Despite the up tempo music, none of shots in this section is under 4 seconds. This patient edit focuses audience’s attention on the intensity of the performance instead of style of the filmmaking.