Match Cut

To string together a smooth narrative requires careful editing. A film can’t simply go from one image to a completely different one without a good reason. One way to achieve a captivating transition is to use a match cut. A match cut is what you see when the image or action in one frame ‘matches’ the image or action in the next to establish a relationship between the two subjects.

Monkey Business

Unlike a jump cut, a match cut doesn’t depict the same subject in the same position - it doesn’t even have to include the same character. It just has to match the logical motion of what’s portrayed. Here’s one you’ve probably seen: in '2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968), the transition between the first act to the second is achieved when the primitive man throws a bone into the air; as it falls, there’s a match cut and we’re instead looking at a space station in down orbit.

Not only do we expect the bone to continue to fall back to the bottom of the frame, but that expectation is taken advantage of by match cutting to substitute the station. It also has a narrative role because it makes a connection between the very beginning of human evolution and the latest stage of it. Editors and cinematographers will make use of this technique to join together seemingly unrelated visuals to bring the story together where, without it, the transition might be very awkward, indeed.

The bone-to-space station match cut in Stanley Kubrick’s '2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968).

A great example of a match cut occurred quite accidentally when Anne V. Coates was editing David Lean’s classic 'Lawrence of Arabia' (1962). It's a cut that takes us from the Officers Club in Cairo to the searing heat of the Arabian desert. Coates recounted that the transition was originally intended to be a dissolve. In the pre-digital age, an editor would create a dissolve by taking extra negatives of the film, which would then be double exposed and overlaid with each other. That was complex work and was normally saved for the final cut. For the preview of the film Coates marked the cut as a dissolve but what everybody saw was a direct cut. Realising they were onto something, Lean instructed her to 'take it away and make it perfect'. Coates took two frames off and it made the cut, so to speak.
The result of Anne V. Coates accidental match cut in 'Lawrence of Arabia' (1962).

The result of Anne V. Coates accidental match cut in 'Lawrence of Arabia' (1962).

In Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho' (1960) just after Marion Crane is murdered in the "shower scene", the camera shows blood flowing down the drain of the tub, then cuts to a shot of Marion's eye. Okay, maybe it's a dissolve but still it's pretty awesome.

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