FilmmakerMagBlog tipped me to this NY TImes article on "evolution" of editing to mirror the way the brain works or likes to.
The basic shot structure of the movies, the way film segments of different lengths are bundled together from scene to scene, act to act, has evolved over the years to resemble a rough but recognizably wave-like pattern called 1/f, or one over frequency — or the more Hollywood-friendly metaphor, pink noise. Pink noise is a characteristic signal profile seated somewhere between random and rigid, and for utterly mysterious reasons, our world is ablush with it.
Movies today are, on average, much pinker than the films of half a century ago. Their shot structure has greater coherence, a comparatively firmer grouping together of similarly sized units that ends up lending them a frequency distribution ever more in line with the lab results of human reaction and attention times. “Roughly since 1960,” Dr. Cutting said, “filmmakers have been converging on a pattern of shot length that forces the reorientation of attention in the same way we do it naturally.”
To cite a particularly slick example, the scenes in “Rocky IV” that show Rocky Balboa training for the big match not only alternate tidily with training scenes of his rival, Drago the Russian, but each back-and-forth sequence is also divvied up into shots of equivalent length. “That kind of pacing and clustering of similar shots is going to contribute to a one over f pattern,” Dr. Cutting said.
Okay, let's not get stuck on the irony that the scientist's name that is studying editing is "cutting". Most importantly, let's recognize this practice in film as not evolution, but DE-evolution. Art is not necessarily -- or even really often -- that which is the most innocuous or attractive. Being drawn to something is not the same as being elevated by it. Our tendencies are not something we need to encourage, but particularly in the pursuit of art, frequently something we want to overcome. I even hope that this is something that audiences aspire to overcome too. Even those films that look to entertain first and foremost are not truly served by finding those familiar rhythms; we can't let our creations become common. Let's aim for something a bit more disruptive, yes?