Before I come to the main analysis of "A Corner In Wheat" (1909) by D.W. Griffith concerning Parallel and Continuity Editing, I would like to point out one special process of the development of filmmaking, which occurred in the first years since 1895.
There by the most interesting part related to the topic of this paper is the development since the middle of the year 1907. At that time "the production companies began to observe a strict linear time frame". (Musser, Archeology of the cinema, 1983, page 7)
The process took part in mainly two phases.
"First, there was an elimination of retrogressive elements like overlapping action [...] [, for instance] there is rapid cutting between proximate spaces and [...] a strong suggestion of a seamless linear temporality across shot." (Musser, p.7) Of course this means not yet an establishment of a hole strategies like a match cut on action - at that time there are still used intertitles for example - but it is a kind of development, which made the viewers aware of new possibilities of making films. Especially concerning the movement of time.
"[They (the viewers) ] no longer had to wonder if action shown in a given scene occurred before or after a previously shown action" (Musser, p.7).
The second phase created "new representational strategies based on this new form of temporality" (Musser, p.7). In the late 1907 the usage of parallel editing first appeared and got established concerning the linear temporality. Musser mentions the film "The Runaway Horse" from Pathé, which "explicitly acknowledged a linear temporality through its use of parallel editing." Parallel Editing means "cutting back and forth between two lines of actions" (Musser, p.7).
"McCutcheon (and Griffith) conveyed a strong sense of linear temporality as simultaneous actions are shown in a parallel rather than successive manner. Old Issacs [written by Griffith, directed by McCutcheon in March 1908] stops short, however, of the rigorous A-B-A-B structures which is the paradigm for parallel editing." (Musser, p.7)
The time in which parallel editing was totally accepted by the spectators began around the middle of 1908, when Griffith made his film "The Fatal Hour" (July 1908). Musser speaks here of a very high emotional intensity which is "based on cross-cutting and the pressure of time moving inevitably forward" (Musser, p.7).
Musser goes further while splitting the way of filming in two more strategies: The "pro-filmic" and the "filmic". The first one is manipulating the time "through the contraction of action occurring off-screen" (Musser, p.7) and the other one works with cross-cutting like Griffith did in "The Fatal Hour". Although Griffith used both strategies as he was making his films of the time around 1908, he "increasingly elaborated on the [filmic strategy] and gradually eliminated the [pro-filmic strategy]" (Musser, p.7)
Besides the parallel editing Griffith further gives "an increasingly strong impression of matching action between contiguous space" (Musser, p.7). This is the beginning of what later will be called continuity editing. The aim of all these strategies is to create a more efficient and logical narrative, in which the filmmaker has the possibility to create also stories with complicated contents concerning time and space.
Forward movement of time and Parallel Editing in "A Corner In Wheat" (1909)
As I showed in the introduction, Griffith was one of the first directors, who used the phenomenon parallel editing. The film "A Corner In Wheat", which was made in the late 1909 by D.W. Griffith, is a very good example, to analyze and explain the inevitable forward movement of time and finally the parallel editing. At that time these both methods were already established and accepted by the viewers. Musser speaks in his essay about two phases of development. First the focus on the movement of time and than parallel editing began to be developed. In the following lines I will go through the whole film by analyzing shot to shot concerning the development of time and later parallel editing. The film is composed of three different subplots, which are juxtaposed together and stand all in a certain relation to each other concerning temporal development and parallelism. The first one is the story about the farmer and his family. The second one is the story about the "Wheat King" and his business. Finally the third plot describes the consequences of the high price policies of the wheat king in the bakery.