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This technique is used in several movie trailers to give a feeling of stress, anxiety or urgency. It is also used in several movies (mostly thrillers, action or horror movies), sometimes even before the opening credits.

A typical example would be a sequence showing a terrorized woman running in a forest to escape a killer. The sequence would alternate the following close-ups separated by quick fade ins/outs:

  1. The woman's feet running and sometimes tripping
  2. The killer's feet walking at a quick pace
  3. The woman quickly looking behind her to estimate her chances of escaping the killer
  4. The killer holding a big knife covered in blood

What is the first occurence of this technique?

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According to Movie Outline's Glossary Of Screenwriting Terms & Filmmaking Definitions:

FLASH CUT:
An extremely brief shot, sometimes as short as one frame, which is nearly subliminal in effect. Also a series of short staccato shots that create a rhythmic effect.

For example:

  • Splice Trailer #2: More Flash Cuts, More Creature Glimpses

  • The trailer is full of horror-film sound effects and flash cuts to seemingly violent images as a woman looks terrified by a garage door going up and down, before Lowe's Peterson is shown on the other side and utters his sole line: "I'm untouchable, bitch."

  • Writer / Director Rob Zombie s hines brilliance throughout this film, punctuated with horribly bad flash cuts as if the entire movie was one long d rawn-out MTV video. ...

The first occurence maybe in Lawrence of Arabia (1962):

All art is subjective, but the edit that occurs in this scene after Jackson Bentley (Arthur Kennedy) fires off his flash powder when photographing T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) is my favorite "edit" in movie history. Perhaps it's the snap from solemn to a loud crash of horse hooves. Or it could be because it's one of the first "flash cuts" in movie history, but it still gives me goosebumps.

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+1: Excellent answer that gives the real name of the technique, several examples and proposes a first occurence. –  Laurent Pireyn Mar 1 '12 at 21:45
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