Film montage

Film Montage

Lenin was one of the first world leaders to grasp the enormous poten­tial of the new art form of cinema as a tool of educa­tion and propa­ganda. Soviet film pion­eers were instructed by him to study in partic­ular the revolu­tionary film tech­niques of of the Amer­ican director D.W.Griffiths in films such as Intol­er­ance and The Birth Of A Nation.

Grif­fiths use of close ups, moving cameras and chan­ging camera angles, his cross-cutting and editing tech­niques all gener­ated a powerful emotional effect on an audi­ence; some­thing that the Soviets were keen to repro­duce. From closely examining Grif­fiths achieve­ments, the Russians sought to develop general prin­ciples of film-making which they could apply to their own projects. It is from this that the theory of Film Montage evolved.

In an early exper­i­ment, a close up of a well known actor was juxta­posed in turn with shots of a plate of soup on the table, a coffin containing a dead woman, and a little girl playing with a toy bear. When shown to an audi­ence who were not in the know, they praised the quality of the acting: the hunger over the soup, sadness about the dead woman and pleasure at watching the child.

This exper­i­ment purported to prove that it was the editing of the shots that created meaning in the mind of the spec­tator rather than the actual content of the shots them­selves. This artful arrange­ment of imagery was given the name ‘Montage‘ to distin­guish it from the mere process of editing images together for continuity.

The Russian film-maker Sergei Eisen­stein is most closely asso­ci­ated with devel­oping this ‘new’ style of cinema; one that was to become incred­ibly influ­en­tial. Sequences from his films, most notably the ‘Odessa steps’ sequence from his film Battle­ship Potemkin are world famous and have often been imit­ated and parodied.

Hitch­cock talks about his technique

Hitch­cock was one of many directors influ­enced by Russian and German cinema. He started making films in the silent movie era and then made a successful trans­ition to ‘talkies’; some­thing that not all of his contem­por­aries succeeded in doing; but his trade­mark type of suspense thriller depended heavily on montage tech­niques of editing.

What to read next

Mise en scène  – a compli­mentary opposite to montage tech­nique, mise en scène uses the whole frame of the film to create a narrative.



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