The idea of montage will be understood by even the most disinterested moviegoer. Their excessive use in 1980s Hollywood action movies inspired innumerable parodies, and since then, directors have used the technique much more sparingly. But montage theory has far more to it than Rocky Balboa would have you think, and it all began in the early days of the Soviet Union.
A movie montage is a compilation of short film clips that have been edited together and set to music with the goal of condensing a lengthy story beat into a minute or two. Although it's an ubiquitous technique, the path to modern film montage was more complicated than you may imagine. More than a century ago, Soviet Montage Theory provided the impetus for everything.
What Is The Soviet Montage Theory?
Early in the 20th century, the Soviet Union gave birth to the prominent film movement known as Soviet Montage Theory, which placed more emphasis on a movie's editing methods than its substance. The key tenet is that a fresh and distinct, complicated notion can be expressed by juxtaposing various sequences. The main contribution of Soviet film theorists to cinema history is the philosophy of the Soviet Montage.
A Synopsis of Soviet Montage Theory's History
The Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin seized Soviet film and dissolved existing production businesses in 1919, during the Russian Revolution and civil war. Lev Kuleshov, a Soviet director, founded the Moscow Film School in the same year. When he was in charge of the school, Kuleshov created a film theory known as the Kuleshov effect, which postulated that two shots placed next to each other convey more significance than a single shot does.
Many well-known Soviet filmmakers of the era, including Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, and Vsevolod Pudovkin, were influenced by Kuleshov's montage approach. In particular, Sergei Eisenstein, a Kuleshov pupil, developed these concepts into what is now known as the Soviet Montage Theory. Eisenstein was the primary force behind the Soviet montage movement, and it was his films that introduced the idea to the world. His insights altered cinema editing processes and supported the French and Hollywood New Wave film trends.
The Soviet montage movement came to an end after Lenin's death, the Marxist leader Joseph Stalin came to power, and Soviet Russia lost interest in the anti-establishment themes of montage movies. Filmmakers were compelled by the authorities to abandon montage in favour of Soviet Realism. Nevertheless, the movement's cinematic principles persisted long into the 1950s and are still present in contemporary film editing methods.
Five varieties of Soviet montage
Within Soviet Montage Theory, the filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein distinguished five basic types of montage:
1. Intellectual montage: This is the process of combining two images to represent a single intellectual idea. A notable illustration is the way Sergei Eisenstein cuts between the death of a bull and the massacre of striking workers in his 1925 film Strike.
2. Metric montage: Regardless of the subject matter, metric montage establishes visual pace within a scene by cutting to the subsequent shot after a certain number of frames. Eisenstein claimed that the pacing (or metre) of a musical piece affected metric montage. To increase the suspense in your scenarios, use metric montage.
3. Overtonal montage: Also known as associational montage, overtonal montage combines tonal, intellectual, metric, and rhythmic montage kinds to provide an even more abstract and complicated impression on the viewer. Use overtonal montage if you value atmosphere or poeticism more than reason and plot.
4. Rhythmic montage: Also referred to as continuity editing, rhythmic montage upholds a scene's continuity. The dominant component is the frame's content. The Odessa Steps section from Battleship Potemkin (1925), which was closely copied in a related stair sequence in The Untouchables, is an often referenced example of rhythmic montage (1987).
5. Tonal montage: Tonal montage is the process of combining two photos that share a similar theme or emotional undertone. You might employ aural or visual components. For instance, a character's steamy breath in the 2015 film The Revenant is followed by shots of a foggy sky and pipe smoke.
8 examples of Soviet montage films
The following are a few of the most well-known films to come out of the Soviet Montage Theory movement:
1. Dziga Vertov's documentary Kino Eye (1924) explores the daily activities of regular people living in a Soviet village. The movie also helped promote Vertov's "kino eye" (literally, "film eye") hypothesis, according to which a camera can capture reality more precisely than the human eye.
2. The Russian sailors' revolt aboard a battleship is depicted in the 1925 film Battleship Potemkin, which takes place in 1905 during the Russian Revolution. The Odessa Steps massacre scene from this Sergei Eisenstein film has been copied in a number of subsequent movies.
3. Strike (1925): The first full-length picture directed by Sergei Eisenstein, Strike tells the story of oppressed workers planning a strike against their employers despite awful working conditions. Eisenstein planned for this film, which is set in pre-revolutionary Russia, to be the first in a seven-part series, but he never finished them.
4. The Death Ray (1925): Directed by Lev Kuleshov, this film about the construction of a death ray that is stolen and used against civilians taking part in labor strikes is one of the foremost full-length science fiction films. Then, the workers steal the ray and use it to attack their adversaries.
5. Mother (1926): This Russian Revolution-set film, directed by Vsevolod Pudovkin and based on Maxim Gorky's novel The Mother, shows the radicalization of a mother following the death of her husband, her son's arrest, and the imprisonment of her son.
6. Zvenigora (1927): This silent film, together with Arsenal and Earth, is a component of director Alexander Dovzhenko's Ukraine trilogy. When a grandfather tells his grandson about a hidden treasure, he also documents Ukrainian history.
7. October: Ten Days That Shook The World (1928): This historical drama directed by Sergei Eisenstein, commemorates the October Revolution's tenth anniversary. Only two movies were ordered by the Soviet authorities.
8. Man With a Movie Camera (1929): This documentary directed by Dziga Vertov depicts 1920s life in Moscow, Kyiv, and Odessa. It is best known for being the first to use novel film techniques like split screens, freeze frames, jump cuts, and slow motion.
Filmmaking now frequently employs the montage idea of editing. Eisenstein thought that grouping images together would produce an impression that would elicit particular feelings from the viewer.
This is why movies frequently use quick cuts and jerky video to entice us into feeling the way the director wants us to feel at any given time.
In essence, this indicates that editing can be employed as an emotional manipulator in addition to a storytelling tool.
Filmmakers can employ a variety of strategies to generate particular responses. People may become impatient or relaxed, for instance, depending on whether the tempo is slowed down or scenes are cut between.
These are merely the definitions provided in textbooks for the various montages. While studying and comprehending Soviet montage theory is important, it's equally crucial to grasp that cinema editing is a constantly changing art.
It doesn't follow that you can't experiment with your own editing choices for your short films or YouTube videos just because these guidelines and methods made sense for traditional directors throughout film history.