Cinema is a visual concept heavily marked by the objective of enterntainment, yet is also an ideology that is subject to a whole universe of theoretical frameworks. Many of it may trace their beginnings to a technique, as with the montage, which in French means “putting together”. This is the solid base of Russian cinema, more specifically in the montage theory subscribed to by Russian filmmakers. It is defined as a cinematic approach that depends mainly on editing, and the value of cuts in a film.
In this revolutionary philosophy in cinema, probably the most recognized name is that of Sergei Eisenstein.
Eisenstein was born to Jewish parents in Tsarist Russia in 1898, and was educated in Riga and St. Petersburg. He learned to speak a number of languages fluently, and was urged by his father to follow his path of becoming a civil engineer. Nonetheless, the young Eisenstein already had serious interests in theatre, and spent all of his free time watching films.
The Bolshevik Revolution further reinforced his penchant for cinema, as he found himself educating workers, peasants, and troops in remote areas with camera in hand—and a gun in the other.
Cinema was then perceived as a weapon by Eisenstein, a belief he would carry with him for the rest of his filmmaking career (Jonas, 1998). II, The Soviet Montage Soviet montage films were defined by its own set of values, not necessarily just techniques, but executed in a specific way. The socialist thinking was obviously present in this style, for individual characters in these films had no place as focal points. Social classes are the main issues, and the role of each character is to represent one. Various organized protests are also common elements of the film’s narrative, echoing the Russian revolution experience.
Eisenstein formulated the system that resulted in a Synthesis, starting with a Thesis, followed by an Anti-Thesis—a foundation of the montage that traces its origins to Marxist themes of human history and experience being in perpetual conflict wherein a force clashes with a counterforce; the product of this encounter would be a new idea or concept, something absolutely greater than its origins (Karpenko, 2002). The montage style utilized editing and the resulting film cuts to generate reactions from the audience, usually in ways that defy convention.
This contradicts traditional continuity editing, which shows scenes as they happen chronologically or at least in the same time realm; montage cutting produced overlapping or elliptical time relations between cuts. Most exemplary of this technique is Eisenstein’s Strike, where he juxtaposed scenes of two separate characters and time frames via jump cuts. In the series showing a police officer and a butcher, the editing serves a particular purpose—relate the connection between the acts being done by the officer and the butcher, in this case portray the idea that the workers were being slaughtered, just like animals.
Eisenstein introduced his theory of intellectual montage, fully at work in this film by showing conflict in the juxtaposition of unrelated shots (Trischak, 1998). Eisenstein called montage a merge of opposites in art, through unity and conflict. He created this theory primarily to go against film tradition, negating the lack of character and stimulus in the logical editing of films. He listed several categories of montage, as well as the purpose of each: 1. Metric Montage. Shots are edited together according to their measured length, and are arranged according to a measure of music.
Tension is invariably produced by the combination of short shots and the expected flow of melody or tone. 2. Rhythmic Montage. Compared to metric montage, action is given equal importance as the shot’s length, allowing for occasional conflicts between the montage’s rhythm and movement. An example would be the Odessa steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin, where the shot showing soldiers marching does not match the editing rhythm. This violates all metric requirements, effecting absolute tension and prepares the viewer for the iconic baby carriage scene. 3.
Tonal Montage. Generally a level higher than metric montage, this style is created by the specific scene’s emotional tone. Vakulnichuk’s death in Potemkin, somber and sedate, appears in complete contrast to the steps sequence’s fast cuts. With each shot’s length at five seconds, this sequence serves as caesura, or a device to provide transition from the previous scene of violence to the citizens’ angry demonstrations. The similarities between rhythmic and tonal montage can be clearly seen as they both operate via the actions shown within each frame (HATII, 2008).