Reading: The film Experience, Ch4;
Sergei Eisenstein, “The Dialectic Approach to Film Form” (Film Theory and Critism)
Screening: Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Movie Clip Question : Strike (1925)
1. Continuity editing vs Discontinuous editing
A. If Classic Hollywood is aimed at making the “cut” invisible, and hiding the editing process through various techniques that we discussed in Week 2 (the 180 degree rule, matches on action, avoidance of jump cuts, etc.), what is the alternative?
B. The Birth of “Montage”
— “montage” literally comes from the French for “monter” or “to assemble”; technically the term is interchangeable with “editing”
— In the beginning of cinema, filmmakers often debated where the art of filmmaking existed: Was it in the composition of shots (mise-en-scene) or in the editing of shots (montage)?
— As we saw in Week 3, the German Expressionists in the teens, for example, emphasized mise-en-scene over editing, while Hollywood continued to refine its smooth continuity editing style.
II. Russian Montage: Background
— After the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the founding of the Soviet Union in the early 1920s, film was seen as an essential tool to unite the troubled war-ravaged, and widely disparate nation. Russian leader Vladimir Lenin once famously remarked, “Cinema, for us, is the most important of the arts.”
A. From the newly founded MoscowStateFilmSchool, a number of important Russian “Montage” filmmakers emerged with a commitment to editing as the key element of cinematic storytelling
Lev Kuleshov, a teacher at the school was said to re-run D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance, then the students would re-edit it themselves, discovering the radical effects produced when they changed sequences.
— the Kuleshov Effect, named for Kuleshov, was a famous experiment where he would take the same close-up of a male actor and then intercut it with the following images: a bowl of soup, a woman in a coffin, and a child with toy. Depending on which image adjoined the close-up the man, audiences would read his expression differently, either as hungry (juxtaposed with the soup), or as sad (juxtaposed with coffin) or as happy (juxtaposed with the toy). Thus, the experiment illustrates a very important aspect of film: meaning can be easily manipulated through editing for dramatic effect
If you’ve seen Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” the whole movie could be seen like an extended Kuleshov experiment.
III. Russian Montage – Practice
A. Sergei Eisenstein and “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form”
— Eisenstein was arguably the most important Soviet filmmaker
— For Eisenstein, “art is always conflict” vs long takes (which he called “utterly unfilmic”)
B. “Intellectual montage” – Eisenstein’s term for a specific type of editing style is based around the idea of synthesis – that two colliding or conflicting elements combine together to yield a transformation.
— He used Japanese language as a comparable model: for instance, the word “weeping” comes from two ideograms, eye + water. Hence 2 elements combine to make a 3rd meaning.
— As he states, “Why should cinema follow the forms of theater and painting rather than the methodology of LANGUAGE, which allows wholly NEW CONCEPTS of ideas to arise from the combination of two concrete denotations of two concrete objects? Language is much closer to film than painting is.”
— Re-watch and look closely at the “Odessa Steps” sequence:
Look out for specific aspects of conflict:
1. Graphic conflict – horizontal vs. vertical lines
2. Conflict of planes – conflicts within different areas of frames
3. Conflict of volumes – smaller vs. larger objects
4. Spatial conflict – conflicting different spaces, e.g. crosscutting
5. Light conflict — light vs dark
6. Temporal/rhythmic conflict — fast vs slow
C. Eisenstein wasn’t the only filmmaker who employed montage: Vsevolod Pudovkin famously said, “the foundation of film art is editing.” The two disagreed on the fine points of montage, but as you can see from this climactic clip from Pudovkin’s Mother (1927) – set during Russian Revolt of 1905, about a mother’s Marxist coming-of-age – there are many similarities.
What similarities and differences do you see in the editing style between this climactic sequence from Mother and the “Odessa Steps” sequence in Battleship Potemkin?
IV: Hollywood Appropriation of Discontinuous Editing
— We can see elements of Eisenstein’s theories of editing popping up in mainstream cinema forms. Check out these clips:
CLIP: Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
“The shower scene”
CLIP: Raging Bull clip (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
“Jake La Motta vs Sugar Ray Robinson”
CLIP: Dancer in the Dark (Lars Von Trier, 2000)
“I’ve Seen it All”
How similar to Eisenstein’s editing techniques are these Hollywood uses of discontinuity? And how are they different?
How does Sergei Eisenstein’s famous film “Battleship Potemkin” reflect his ideas about montage? Please cite specific examples of formal conflict, as reflected in his editing choices. Do you feel this editing style contributes to the power of the film, or takes away from it, and why? Also, do you agree with Eisenstein that the art of film is better served by this approach as opposed to the one advocated by Bazin (and Italian Neorealism)?
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