Montage in Films of Sergei Eisenstein

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Avant-Garde Cinema: 1900-1950

(Short Paper) 1,500

Drawing on Sergei Eisenstein's writings and examples from his films outline his ideas about film ‘montage' and its role in shaping audience responses. You should include analysis of at least one segment from Eisenstein's films

Sergei Eisenstein's theories, and practical realisations, of film montage serve to create a foundation on which Eisenstein, and many other filmmakers, have been able to build an understanding of the nature of film production. It is through Eisenstein's intellectual theories that he is able to link every aspect of a film together into a realized whole, from the initial concept to how it is shot and how it is edited, the end product is a conscious understanding of how the audience is going to respond to the work. It is this intellectual approach to filmmaking that enabled Eisenstein to keep the true intent of a film intact, "…if the art-work does not represent an embodiment of the original idea, we shall never have as result an art-work realized to its utmost fullness."1

In Eisenstein's essays he outlines five different concepts of Film montage; Metric Montage, Rhythmic Montage, Tonal Montage, Overtonal Montage and his most acclaimed/criticised, Intellectual Montage. Each of these types of montage is built on its predecessor, and thus each type is more complex then the last.

Metric Montage is the easiest, and therefore base, of Eisenstein's theories, and is described by Eisenstein as a "…formula-scheme corresponding to a measure of music…"2 This simply means that, although not always determined by music, with Metric Montage the length of the scene is already fixed and therefore the shots within the scene are cut and arranged in order to express the concepts within a piece without extending outside of the predetermined framework of the scene.

Rhythmic Montage takes the concepts of Metric Montage and adds consideration to the content of the shot. The classic example given by Eisenstein is the ‘Odessa Steps' sequence from Battleship Potemkin in which the rhythmic descent of the soldiers is contrasted by the sporadically cut shots of the townspeople. This creates an unnerving tension and highlights the contrast between the calculated marching and shooting of the soldiers and the chaotic terror of the people running in fear.

Tonal Montage steps above rhythmic montage to include the emotional tone of a shot as a consideration in editing. Following after the Odessa steps sequence there is a contrasting series of shots, this sequence is much slower, with most shots lasting up to 5 seconds. This slow cutting has a calming effect after the brutality of the previous scene. The sun peeking through the misty harbour is filmed with long static shots, thus the tone of the scene is drawn out and enhanced through Eisenstein's use of tonal montage.

1.Sergei Eisenstein, Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, edited and translated by Jay Leyda, (New York, Harcourt Brace, 1949) p127 2.Sergei Eisenstein, Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, edited and translated by Jay Leyda, (New York, Harcourt Brace, 1949) p72 Overtonal Montage is a further advancement of tonal montage in that it includes considerations of all the aspects of the scene. Eisenstein is very vague about what exactly defines Overtonal Montage, but when considered as just another tool for Eisenstein to use, Overtonal Montage can be seen as a way of encouraging the filmmaker to consider all aspects of a scene, and of the film as a whole.

Intellectual Montage was Eisenstein's most controversial style of montage. It is essentially an extension of Tonal and Overtonal Montage in that the editing is still directed at creating an emotional overtone to a piece, but with Intellectual Montage Eisenstein embeds a deeper intellectual meaning in the scene. This is usually done by inter cutting symbolic objects which either on a conscious or subconscious level, form a new meaning within the mind of...
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