The Power of Montage: Soviet Cinema (1924-1930)
- War Communism (1918-1920)
- The New Economic Policy (1921-1924)
- Growth and Export, increasing State Control
1924 Lenin (who liked avant garden)died, and soon came the Stanley, who only wants socialistic realism/ muscle identity. There are young man who come of age during the Russian Revolution in October 1917. Most of them came from fields outside of film.
The Russians adored editing. This was partly because, in the years after 1917 when the Soviet Union was encouraging a nascent film industry, would-be film-makers didn’t have enough cameras or film stock to shoot anything. Instead they experimented in the cutting room with found footage, from pre-revolutionary Russian melodramas to rare Hollywood imports. A crucial moment was the smuggling into Russia of a print of DW Griffiths’s Intolerance (1916), the most brilliantly edited early Hollywood film. Under the influential teacher Lev Kuleshov, a group of film students in Moscow re-ran the film constantly, then re-edited it themselves, discovering the radical effects produced when they changed a sequence.
Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein was a pioneering Soviet Russian film director and film theorist, often considered to be the “Father of Montage”. He is noted in particular for his silent films Strike (1924), Battleship Potemkin (1925) and October (1927), as well as the historical epics Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Ivan the Terrible (1944, 1958).
Vsevolod Illarionovich Pudovkin (16 February 1893 – 20 June 1953) was a Russian and Soviet film director, screenwriter and actor who developed influential theories of montage. Pudovkin’s masterpieces are often contrasted with those of his contemporary Sergei Eisenstein, but whereas Eisenstein utilized montage to glorify the power of the masses, Pudovkin preferred to concentrate on the courage and resilience of individuals.
Dziga Vertov (1896-1954)
David Abelevich Kaufman better known by his pseudonym Dziga Vertov, was a Soviet pioneer documentary film, newsreel director and cinema theorist. His filming practices and theories influenced the Cinéma vérité style of documentary movie making and, in particular the Dziga Vertov Group active in the 1960s.
Our eyes see very little and very badly – so people dreamed up the microscope to let them see invisible phenomena; they invented the telescope…now they have perfected the cinecamera to penetrate more deeply into he visible world, to explore and record visual phenomena so that what is happening now, which will have to be taken account of in the future, is not forgotten.
—Provisional Instructions to Kino-Eye Groups, Dziga Vertov, 1926
1. rapid means of transport
2. highly sensitive film stock
3. light handheld film cameras
4. equally light lighting equipment
5. a crew of super-swift cinema reporters (etc)
—Vertov op cit
Lev Kuleshov (1899-1970)
Lev Vladimirovich Kuleshov was a Soviet filmmaker and film theorist who taught at and helped establish the world’s first film school (the Moscow Film School). Kuleshov may well be the very first film theorist as he was a leader in Soviet montage theory — developing his theories of editing before those of Sergei Eisenstein (briefly a student of Kuleshov) and Vsevolod Pudovkin. For Kuleshov, the essence of the cinema was editing, the juxtaposition of one shot with another. To illustrate this principle, he created what has come to be known as the Kuleshov Experiment. In this now-famous editing exercise, shots of an actor were intercut with various meaningful images (a casket, a bowl of soup, and so on) in order to show how editing changes viewers’ interpretations of images.
Soviet montage cinema was suppressed under Joseph Stalin during the 1930s as a dangerous example of Formalism in the arts, and as being incompatible with the official Soviet artistic doctrine of Socialist Realism.
They were young man who come of the age during the Russian Revolution in October 1917. Most of them came from fields outside film industry.
For them: my freedom ends at some one else’s freedom starts from.
Background history: government wants all the film materials, so the young people had to edit the existing footage, thus a new way of editing came, we call that montage.
These filmmakers work in the same revolutionary spirit as the visual artists of the constructivism. Because they believe art should be a way to shape people’s mind.
New Media (then photography) allows for new ways of seeing (literally) photo example. Objective forms carrying universal meaning were far more suitable to the movement than subjective or individualistic forms. Constructivist themes are also quite minimal, where the artwork is broken down to its most basic elements. New media was often used in the creation of works, which helped to create a style of art that was orderly.
With constructivism, art becomes a form of social engineering.
Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953).
Tatlin was considered the father of Russian Constructivism. His most famous piece remains his “Monument to the Third International” (1919-20, Moscow), a 22-ft-high (6.7-m) iron frame on which rested a revolving cylinder, cube, and cone, all made of glass which was originally designed for massive scale.
Tatlin’s goal in art was to create as many perspectives as possible.
New forms of theater are invented as well, such as “Biomiechanical Acting”
Biomechanics, antirealistic system of dramatic production developed by the avant-garde director Vsevolod Meyerhold in the early 1920s . Meyerhold drew on the traditions of the commedia dell’arte and kabuki and on the writings of Edward Gordon Craig for his system, in which the actor’s own personality was eliminated and he was entirely subordinated to the director’s will. Coached as gymnasts and acrobats and emphasizing pantomime rather than words, the actors threw themselves about in puppetlike attitudes at the director’s discretion. For these productions the stage was exposed to the back wall and was then furnished with harshly lit, bare sets consisting of scaffoldings, ladders, and ramps that the actors used. Biomechanics had lost its appeal by the late 1920s, though Meyerhold’s emphasis on external action did become an element in Soviet actor-training techniques.
Abstract art becomes graphic design and propaganda. For example:
Ei Lissitzky “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge (1919)”
And there is no more difference between high art and popular culture…for example:
Aleksandr Rodchenko, filmposter of the Battleship Potemkin, 1926
Aleksander Mikhailovich Rodchenko was one of the most versatile Constructivist and Productivist artists to emerge after the Russian Revolution. He worked as a painter and graphic designer before turning to photomontage and photography. His photography was socially engaged, formally innovative, and opposed to a painterly aesthetic. Concerned with the need for analytical-documentary photo series, he often shot his subjects from odd angles—usually high above or below—to shock the viewer and to postpone recognition. He wrote: “One has to take several different shots of a subject, from different points of view and in different situations, as if one examined it in the round rather than looked through the same key-hole again and again.” Much of the work of 20th century graphic designers is a direct result of Rodchenko’s earlier work in the field. His influence has been pervasive enough that it would be nearly impossible to single out all of the designers whose work he has influenced.
The Russian artists were influenced by Dada, but they have different believes, they believed that art could change society, and they also had belief in revolutionary.
Showing the Power of Editing: ” The Kuleshov Effect”
The Kuleshov Effect is a film editing (montage) effect demonstrated by Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov in the 1910s and 1920s.
Kuleshov edited together a short film in which a shot of the expressionless face of Tsarist matinee idol Ivan Mozzhukhin was alternated with various other shots (a plate of soup, a girl, a little girl’s coffin). The film was shown to an audience who believed that the expression on Mozzhukhin’s face was different each time he appeared, depending on whether he was “looking at” the plate of soup, the girl, or the coffin, showing an expression of hunger, desire or grief respectively. Actually the footage of Mozzhukhin was the same shot repeated over and over again. Vsevolod Pudovkin (who later claimed to have been the co-creator of the experiment) described in 1929 how the audience “raved about the acting… the heavy pensiveness of his mood over the forgotten soup, were touched and moved by the deep sorrow with which he looked on the dead child, and noted the lust with which he observed the woman. But we knew that in all three cases the face was exactly the same.”
Kuleshov used the experiment to indicate the usefulness and effectiveness of film editing. The implication is that viewers brought their own emotional reactions to this sequence of images, and then moreover attributed those reactions to the actor, investing his impassive face with their own feelings. Kuleshov believed this,along with montage, had to be the basis of cinema as an independent art form.
The experiment itself was created by assembling fragments of pre-existing film from the Tsarist film industry, with no new material. Mozzhukhin had been the leading romantic “star” of Tsarist cinema, and familiar to the audience.
Kuleshov demonstrated the necessity of considering montage as the basic tool of cinema art. In Kuleshov’s view, the cinema consists of fragments and the assembly of those fragments, the assembly of elements which in reality are distinct. It is therefore not the content of the images in a film which is important, but their combination. The raw materials of such an art work need not be original, but are pre-fabricated elements which can be disassembled and re-assembled by the artist into new juxtapositions.
Eisenstein’s montage theories are based on the idea that montage originates in the “collision” between different shots in an illustration of the idea of thesis and antithesis. He describes five methods of montage in his introductory essay “Word and Image”. Which are:
Five Methods of montage
- Metric – where the editing follows a specific number of frames (based purely on the physical nature of time), cutting to the next shot no matter what is happening within the image. This montage is used to elicit the most basal and emotional of reactions in the audience.
- Rhythmic – includes cutting based on continuity, creating visual continuity from edit to edit.
- Tonal – a tonal montage uses the emotional meaning of the shots — not just manipulating the temporal length of the cuts or its rhythmical characteristics — to elicit a reaction from the audience even more complex than from the metric or rhythmic montage.
- Overtonal/Associational – the overtonal montage is the cumulation of metric, rhythmic, and tonal montage to synthesize its effect on the audience for an even more abstract and complicated effect.
- Intellectual – uses shots which, combined, elicit an intellectual meaning.
Einstein’s intellectual montage was influenced by the idea of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and in particular his dialectical materialism. Eisenstein agrees that, especially intellectual montage, is an alternative system to continuity editing. His idea was that “Montage is conflict” (dialectical) where new ideas, emerge from the collision of the montage sequence (synthesis) and where the new emerging ideas are not innate in any of the images of the edited sequence.Thus a new concept, which illustrates Marxist dialectics explodes into being.
Dialectic is a method of argument for resolving disagreement that has been central to Indic and European philosophy since antiquity. Karl Marx presented Dialectical materialism(Marxist dialectics):
My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life-process of the human brain, i.e. the process of thinking, which, under the name of ‘the Idea’, he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of ‘the Idea’. With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought. (Capital, Afterword, Second German Ed., Moscow, 1970, vol. 1, p. 29).
Sergei Einstein’s Film:
Battleship Potempkin (1905)
October: Ten Days That Shook the World (1928)
Soviet Ciname Form and Style
Narrative story telling is prominent. Besides that, society forces (instead of individuals) are central cause of all agents, individual represents types and sometimes it’s the masses that is used as a protagonist. You have the masses or the social types.
– Vivid and dynamic rather than continuous
– Rapid (sometime even one or two frames long) for rythmic sound or to enhance the violence and explosiveness of the action
– Use of more shots for each action (directors believe that cuts, in and of themselves, stimulate the spectator)
– Specific strategies involving temporal, spatial, and graphic tension a overlapping (for emphasis) or elliptical temporal relations (jumpcuts) = contradictory temporal + spatial relations
– Use of thematic intercutting (intellectual montage)
– Conceptual and metaphircal use of non-diegetic inserts (intellectual montage) What is outside the realm of the story, create metaphor
– Create graphic contrast from shot to shot (flipped images) à to increase conflict or comedy
Camerawork & Muse-en-Scene
Avoid the conventional chest-height, straight-on framing: Favors dynamic angles à people and places look heroic or threatening
– Canted or decentered framings à deynamic
– Extremely low horizon line
– Exploitation of special-effects cinematography: split screen framing, superimposition for symbolic purpose (rather than psychological as in the French Impressionism)
– Real settings
– Juxtapostition of contrasting shapes, textures, volumes, colors, and the like in the frame itself
– No use of fill light on the sets à characters appear against black backgrounds
– Use of a variety of types of acting, ranging from the realistic to the highly stylised – often within the same film
– Use of typage: embody a social type; non actors
– Many performers borrowed stylized techniques from constructivist theater and from circus: biomechanics and eccentricity.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924) by Soviet director Lev Kuleshov. It is notable as the first Soviet film that is explicitly anti-American.