Sergei Eisenstein (Born 1898) was an extremely influential Soviet Russian film director, and is considered by many to be the father of Montage. Eisenstein is as important to the montage as D.W. Griffith is to the classic linear narrative.
Eisenstein defined five different forms of montage:
Every edit/cut is an exact defined length throughout . It is rare for an entire montage sequence to be entirely metric so it is often found intertwined into other forms of montage. I found an example of this in one of Eisenstein’s films. (Shown below) October 1917: Ten Days that Shook the World (1928) The shots I have chosen are shown in the metric style at very quick succession within another different montage.
This distinct change in editing style adds to the frenzied, and out-of control feel that the overarching montage already illustrates. These faster edits, and the actual content of this metric montage gives the very simple impression that the people are being fired upon. The tempo of the music also changes to match these faster edits.
This type of montage was, and still is, very popular in Hollywood and American cinema. It involved cutting on movements and/or composition creating visual continuity from edit to edit.
Possibly the most renowned use of this style of montage was used in Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho. The film would cut right before the knife would puncture Marion’s, so the audience never actually sees her getting stabbed, but because of the audience’s expectation, combined with the music, the outcome is just as affecting, if not more so. The edit I have pictured above shows a transitional cut from blood and water pouring down the plug hole, to Marion’s dead eye. The camera even uses a progressing Dutch angle so as to the rotation of the water drifting down the drain.
Tonal montage is not concerned with the speed of the edits. The sense and meaning of the scene comes from the content. That is to say, from the performances, cinematography and sound. For instance the scene where Vakulinchuk is killed from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) (pictured left) features no graphic matches, or match-on-action, and even no diegetic sound, but the scene still carries a great deal of weight due to the actual content. The chaos and horror of the scene is still being conveyed efficiently because the visual content itself is so affecting and memorable.
A culmination of Metric, Rhythmic, and Tonal montage. This uncommon form of montage was naturally quite hard to pick out. Yet I have two examples of what to be Overtonal montage. The first is a short montage excerpt from Vsevolod Pudovkin’s 1926 film Mother. (shown right) The scene in question features a large group of revolutionist’s marching through the streets. Each edit is the same defined length (metric) this could mimic the efficiency of the marching. Visual continuity is also maintained because it’s fairly easy to create match cuts when shooting this kind of action. Each cut makes temporal and spatial sense. (rhythmic) The content itself also has an inherent meaning. The simple act of the people marching of their own accord combined with the uplifting music gives the impression of revolution. (tonal)
The second is a scene from P.T. Anderson’s 1999 film Magnolia (shown left). The scene features all 9 of the films main characters singing along to the same melancholy song. Each character (except for the first, who instigates the singing) gets an equal amount on screen time in this montage which obviously implies metric editing, but I think it creates the feeling of an ensemble piece. Each of these characters somehow subconsciously knows the rest of the people are going through the same things as they are. The rhythmic editing of this montage not only comes through via graphic matches (i.e. People sitting similarly or cutting at the end of a slow zoom) but also in time with the song (Aimee Mann Wise Up) the cut takes place in an appropriate moment during the song. For example, last character to begin singing, a young boy (Stanley Spector), his first words are “Give up”, this is fitting as he is, in my opinion, the most hopeless of the this cast of characters.
This type of montage involves taking two different scenes that have individual meanings by themselves, but when combined have different and greater meaning. If you were to remove either of the scenes then the film would still make perfect sense, but an intellectual point would not have been made. Francis Ford Coppola makes use of this type of montage in his 1979 film Apocalypse Now (shown left) During a scene where a highly influential military leader is about to be assassinated, a cow is being sacrificed concurrently. Both of these scenes would work perfectly well alone, but when combined it is greater than the sum of it’s parts. An explanation of the effect Coppola could have been trying to convey is that of a sacred cow. Colonel Kurtz, and the cow both need to be sacrificed for a good of the people.
- October: Ten Days That Shook the World, 1928. [Film] Directed by Sergei Eisenstein & Grigori Aleksandrov. Soviet Union
- Psycho, 1960. [Film] Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. USA: Shamley Productions
- Battleship Potemkin, 1925. [Film] Directed by Sergei Eisenstein. Soviet Union
- Mother, 1926. [Film] Directed by Vsevolod Pudovkin. Soivet Union: Mezhrabpomfilm
- Boogie Nights, 1999. [Film] Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. USA: New Line Cinema
- Apocalypse Now, 1979. [Film] Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. USA: Zoetrope Studios