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According to Wikipedia’s page on Montage (filmmaking):

Montage play /mɒnˈtɑːʒ/is a technique in film editing in which a series of short shots are edited into a sequence to condense space, time, and information. The term has been used in various contexts. It was coined by Eisenstein, and early Russian directors used it as a synonym for creative editing. In France the word “montage” simply denotes cutting. The term “montage sequence” has been used primarily by British and American studios, which refers to the common technique as outlined in this article.[1]

The montage sequence is usually used to suggest the passage of time, rather than to create symbolic meaning as it does in Soviet montage theory.

An example of montage from Eisenstein’s ‘Battleship Potemkin’ (if you’ve never seen it before, I’d recommend it): http://youtu.be/CKgH-VzQbis?t=55m34s

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This shows the Odessa Opera House being targeted by the Battleship Potemkin’s guns (which it then tells you). It shows shots of statues, so you assume that these are part of the Odessa, which is reaffirmed by shots of walls exploding. My favourite part is the montage of 3 lions, first one asleep, second one awake and worried, then the third one scared, which is a clever substitution for the nobility/upper class (represented by lions, who are typically seen as noble/regal), who are presumably in the Odessa, realising what’s happening as the explosions begin.

This is one form of film montage, where you show a succession of images/scenes in order to inform the viewer, or to get them to form connections between the images/scenes.

Another example of film montage is from the short film ‘When the Day Breaks’ by Wendy Tilby & Amanda Forbis, which I talked about in a previous post:

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Write response and thoughts to chapter re montage sequence above – images sourced from YouTube:

  • How does the sequence work – convey lots of abstract things about both character’s lives, visual metaphors intercut with animated action

The broken objects, the shocked faces of the crowd, a wrapped up body carried by paramedics, the sad Policeman who’s probably seen this far too many times before, the lone hat and the dent in the car all convey the message that there’s been a car crash, and it was fatal to the chicken.

The heart, cells, bones and blood vessels indicate that his body is being looked at, probably dissected, or that he is no longer a person, just a collection of objects which used to make that person.

The photos and the postcard show his life, history, relationships, how he thought of himself and how others thought of him. The egg reminds you of his birth, which re-inforces the images of him as a child to show you that he had an entire life, and now in the blink of an eye, it’s gone.

The emotion of the pig reflects this realisation, but then life just goes on as we see with an uncaring pigeon, dogs chasing the ambulance and also stealing the fish left on the floor.

There are other views on what makes a montage, as shown by Wikipedia’s Soviet Montage Theory page:

Soviet filmmakers in the 1920s disagreed about how exactly to view montage, Sergei Eisenstein marked a note of accord in “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form” when he noted that montage is “the nerve of cinema”, and that “to determine the nature of montage is to solve the specific problem of cinema”.

While several Soviet filmmakers, such as Lev Kuleshov, Dziga Vertov, and Vsevolod Pudovkin put forth explanations of what constitutes the montage effect, Eisenstein’s view that “montage is an idea that arises from the collision of independent thoughts” wherein “each sequential element is perceived not next to the other, but on top of the other” has become most widely accepted.x

There is also sound montage, which is made by taking or sampling sounds and/or music and putting them all together to make new sounds or music (like with rap), and photomontage (also known as photoshopping), which is where you take photos (although you can do it with other types of images) and put them together, sometimes seamlessly, but not always.

In conclusion: Montage is a succession of images, sound or video footage, sometimes overlaid with each other, to convey information and/or meaning to the viewer. The viewer will make connections between the images/sounds/videos that they might not otherwise if they were presented individually or in a different order.

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