Monday, October 7, 2013

Soviet Montage

Sergei Eisenstein was a director, writer and editor of the Soviet Montage era. He was born in 1898 and died in 1948. His parents were blue-collar workers and grew up in the lower class of the Soviet Union. He attended a science-based school to prepare him for Engineering University. Even though he was interested in science and mathematics, Eisenstein had a love for drawing, literature and theater. He quit engineering school in 1915 and took a job at a local newspaper as a cartoonist. After he sold his first political cartoon Sir Gay, he quit his job and volunteered in the engineering corps in the Russian Army. During his time in the army, he still managed to be in theater productions and sell his drawings on the street. He also studied philosophy, psychology and linguistics at the army’s local college. In 1920, he was hired to be a set and costume designer at the First Worker’s Theater of Proletkult. In 1923, he produced his first play The Sage, which was a huge success for propaganda and entertainment. The play was adapted into the short film Glumov’s Diary, which he wrote, directed, edited and produced.

Eisenstein thought that "filmmakers could manipulate time and space to create new feelings and meanings." He believed that film was the best tool for propaganda as well as the highest form of entertainment. His first feature film Strike was a leader in propaganda as well as highly praised as a great film. The film is loaded with dutch camera angles and visual metaphors. It was the first film that displayed his new editing style, a series of unsettling and conflicting shots that told a story in a realistic and disturbing way. He once said that “art could be even more powerful when it could achieve a balance between experimental and traditional narrative forms.”

Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin editing style is ground basis of montage editing. He invented the technique of cutting different shots of close-ups, action and reaction shots to tell a story in a fresh and intense way. The way Battleship Potemkin looks is one of main reasons this film is so influential. Films in that time were shot in sound stages and their actors were painted with heavy amounts of makeup and prosthetics to make them look pretty. Eisenstein wanted the film to be as realistic and relatable as possible, thats why there are so many close-ups of laborers wrinkled and stressed faces, to give the audience perspective on what was happening in those times. 

This film was a cinematic landmark, but people would not have thought that if it weren’t for the editing. All the close-ups of civilians going through tragedy, the dutch angles of soldiers in battle, and the pans over the city to see the entire war makes this one of the most relatable and realistic films of it’s time. Besides the disturbing and haunting scenes and images, Battleship Potemkin is also a thrilling ride to go on. Eisenstein made this film in a way that the audience member would always be on the edge of their seat not knowing what to expect next. People were so used to seeing films edited in a simple way to convey the most general terms of a scene, so when they would see a wide angle of civilians running down steps and then cut to a close-up of a dying woman, it caused the viewer anxiety. Eisenstein took a huge risk shooting this film the way he did, but it paid off and earned him the title “The Father of Montage.”


Girl remembering times with her boyfriend. Going through withdrawal.

Shivering, teeth chattering, leg shaking, scratching, wide eyed, fingers tapping, rocking back and forth.


Boy and Girl talking, kissing, hands intertwining, snuggling.

A PILLS, her eyes, them kissing, him, her swallowing pills.

HER FACE, a cup. Beat. Falling down, dead, cup rolling off the table.

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