There are many different approaches that try and answer the question "What is Cinema?" each with their own idea and beliefs of what film should be and how the medium should be used. From the beginning there have been to main approaches to film, the Realist and the Formalist. The realist approach attempts to copy reality placing a great emphasis on location and mise-en-scene. The Formalist approach supports a style of film making which displays the directors vision of the world, greater emphasis is placed on distorting reality to create meaning. Sergei Eisenstein was a director that used this approach to film making and in this essay I will analyse his film The Batteship Potemkin (1925) according to his theory of montage and the Formalist film approach.
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The Formalist approach believes that structure of a film is in symbiosis with its medium, therefore changing the shot types and editing out of continuity seems to be the right thing to do. Although one could say the Formalism is related to expressionism because they both "emphasize that film should not merely imitate events as they occur in real life, but should produce edited version of reality" (Fourie, 2001, 200).
In his piece Beyond The Shot [The Cinematographic Principle And The Ideogram] Eisenstein explains the similarities between montage and hieroglyphs. He explains how when the symbols used in hieroglyphs are looked at on their own, they do not necessarily make much sense but when two hieroglyphs are placed next to each other they are seen as a complete image. He gives the example of "the representation of water and of an eye signifies 'to weep'" (Eisenstein, 1929, 16). He explains how the combinations of hieroglyphs literally show what in film is called a montage. A single shot within a film does not convey any real meaning unless it is combined with another shot. He also explains how in a hai-kai each line helps to convey an entire image or feeling for example "Ancient monastery. Cold moon. Wolf howling" (KIKKO, in Eisenstein, 1929, 17). In this example you can imagine each line on its own, but when they are put together they create a full image, or a sequence or a complete meaning Eisenstein refers to them as "montage phrases, montage lists" (Eisenstein, 1929, 17)
"Montage has been established by the Soviet film as the nerve of cinema" (Eisenstein, 1929, 140). Soviets developed the idea of a dialectical montage: a constant collision of one shot (the thesis) with another shot (the antithesis) to create a totally new meaning (the synthesis). For Eisenstein the "brick by brick" method of montage made no sense, the collision of shots would evoke feelings and understanding in the audience as they would put the shots together themselves and therefore the meaning and understanding would be personal, even if the director implied a certain message, each viewer may read the sequence differently. Eisenstein's proposal of montage as a series of collisions to create meaning is supported by the collision theory in particle science which states that the particles first have to collide, and only the collisions that have sufficient energy will cause a reaction..
For the collisions to happen and for them to create meaning there had to be conflict present. In another one of his essays, A Dialectical Approach To Film Form, Eisenstein states that "Art is always in conflict" (Eisenstein, 1929, 138). Eisenstein was more interested in how, through the use of editing, composition, sound and perspective, conflict could be created within an image. He therefore came up with a list of possible conflicts within a shot, or conflicts between the colliding shots which are "Graphic conflict, Conflict of planes, Conflict of volume, Spatial conflict, light conflict and tempo conflict" (Eisenstein, 1929, 144). By looking at the frame as the foundation of montage, Eisenstein was able to apply the values of montage to each seperate shot, and then create conflict between the shots to generate powerful emotional and intellectual reactions from the audience.
In the film The Battleship Potemkin Eisenstein displays his view of montage as being a series of conflicting images, throughout the whole film. For example the
In The Battleship Potemkin, Eisenstein creates a tense and aggressive rhythm with thie theory of dialectic montage. Furthermore, he passes on a certain observation of history to the audience through his editing. Taken as a whole the collision approach tries to signify the conflict and collision of history itself and at the same time the technique when applied to individual scenes impose certain emotional focus and response of the audience.
Start analysing scences from the film after explaining the conflict thing
Then talk about the manipulation of people through the use of montage editing
Passive audience Vs. Active audience
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