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Montage Theory

Montage Theory


In this lesson you will learn to define and recognize the use of montage theory, an important approach to filmmaking.

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Hi, everyone. I'd like to welcome you to today's lesson for our visual designs and communication pathway, which is going to be montage theory. I think this one's quite exciting and interesting, so I hope you think so, too. Feel free, as always to pause, fast-forward, and rewind as you see fit. And when you're ready to go, let's dive in.

Let's start by deconstructing the word montage. The word montage, when you literally translate it from French to English, means assembly. Or-- in film's case-- editor/editing, which is perfect. And during the 1920s, montage was very popular as a form of visual expression. And it was pioneered by Sergei Eisenstein, who was a Russian filmmaker and director at the time. Now, if you've been exposed to any type of film history classes at all, you might be familiar with him and one of its most notable films, which was Battleship Potemkin.

Soviet montage is an approach to filmmaking that uses quick edits and the juxtaposition of unrelated and sometimes conflicting images in very rapid succession to impart some sort of meaning. And it's a very important movement in the history of filmmaking, because it represented a really new experimental and radical approach to editing. And it had a really significant impact on the audiences and how they would perceive a film.

This is kind of strange to us, now but it's helpful to understand that this new type of cinema was occurring at the height of the Russian Revolution. So a lot of the films that came out at the time had really different ideologies that they were attempting to convey.

Also during this time period, a Russian psychologist by the name of Lev Kuleshov was experimenting with montage, and he discovered that when viewing a picture that followed yet another pictured, it induced some sort of thought. So this is really basic, and I think this makes sense to everybody. And this became known as the Kuleshov effect, and everyone today is exposed to this type of effect when watching commercials, movies, or TV. So it's good to know.

Now, a montage uses this really basic equation to label images and define itself, which is A plus B equals C. And it's based on a theory that when you take two pieces of film or two images, and you play some side by side or one after another, that the audience will draw a conclusion that they are somehow related in some way.

And so, again, the audience will try and create some sort of meaning of all these images that they've seen. So this isn't as obvious as it sounds, because many would attempt to think, well A plus B actually equals AB instead of C. And here's an example of what I mean by that.

So let's say you have two contrasting images like this horribly drawn bicycle by me, or this horribly drawn hippo. So A plus B would equal then logically a hippo riding a horribly drawn bike. But that's not the case at all. The Kuleshov effect actually functions again A plus B equals C. So, in this example, I have a woman that's juxtaposed next to three different images.

So image A is the woman, image B is the other image, and then C would equal the conclusion that is drawn by the audiences after viewing these images. So sadness is the idea that's conveyed when the image of a woman is juxtaposed next to a cemetery, or anger would be conveyed when it's juxtaposed with a fire. And likewise, if that image was cut with a picture of food, then the idea that is trying to be conveyed is hunger-- or the idea, at least, that the audience will draw from these images.

Now, a lot of very prolific filmmakers still use these techniques today, and it doesn't have to be limited just to Soviet montage. There are other types of montage, like the intellectual montage which uses the dynamics of colliding images to create a new abstract image or idea that wasn't necessarily related to the prior two images at all.

Now, a very prolific filmmaker that made great use of montage was Alfred Hitchcock, and a really great example in a well-known movie of his was Psycho. For those of us who haven't seen it, in this scene a man intrudes in this woman's house and attempts to murder her while she's in the shower. And so, Alfred Hitchcock juxtaposed the killer's knife to the reaction shots of the woman in the shower.

And it's a very, very awesome and powerful use of the montage theory because it took two completely separate images that are not necessarily even associated with one another, and he used it super effectively to convey to the audience at this woman was being murdered without needing to show the killer, the knife, and the woman in the shower in the same scene at all. So it's really cool and awesome stuff, and like I said, directors continue to use this. And maybe you just don't notice it, because it works so well.

As always, I'd like to finish up this lesson with our key terms, which where Soviet montage, Sergei Eisenstein, Kuleshov effect, A plus B equals C, Alfred Hitchcock, and intellectual montage. And as you look over the key terms, consider or think back to an old movie or classic, and take note of how respected filmmakers may be using the montage to convey a message or idea by using completely different and maybe even abstract images.

I hope you've enjoyed today's lesson. My name is Mario, and I'll catch you next lesson.

Notes on "Montage Theory"


Image of food, creative commons

Image offire, creative commons

Image of cemetery, creative commons

Image of black&white woman, creative commons

Image of Battleship Potemkin, public domain

Image of Sergei Eisensetein, public domain

Video of Romance Sentimental, public domain

Photo of Alfred Hitchcock, public domain,_Alfred_02.jpg

Screen Capture of Psycho featurette, public domain

Terms to Know
Alfred Hitchcock

English film director noted for his suspenseful movies. Hitchcock often used montage to intensify the suspense and horror in his work.

Intellectual Montage

A system of editing that uses the dynamics of colliding images to create a new abstract image or idea not necessarily related to the previous two images.

Kuleshov Effect

A film technique named after Russian psychologist Lev Kuleshov, who experimented to discover that viewing a picture followed by another picture induces a thought.

Sergei Eisenstein

Russian film director who pioneered the use of montage in film in the 1920s.

Soviet Montage

An approach to filmmaking which uses quick film editing and the juxtaposition of unrelated sometimes conflicting images in rapid succession to impart meaning.

a + b = c

Equation used to label images and definite Montage Theory.