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Reading Week 4
Soviet Montage and The Surrealists
Below are some writing on montage from the very Russians who developed it
Pudovkin on Montage
In order to make clear to oneself the nature of the process of editing a scene, one may draw the following
analogy. Imagine yourself observing a scene unfolded in front of you, thus: a man stands near the wall of
a house and turns his head to the left; there appears another man slinking cautiously through the gate. The
two are fairly widely distant from one another—they stop. The first takes some object and shows it to the
other, mocking him. The latter clenches his fists in a rage and throws himself at the former. At this
moment a woman looks out of a window on the third floor and calls, “Police!” The antagonists run off in
opposite directions. Now, how would this have been observed? 1. The observer looks at the first man. He
turns his head. 2. What is he looking at? The observer turns his glance in the same direction and sees the
man entering the gate. The latter stops. 3. How does the first react to the appearance on the scene of the
second? A new turn by the observer; the first takes out an object and mocks the second. 4. How does the
second react? Another turn; he clenches his fists and throws himself on his opponent. 5. The observer
draws aside to watch how both opponents roll about fighting. 6. A shout from above. The observer raises
his head and sees the woman shouting at the window. 7. The observer lowers his head and sees the result
of her warning—the antagonists running off in opposite directions. The observer happened to be standing
near and saw every detail, saw it clearly, but to do so he had to turn his head, first left, then right, then
upwards, whithersoever his attention was attracted by the interest of observation and the sequence of the
developing scene. Suppose he had been standing farther away from the action, taking in the two persons
and the window on the third floor simultaneously, he would have received only a general impression,
without being able to look separately at the first, the second, or the woman. Here we have approached
closely the basic significance of editing. Its object is the showing of the development of the scene in
relief, as it were, by guiding the attention of the spectator now to one, now to the other separate element.
From the above is clear the manner in which editing can even work upon the emotions. Imagine to
yourself the excited observer of some rapidly developing scene. His agitated glance is thrown rapidly
from one spot to another. If we imitate this glance with the camera we get a series of pictures, rapidly
alternating pieces, creating a stirring scenario editing-construction. The reverse would be long pieces
changing by mixes, conditioning a calm and slow editing-construction (as one may shoot, for example, a
herd of cattle wandering along a road, taken from the viewpoint of a pedestrian on the same road). We
have established, by these instances, the basic significance of the constructive editing of scenes. It builds
the scenes from separate pieces, of which each concentrates the attention of the spectator only on that
element important to the action. The sequence of these pieces must not be uncontrolled, but must
correspond to the natural transference of attention of an imaginary observer
If the scenarist can effect in even rhythm the transference of interest of the intent spectator, if he can so
construct the elements of increasing interest that the question, “What is happening at the other place?”
arises and at the same moment the spectator is transferred whither he wishes to go, then the editing thus
created can really excite the spectator. One must learn to understand that editing is in actual fact a
compulsory and deliberate guidance of the thoughts and associations of the spectator. If the editing be
Reading Week 4
merely an uncontrolled combination of the various pieces, the spectator will understand (apprehend)
nothing from it; but if it be coordinated according to a definitely selected course of events or conceptual
line, either agitated or calm, it will either excite or soothe the spectator.
Eisenstein on Montage
The shot. A tiny rectangle with some fragment of an event organized within it. Glued together, these shots
form montage. (Of course, if this is done in the appropriate rhythm!) That, roughly, is the teaching of the
old school of film-making. Screw by screw, Brick by brick….Kuleshov, for instance, even writes with a
brick: ‘If you have an idea-phrase, a particle of the story, a link in the whole dramaturgical chain, then
that idea is expressed and built up from shot-signs, just like bricks…. Screw by screw, Brick by brick . . .
as they used to say. The shot is an element of montage. Montage is the assembling of these elements. This
is a most pernicious mode of analysis, in which the understanding of any process as a whole (the link:
shot—montage) derives purely from the external indications of the course it takes (one piece glued to
another). You might, for instance, come to the notorious conclusion that trams exist merely to block
streets. This is an entirely logical conclusion if you confine yourself to the functions that they performed,
for example, in February 1917. But the Moscow municipal authorities see things in a different light. The
worst of the matter is that an approach like this does
The shot is by no means a montage element. The shot is a montage cell. Beyond the dialectical jump in
the single series: shot— montage. What then characterises montage and, consequently, its embryo, the
shot? Collision. Conflict between two neighbouring fragments. Conflict. Collision. Before me lies a
crumpled yellowing sheet of paper. On it there is a mysterious note: ‘Series—P’ and ‘Collision—E’. This
is a material trace of the heated battle on the subject of montage between E (myself) and P (Pudovkin) six
months ago. We have already got into a habit: at regular intervals he comes to see me late at night and,
behind closed doors, we wrangle over matters of principle. So it is in this instance. A graduate of the
Kuleshov school, he zealously defends the concepts of montage as a series of fragments. In a chain.
‘Bricks’. Bricks that expound an idea serially. I opposed him with my view of montage as a collision, my
view that the collision of two factors gives rise to an idea. In my view a series is merely one possible
particular case. Remember that physics is aware of an infinite number of combinations arising from the
impact (collision) between spheres. Depending on whether they are elastic, non-elastic or a mixture of the
two. Among these combinations is one where the collision is reduced to a uniform movement of both in
the same direction. That corresponds to Pudovkin’s view. Not long ago we had another discussion. Now
he holds the view that I held then. In the meantime he has of course had the chance to familiarise himself
with the set of lectures that I have given at the GTK since then. So, montage is conflict. Conflict lies at
the basis of every art. (A unique ‘figurative’ transformation of the dialectic.) The shot is then a montage
cell. Consequently we must also examine it from the point of view of conflict. Conflict within the shot is:
potential montage that, in its growing intensity, breaks through its four-sided cage and pushes its conflict
out into montage impulses between the montage fragments; just as a zigzag of mimicry flows over,
making those same breaks, into a zigzag of spatial staging, just as the slogan, ‘Russians know no
obstacles’, breaks out in the many volumes of peripeteia in the novel War and Peace. If we are to compare
montage with anything, then we should compare a phalanx of montage fragments—‘shots’—with the
series of explosions of the internal combustion engine, as these fragments multiply into a montage
dynamic through “impulses” like those that drive a car or a tractor. Conflict within the shot. It can take
many forms: it can even be part of . . . the story. Then it becomes the ‘Golden Series’. A fragment 120
metres long. Neither the analysis nor the questions of film form apply in this instance. But these are
Reading Week 4
‘cinematographic’: the conflict of graphic directions (lines) the conflict of shot levels (between one
another) the conflict of volumes the conflict of masses (of volumes filled with varying intensities of light)
the conflict of spaces, etc. Conflicts that are waiting only for a single intensifying impulse to break up into
antagonistic pairs of fragments. Close-ups and long shots. Fragments travelling graphically in different
directions. Fragments resolved in volumes and fragments resolved in planes. Fragments of darkness and
light . . . etc. Lastly, there are such unexpected conflicts as: the conflict between an object and its spatial
nature and the conflict between an event and its temporal nature. However strange it may seem, these are
things that have long been familiar to us. The first is achieved through optical distortion by the lens and
the second through animation or Zeitlupe [slow motion].
Thus: the projection of the dialectical system of objects into the brain —into abstract creation— —into
thought— produces dialectical modes of thought—dialectical materialism—PHILOSOPHY. Similarly:
the projection of the same system of objects—in concrete creation—in form—produces ART. The basis
of this philosophy is the dynamic conception of objects: being as a constant evolution from the interaction
between two contradictory opposites. Synthesis that evolves from the opposition between thesis and
antithesis. It is equally of basic importance for the correct conception of art and all art forms. In the realm
of art this dialectical principle of the dynamic is embodied in CONFLICT as the essential basic principle
of the existence of every work of art and every form. FOR ART IS ALWAYS CONFLICT: 1. because of
its social mission. 2. because of its nature, 3. because of its methodology. 1. Because of its social mission,
since: it is the task of art to reveal the contradictions of being. To forge the correct intellectual concept, to
form the right view by sitting up contradictions in the observer’s mind and through the dynamic clash of
opposing passions. 2. Because of its nature, since: because of its nature it consists in the conflict between
natural being and creative tendentiousness. Between organic inertia and purposeful initiative.
MONTAGE Soviet film has stipulated this as the nerve of film. To determine the essence of montage is to
solve the problem of film as such. The old film-makers, including the theoretically quite outmoded Lev
Kuleshov, regarded montage as a means of producing something by describing it, adding individual shots
to one another like building blocks. Movement within these shots and the resulting length of the pieces
were thus to be regarded as rhythm. A fundamentally false notion! It would mean defining an object
exclusively in terms of its external course. Regarding the mechanical process of sticking the pieces
together as a principle. We cannot characterise this kind of relationship between lengths as rhythm. It
would give rise to a metre that was as opposed to rhythm as such as the mechanical-metric Mesendick
system is opposed to the organic-rhythmic Bode school in the case of bodily expression. According to this
definition (which Pudovkin also shares as a theorist) montage is the means of unrolling an idea through
single shots (the “epic” principle). But in my view montage is not an idea composed of successive shots
stuck together but an idea that DERIVES from the collision between two shots that are independent of
one another (the ‘dramatic’ principle). (‘Epic’ and ‘dramatic’ in relation to the methodology of form and
not content or plot!!) As in Japanese hieroglyphics in which two independent ideographic characters
(‘shots’) are juxtaposed and explode into a concept. Sophistry? Not at all! Because we are trying here to
derive the whole essence, the stylistic principle and the character of film from its technical (-optical)
foundations. We know that the phenomenon of movement in film resides in the fact that still pictures of a
moved body blend into movement when they are shown in quick succession one after the other.
Vertov – Kino Eye
Reading Week 4
We call ourselves kinoks—as opposed to “cinematographers,’ a herd of junkmen doing rather well
peddling their rags.
We see no connection between true kinochestvo and the cunning and calculation of the profiteers.
We consider the psychological Russo-German film-drama— weighed down with apparitions and
childhood memories—an absurdity.
kinoks. (“cinema-eye men”). A neologism coined by Vertov, involving a play on the words kino
(“cinema” or “film”) and Oko, the latter an obsolescent and poetic word meaning “eye.” The -ok ending is
the transliteration of a traditional suffix used in Russian to indicate a male, human agent.
Kinoglaz (“Kino-Eye”) is the name Vertov gave to the movement and group of which he is the founder
and leader. The term was also used to designate their method of work. It is, as well, the title of the
feature-length film that, in 1925, initiates the period of his maturity.
To the American adventure film with its showy dynamism and to the dramatizations of the American
Pinkertons the kinocks say thanks for the rapid shot changes and the close ups. Good… but disorderly,
not based on a precise study of movement. A cut above the psychological drama, but still lacking in
foundation. A cliché A copy of a copy.
WE proclaim the old films, based on the romance, theatrical films and the like, to be leprous.
—Keep away from them!
—Keep your eyes off them!
—They’re mortally dangerous!
WE affirm the future of cinema art by denying its present.
“Cinematography” must die so that the art of cinema may live.
WE call for its death to be hastened
We protest against that mixing of the arts which many call synthesis. The mixture of bad colors, even
those ideally selected from the spectrum, produces not white, but mud.
Synthesis should come at the summit of each art’s achievement and not before.
WE are cleansing kinochestvo of foreign matter—of music, literature, and theater; we seek our own
rhythm, one lifted from nowhere else, and we find it in the movements of things, WE invite you: —to
flee— the sweet embraces of the romance, the poison of the psychological novel, the clutches of the
theater of adultery; to turn your back on music, —to flee— out into the open, into four-dimensions (three
+ time), in search of our own material, our meter and rhythm.
The “psychological” prevents man from being as precise as a stopwatch; it interferes with his desire for
kinship with the machine.
In an art of movement we have no reason to devote our particular attention to contemporary man,
The machine makes us ashamed of man’s inability to control himself, but what are we to do if electricity’s
unerring ways are more exciting to us than the disorderly haste of active men and the corrupting inertia of
passive ones?
Saws dancing at a sawmill convey to us a joy more intimate and intelligible than that on human dance
For his inability to control his movements, WE temporarily exclude man as a subject for film.
Our path leads through the poetry of machines, from the bungling citizen to the perfect electric man.
Reading Week 4
In revealing the machine’s soul, in causing the worker to love his workbench, the peasant his trattor, the
engineer his engine— we introduce creative joy into atl mechanical labor, we bring people into closer
kinship with machines, we foster new people.
The Man with a Movie Camera
camera as a kino-eye, more perfect than the human eye, for the exploration of the chaos of visual
phenomena that fills space.
The kino-eye lives and moves in time and space; it gathers and records impressions in a manner wholly
different from that of the human eye. The position of our bodies while observing or our perception of a
certain number of features of a visual phenomenon in a given instant are by no means obligatory
limitations for the camera which, since it is perfected, perceives more and better,
We cannot improve the making of our eyes, but we can endlessly perfect the camera.
Until now many a cameraman has been criticized for having filmed a running horse moving with
unnatural slowness on the screen (rapid cranking of the camera)—or for the opposite, a tractor plowing a
field too swiftly (slow cranking of the camera), and the like.
These are chance occurrences, of course, but we are preparing a system, a deliberate system of such
occurrences, a system of seeming irregularities to investigate and organize phenomena.
Until now, we have violated the movie camera and forced it to copy the work of our eye. And the better
the copy, the better the shooting was thought to be. Starting today we are liberating the camera and
making it work in the opposite direction—away from copying.
The weakness of the human eye is manifest. We affirm the kinoeye, discovering within the chaos of
movement the result of the kino-eye’s own movement; we affirm the kinceye with its own dimensions of
time and space, growing in strength and potential to the point of self-affirmation.
I am kino-eye, I am a mechanical eye. l, a machine, show you the world as only I can see it.
Now and forever, I free myself from human immobility, am in constant motion, I draw near, then away
from objects, I crawl under, I climb onto them. I move apace with the muzzle of a galloping horse, I
plunge full speed into a crowd, I outstrip running soldiers, I fall on my back, I ascend with an airplane, I
plunge and soar together with plunging and soaring bodies. Now l, a camera, fling myself along their
resultant, maneuvering in the chaos of movement, recording movement, starting with movements
composed of the most complex combinations.
My path leads to the creation of a fresh perception of the world. I decipher in a new way a world
unknown to you.
Once more let us agree: the eye and the ear. The ear does not spy, the eye does not eavesdrop.
Separation of functions.
Part II Surrealists
SURREALISM by Andre Breton
We are still living under the reign of logic: this, of course, is what I have been driving at. But in this day
and age logical methods are applicable only to solving problems of secondary interest. The absolute
rationalism that is still in vogue allows us to consider only facts relating directly to our experience.
Logical ends, on the contrary, escape us. It is pointless to add that experience itself has found itself
increasingly circumscribed. It paces back and forth in a cage from which it is more and more difficult to
make it emerge. It too leans for support on what is most immediately expedient, and it is protected by the
Reading Week 4
sentinels of common sense. Under the pretense of civilization and progress, we have managed to banish
from the mind everything that may rightly or wrongly be termed superstition, or fancy; forbidden in any
kind of search for truth which is not in conformance with accepted practices. It was, apparently, by pure
chance that a part of our mental world which we pretended not to be concerned with any longer – and, in
my opinion by far the most important part – has brought back to light. For this we must give thanks to the
discoveries of Sigmund Freud. On the basis of these discoveries a current of opinion is finally forming by
means of which the human explorer will be able to carry his investigations much further, authorized as he
will henceforth be not to continue himself solely to the most summary realities. The imagination is
perhaps on the point of reasserting itself, of reclaiming its right. …
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