Eisenstein’s Montage: Execution and Effect Film as an art medium has the ability to inspire strong emotional and psychological feelings in its audience. This characteristic of film cinema is based very much upon Sergei Eisenstein’s “montage of attractions” – a revolutionary cinematic technique of colliding consecutive images in order to arouse the audience’s emotional response. As Eisenstein himself writes: “Montage is an idea that arises from the collision of independent shots – shots even opposite to one another.” (Mast, p. 140) Eisenstein broke down the montage technique into five different categories: metric, rhythmic, tonal, overtonal, and intellectual. He believed that if the filmmaker realized a proper combination of the five, a deep emotional response and psychological connection would be evoked with the audience. Eisenstein’s own Battleship Potemkin, an exhilarating depiction of a successful mutiny against czarist authority, best demonstrates this “proper combination.” Metric montage is based upon the absolute lengths of the shots. Shots of equal duration are edited together and varying the length of the shots with respect to the original meter creates tension. Metric montage is meant to conflict with rhythmic montage, where the actual length of the shot is based upon the structure of the sequence. This begins the conflicts and collisions that establish the dynamism integral to Eisenstein’s montage in Battleship Potemkin. As Eisenstein explains: Montage is to be compared . . . to the series of explosions of an internal combustion engine, driving forward its automobile . . . for, similarly, the dynamics of montage serve as impulses driving forward the total film. (Mast, p. 134)The desired rhythm and tension of the piece is achieved by going against the precepts of the metric montage and focusing more upon what is within the shots. An example of a transition from metric to rhythmic montage in Battleship Potemkin is the scene following the intertitle “In deep sleep after the watch.” The viewer witnesses seven shots of sleeping sailors delivered at approximately three seconds each, establishing a meter that will is disrupted by the coming of an officer on duty. Tension is built as the officer vents his anger upon an unsuspecting sailor, and Vakulinchuk’s call for action (accompanied by steady, emotionally charged arm gestures) is presented in shots of considerably more variant length as his awakened comrades express their support. Eisenstein establishes in this scene a metric norm that is deliberately violated by rhythmic montage in order to create tension and elicit a visual and emotional response from the audience. Tonal montage, seen as a step forward from rhythmic montage, is based upon the emotional sound and general tone of the piece. The piece’s tonal features (light variance in relation to gloominess, for instance) can be recognized by the naked eye, and the images and movements work to produce a tone for the montage. This is demonstrated in the shots following “Vakulinchuk’s last moorings,” as his fellow seamen lay him down at Odessa after his death. The Odessa harbor is seen peaceful as the sunset reflects off the water and all else is enveloped in dark shadows. An intertitle informs us that “the night mists were spreading,” and the connections between the lengthy shots are the dynamic contrast of light and the subtle shifts in movement and editing. Here, aspects of metric and rhythmic montage contribute to the somber tone the piece conveys and the viewer absorbs. Overtonal montage is produced by the calculated combination of metric, rhythmic, and tonal montage. It is a montage achievement, lending credence to Eisenstein’s belief that
the simple combination of two or three details of a material kind yields a perfectly finished representation of another kind – psychological. (Mast, p. 130)The combined effect of all of the piece’s appeals, overtonal montage is more an effect than a given technique. It is a form of perception gained from the proper application of the above forms of montage. The final category of Eisentein’s montage is intellectual montage, which essentially consists of cuts between visual icons. Two shots, linked together by editing, produce an idea: x + y = z. Intellectual montage and its conceptual connections provide an avenue by which the filmmaker communicates powerful ideas and concepts within the context of the film. It is a montage of collisions, the expression of ideas based upon the conflict of one image to another. As Eisenstein writes: [Intellectual montage is] montage as a collision. A view that from the collision of two given factors arises a concept. (Original emphasis. Mast, p. 133)As the sailors are prepared to be murdered on the deck of the Potemkin, Eisenstein has a shot of the priest tapping his crucifix immediately followed by a shot of an officer tapping his sword. What is metaphorically conveyed is the corrupt association of the church (crucifix) to the state (sword). Another example within the revolutionary context of the film is delivered during the Odessa steps sequence. A young mother with a baby carriage is shot, and as she dies there is a close up of her hands clasping her belt buckle, which bears an emblem of the czar. Eisenstein cuts from the close up to a shot of the massacre below and then back to the close up, firmly making the connection between czarist authority and violent oppression. Seen within Battleship Potemkin, the psychological association characteristic of intellectual montage is meant to jolt the audience to thought, heightening the response and effect. The concept of montage draws from the audience psycho-physiological response, emotion, and thought. To Eisenstein the essence of film lies in the careful juxtaposition of shots and the realization of complex ideas and responses. Battleship Potemkin sought to jolt the audience and elicit emotional and intellectual feelings relevant to the film’s subject matter. In its implementation of the various forms of montage, Battleship Potemkin stands as a remarkable film, revolutionary in content and technique.