Monday, 20 October 2008

Introduction to Montage


It means cutting together or assembling, it is based on the principal that is the sum of parts is a whole.

The original meaning is only the first part of the visual statement, according to montage theory. It's open and -- incomplete. What is missing in the static world of images? You! What montage does -- the thought (action) in evolution with the next shot "throws the meaning" on the previous shot! (In primitive terms we call it a reaction shot). The second shot in its turn is incomplete also -- it asks for another shot! That's how we crave for continuity and can't take our eyes away from the screen! Well, montage theory doesn't look so simple anymore.

The great formula of montage:
1 + 1 > 2
(Following the logic of dialects (thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis), the sum of two parts is bigger, if they are connected.

Soviet montage theory is an approach to understanding and creating cinema that relies heavily upon editing (montage is French for "putting together"). Although Soviet filmmakers in the 1920s disagreed about how exactly to view montage, Sergei Eisenstein marked a note of accord in "A Dialectic Approach to Film Form" when he noted that montage is "the nerve of cinema," and that "to determine the nature of montage is to solve the specific problem of cinema."

While several Soviet filmmakers, such as Lev Kuleshov, Dziga Vertov, and Vsevolod Pudovkin put forth explanations of what constitutes the montage effect, Eisenstein's view that "montage is an idea that arises from the collision of independent shots" wherein "each sequential element is perceived not next to the other, but on top of the other" has become most widely accepted.

In formal terms, this style of editing offers discontinuity in graphic qualities, violations of the 180 degree rule, and the creation of impossible spatial matches. It is not concerned with the depiction of a comprehensible spatial or temporal continuity as is found in the classical Hollywood continuity system. It draws attention to temporal ellipses because changes between shots are obvious, less fluid, and non-seamless.

Eisenstein’s montage theories are based on the idea that montage originates in the "collision" between different shots in an illustration of the idea of thesis and antithesis. This basis allowed him to argue that montage is inherently dialectical, thus it should be considered a demonstration of Marxism and Hegelian philosophy. His collisions of shots were based on conflicts of scale, volume, rhythm, motion (speed, as well as direction of movement within the frame), as well as more conceptual values such as class.

Types of Montages

Analytical and Idea - Associative Montages are two major types of montages; the third is primarily concerned with the rhythm rather than juxtapositions. In Analytical Montage, an event is analyzed for its theme and construction. Essential shots are selected and these are synthesized into a precise series of shots that make up a intense event on screen.

  • Analytical Montage: a). Sequential Analytical Montage, b). Sectional Analytical Montage.
  • Idea Associative: a). Comparison Montage, b). Collision Montage.
  • Metric Montage

In Montage an event is condensed into key developmental elements and put in a cause effect sequence. The main event is implied rather than shown. It requires the viewers to apply psychological closure to fill in gaps so than they feel more involved in the scene, the viewer becomes a participant.

The time order never changes - it can only be condensed and intensified. Such sequence helps in plot development and narrative continuity.

Three diagrams above illustrate the steps involved to make a sequential analytical montage. These types of montage represent the key developmental elements in a cause effect sequence of an event.

Diagram: The proposal, the engagement, the Birth of the first child followed by the birth of a second child:- The selected shots are sequenced in order of the actual event according to logic (Cause and Effect)

Illustration: The proposal, the birth of the first child, birth of a second followed by marriage:- If the proper sequence of the event is not maintained then the meaning changes (Change in Meaning)

Sectional Montage

  • The event sections are not arranged along the horizontal time vector (event progression)
  • But along the vertical vector (event intensity and complexity)
  • It arrests one moment in the event. (subjective time, the vertical line)
  • Stretching time duration - opposite to condensing time (cuts)

This shows an event from various view points. It does not follow any particular sequence. It thus shows the various complexities of a particular moment. Unlike the sequential montage, it stops the event from progression temporarily and examines a section of it. The basic order of the shots is still important to establish the point of view. However the shots are rhythmically precise.

It can stress the simultaneity of the event through the split screen or multiple screen montages.
In the first illustration the event is shown from the students point of view one feels bad for the students because they are subjected to a boring lecture this is because of the fact that shots of the students are shown first.

In the second the teacher is shown first hence it adopts a teacher’s point of view.

So the viewers sympathize with the teacher who is delivering a lecture because the students are not that interested.

Idea - Associative Montage

Here two unrelated events are juxtaposed to create a third meaning - developed in the days of silent film era to express ideas and concepts that that could not be shown in a narrative picture sequence. These fall under two categories:

Comparison montage

  • These comprise of shots that are juxtaposed to thematically related events to reinforce a basic theme or idea.
  • Silent films often would juxtapose a shot of a political leader with preening of a peacock’s shot to depict politician’s vanity.
  • Comparison montage acts like an optical illusion to influence perception of the main event.

The Russian filmmaker, Kulshov, conducted several experiments on the aesthetics of montages: to show the impact of juxtaposition and context - he interspersed the expressionless face of an actor with unrelated shots of emotional value like a child playing, a plate of soup, and a dead woman – the viewers thought that they were seeing the actor’s reaction to the event.

The television advertisements often use this technique to send forth complex messages quickly across to the viewers, e.g. a running tiger dissolves into a car gliding on the road – a hyperbole signifying car having the strength, agility, and grace of a tiger.

Collision montage

Two events collide to enforce a concept feeling or idea. The conflict creates tension.

Comparison Montage: These comprise of shots that are juxtaposed to thematically related events to rein enforce a basic theme or idea. Thematic related events are compared to reinforce a general theme.

In olden days these were used in silent films for example they would show a shot of a political leader juxtaposed with a shot of preening of a peacock to show that the man was very vain.

In the following illustration the first picture is of a dog looking for food, it is juxtaposed with a homeless person doing the same. This shows that the poor are being neglected by the society.

What's wrong with this picture?

In comparison montages the multiple screens that contain simultaneous collision montages can be shown. This is done in news, various types of information is given on screen enough of care must be exercised otherwise inaccurate message may be given to a viewer.

Collision Montage: Two events are collided to enforce a concept feeling or idea. The conflict created tension it betters the experience of the viewers these type of montages should not be too obvious otherwise annoyed rather than involved.

In this montage makes the viewers aware of the plight of the homeless, insensitivity and social injustice.

The Visual Dialectical Principal

The aesthetics principal upon which the collision montage is based is called the visual dialectic this means opposing contradictory statements can be juxtaposed to resolve contradictions to a into universally true axioms.


By juxtaposing a thesis or statement with its antithesis or counterstatement one arrives at a synthesis. In other words a thesis opposed by an thesis results in a new synthesis (a new thesis) in which two opposing conditions are resolved into a higher order statement.

  • Russian film maker Eisenstein frequently used it in not only as a principle task of montage but as a basis for an entire film.

The Metric Montage

  • Editing follows a specific number of frames (based purely on the physical nature of time), cutting to the next shot no matter what is happening within the image.
  • This montage is used to elicit the most basal and emotional of reactions in the audience.
  • This is a rhythmic structuring device a series of related or unrelated images are flashed across the screen at regular intervals.
  • A metric montage is created by cutting a film into equal lengths regardless of colour, content or continuity of shots - one can actually clap the hands to the beat.
  • A tiatery motion is created.
  • Accelerated metric montage the shots become progressively faster it can punctuate a higher point.

'Invisible Editing'

This is the omniscient style of the realist feature films developed in Hollywood. The vast majority of narrative films are now edited in this way. The cuts are intended to be unobtrusive except for special dramatic shots. It supports rather than dominates the narrative: the story and the behaviour of its characters are the centre of attention. The technique gives the impression that the edits are always required are motivated by the events in the 'reality' that the camera is recording rather than the result of a desire to tell a story in a particular way. The editing isn't really 'invisible', but the conventions have become so familiar to visual literates that they no longer consciously notice them.


The dominant system of editing, handed down from the Hollywood tradition, is known as continuity editing, the cuts are invisible in to produce a seamless visual and narrative experience.

Continuity editing involves such techniques as:

  • Continuity editing relies upon matching screen direction, position, and temporal relations from shot to shot.
  • Motivated cuts - If a story is to be told the cuts have to be seamless. This can be achieved by ensuring that the content motivates the cut. For example if one hears a door open and a character turns his head, one expects to see a cut to the door.
  • The 180 Degree Rule - Two characters in the same scene must maintain the same left/right relationship throughout the scene. In other words, if in a particular shot Character A is on the left facing right and Character B is on the right facing left; you should keep the camera positioned so the characters stay facing the same direction. If the camera “crosses the line” between the characters and shoots them from the other side, One end up with a reverse cut where the characters’ positions are switched. Even if you cut to a shot of Character B alone, he should still be on the left facing right. While it’s not essential that you follow the 180 degree rule, most directors do so in order to avoid disorienting the viewer.
  • Shot-reverse-shot structuring that obeys the 180 degree rule -positing an artificial line which the camera cannot cross, thereby creating the illusion of a unified space across shots.
    Cuts on action -creating the illusion of continuous motion from one shot to the next. The reason behind this rule is that cutting on action distracts the audience less. People focus on the action occurring, not the cut, and thus are less likely to notice any mistakes like jump cuts. For example, if a woman turns her head to look at something, the cut to the object of interest should be made midway through the action of turning.
  • Eye-line match -in which the look of a character is matched spatially to what he or she is looking at.
  • Sound bridging-in which continuous music or sound is used to bridge the cuts between shots, among other techniques.

In this sequence from Neighbours (Buster Keaton, 1920), continuity is maintained by the spatial and temporal contiguity of the shots and the preservation of direction between world and screen. More importantly, the shots are matched on Keaton's actions as he shuttles across the courtyard from stairwell to stairwell.

In the Hollywood continuity editing system the angle of the camera axis to the axis of action usually changes by more than 30 ° between two shots, for example in a conversation scene rendered as a series of shot/reverse shots. The 180° line is not usually crossed unless the transition is smoothed by a POV shot or a re-establishing shot.

Visible Vs. Invisible Technique

  • The majority primarily prefer the standard conventions of continuity editing.
  • The classical narrative mode refers to the narrative style common in films of the classical Hollywood period from the 1940's to the 1960's. These films came from the studio system and its concern for commercial success. Despite the different conventions associated with each genre, these films were about escapism and therefore shared the narrative mode favouring the cause and effect linkage of events, there by keeping the audience engrossed in the story. The classical model used continuity editing which is covert, in order to create a unity of time and space, and tell the story without drawing attention the films as something that has been constructed.
  • The invisible technique comes across as lacking knowledge and careless inexperienced crew.
  • People generally believe that a character should be recognisable through out a film, images that evoke feelings of ambiguity and uncertainty in the minds of the viewer without character and plot irritates the viewing experience of the audiences.
  • Certain filmmakers also assume that usage of an alternate language is a sign of ignorance on the part of the camera, as the conventions are not understood by them they feel it is safer to use the classical Hollywood style because it is a tried and tested method that ensures attracting and sustaining the audiences interest, it keeps them absorbed in the story.

The basic concept is to create an illusion of continuity while leaving out parts of the action that slow the film's pacing.

Each story has to have a beginning, middle and an end int the minds of the audience that is what they expect to se however in reality life is unpredictable and uncertain there is confusing activity that does not make sense at times thus while employing the visible technique the movie becomes more real.

Editing Guidelines – Irrespective of the Technique

  • Video professionals know that production techniques are best when they are transparent; i.e., when they go unnoticed by the average viewer.
  • However, in music videos, commercials, and program introductions, we are in an era where production (primarily editing) techniques are being used as a kind of "eye candy" to mesmerize audiences.

Guideline #1: Edits work best when they are motivated.

  • In making any cut or transition from one shot to another there is a risk of breaking audience concentration and subtly pulling attention away from the story or subject matter.
  • When cuts or transitions are motivated by production content they are more apt to go unnoticed. For example, if someone glances to one side during a dramatic scene, we can use that as motivation to cut to whatever has caught the actor's attention.
  • When one person stops talking and another starts that provides the motivation to make a cut from one person to the other.
  • If we hear a door open, or someone calls out from off-camera, we generally expect to see a shot of whoever it is. If someone picks up a strange object to examine it, it's natural to cut to an insert shot of the object.

Guideline # 2: Whenever possible cut on subject movement.

If cuts are prompted by action, that action will divert attention from the cut, making the transition more fluid. Small jump cuts are also less noticeable because viewers are caught up in the action.

If a man is getting out of a chair, you can cut at the midpoint in the action. In this case some of the action will be included in both shots. In cutting, keep the 30-degree rule in mind.

Maintaining Consistency in Action and Detail

Editing for single-camera production requires great attention to detail. Directors will generally give the editor more than one take of each scene. Not only should the relative position of feet or hands, etc., in both shots match, but also the general energy level of voices and movements.

There is also the need to make sure nothing has changed in the scene -- hair, clothing, the placement of props, etc. and that the talent is doing the same thing in exactly the same way in each shot.

Note in the photos below that if we cut from the close-up of the woman talking to the four-shot on the right, that the angle of her face changes along with the lighting. (Because of the location of the window, we would assume the key light would be on our left.)

These things represent clear continuity problems -- made all the more apparent in this case because our eyes would be focused on the woman in red.

Part of the art of acting is in to maintain absolute consistency between takes.

This means that during each take talent must remember to synchronize moves and gestures with specific words in the dialogue. Otherwise, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to cut directly between these takes during editing.

It's the Continuity Director's job to see not only that the actor's clothes, jewelry, hair, make-up, etc., remain consistent between takes, but that props (movable objects on the set) also remain consistent.

It's easy for an object on the set to be picked up at the end of one scene or take and then be put down in a different place before the camera rolls on the next take. When the scenes are then edited together, the object will then seem to disappear, or instantly jump from one place to another.

Discounting the fact that one would not want to cut between two shots that are very similar, do you see any problem in cutting between the two shots above?

The obvious disappearance of her earrings and a difference in color balance, but did you notice the change in the direction of the key light and the position of the hair on her forehead?

Entering and Exiting the Frame

As an editor, you often must cut from one scene as someone exits the frame on the right and then cut to another scene as the person enters another shot from the left.

It's best to cut out of the first scene as the person's eyes pass the edge of the frame, and then cut to the second scene about six frames before the person's eyes enter the frame of the next scene.

The timing is significant.

It takes about a quarter of a second for viewers' eyes to switch from one side of the frame to the other. During this time, whatever is taking place on the screen becomes a bit scrambled and viewers need a bit of time to refocus on the new action. Otherwise, the lost interval can create a kind of subtle jump in the action.

Like a good magician that can take your attention off something they don't want you to see, an editor can use distractions in the scene to cover the slight mismatches in action that inevitably arise in single-camera production.

An editor knows that when someone in a scene is talking, attention is generally focused on the person's mouth or eyes, and a viewer will tend to miss inconsistencies in other parts of the scene.
Or, as we've seen, scenes can be added to divert attention. Remember the role insert shots and cutaways can play in covering jump cuts.

Guideline # 3: Keep in Mind the Strengths and Limitations of the Medium. Remember:

An editor must remember that a significant amount of picture detail is lost in video images, especially in the 525- and 625-line television systems.

  • The only way to show needed details is through close-ups.

Except for establishing shots designed to momentarily orient the audience to subject placement, the director and the editor should emphasize medium shots and close-ups.

There are some things to keep in mind in this regard.

Close-ups on individuals are appropriate for interviews and dramas, but not as appropriate for light comedy. In comedy the use of medium shots keeps the mood light. You normally don't want to pull the audience into the actors' thoughts and emotions.

In contrast, in interviews and dramatic productions it's generally desirable to use close-ups to zero-in on a subject's reactions and provide clues to the person's general character.

  • In dramatic productions a director often wants to communicate something of what's going on within the mind of an actor. In each of these instances, the judicious and revealing use of close-ups can be important.

A List of Contemporary Montage sequences

Many films are well known for their montage scenes. Examples include:

  • The training regimen montages in Sylvester Stallone's Rocky series of movies and later, a parody by Budweiser in a 2008 Super Bowl commercial in which a Dalmatian coaches a Clydesdale horse.
  • The Takashi Miike film Dead or Alive features a highly kinetic opening montage where several main characters are obliquely shown conducting various actions.
  • Dirty Dancing
  • Flashdance
  • several of director Sam Raimi's films
  • Ghostbusters
  • the "Hakuna Matata" scene from The Lion King, where Simba grows from lion cub to adult
    Scarface's montage showing Tony Montana's rise to power, set to the song "Scarface (Push It to the Limit)"
  • Several training montages in Chariots of Fire and Cool Runnings
  • In one montage in Dave, presidential look alike Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline) learns the job of President; in another, he makes public appearances.
  • In a montage in Legally Blonde, Elle (Reese Witherspoon) studies for the LSAT and, at the same time, the admissions committee of Harvard Law School views her admissions video essay. In another, she buckles down studying her law school subjects.
  • In Prince of Tides, Nick Nolte coaches Jason Gould in football, set to the Minuet of the Symphony No. 104 in D major, London by Haydn.
  • In Heaven Can Wait, Warren Beatty trains in football, set to the Sonata #3 of Handel.
  • In Groundhog Day's repeated courtship sequence
  • In the Director's Cut of The Abyss, the Non-terrestrial Intelligences justify their intended deluge of the human race by showing Bud a video montage of human atrocities.
  • The film Good Morning Vietnam has a montage of violence, set, ironically, to What a Wonderful World, by Louis Armstrong. A similar montage is featured in Bowling for Columbine.
  • Satirical self-referential montages in the South Park episode "Asspen" and the film Team America: World Police.
  • Requiem for a Dream uses several montage sequences during portions of the film where the characters use drugs.
  • In an episode of "Family Guy", the dog, Brian, goes through a montage training for a final exam by excercising (as a parody), with the background music saying, "Everybody needs a montage."
  • In 1985's Real Genius, a montage is used to demonstrate the lapse of time as the students work on their laser and study for their classes.

In nearly all of these examples, the montages are used to compress narrative time and show the main character learning or improving skills that will help achieve the ultimate goal.



  • Television Production Handbook by Herbert Zettl
  • Television Production, Thirteenth Edition by Gerald Millerson
  • Directing and Producing for Television, Third Edition: A Format Approach by Ivan Cury
  • Fundamentals of Television Production (2nd Edition) by Ralph Donald, Riley Maynard, and Thomas D. Spann
  • Montage (Cinema Aesthetics) by Sam Rohdie
  • Modernist Montage: The Obscurity of Vision in Cinema and Literature by P. Adams. Sitney
  • Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen
  • Cinematic Storytelling: The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know by Jennifer Van Sijll
  • Sight, Sound, Motion: Applied Media Aesthetics by Herbert Zettl
  • Picture Composition for Film and Television, Second Edition by PETER WARD
  • Composition: The Anatomy of Picture Making by Harry Sternberg

1 comment:

Anonymous said...