Cinema

Outtakes: Intellectual Montage

The chilling climax of "The Godfather", intercutting an actual baptism with a baptism into a life of crime  

WHAT it is…

A theory and technique of film editing expounded by Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, among others, in which two unrelated shots are utilised to create a secondary meaning not inherent in either of the two individual shots. A purely dialectical process derived from Marxist concepts, Intellectual Montage requires that the shots ‘collide' with – instead of reaffirming - each other.

Why it is special...

More than any other theory, Intellectual Montage placed the entire responsibility of meaning-creation on a single cinematic practice: editing. Theorists asserted that authorship of a film lies in montage alone. Vsevolod Pudovkin even claimed that objects residing within individual shots are ‘dead' until they are placed alongside other ‘dead' objects and given life through montage.

When it is deployed...

Although continuity cutting is what all of commercial moviemaking is based upon, Intellectual Montage has often been appropriated with varying degrees of success. Usually, it is used to score cheap dramatic (a shocking news intercut with thunder and lightning) or comedic (a man being thrashed and a laundryman washing clothes) points or, in the case of mediocre student efforts, to exhibit “directorial skill.”

Where to find it...

In the climactic scenes of The Godfather (1972), Francis Coppola cuts between shots of Michael's godchild being baptised and of his cohorts slaying the heads of rival Mafia gangs. While each of these individual shots has a simple and straightforward meaning, their association through montage creates numerous others: that Michael, too, is being “baptised” into the “family;” that he's moving from being a godfather to being The Godfather.

How it is used…

Pitfalls…

Since it places every other facet of filmmaking at the service of editing, Intellectual Montage comes across as an authoritarian gesture. By trying to impose a rigid, preconceived meaning on a pair of shots, the technique disregards the uniqueness of the shots themselves. As a result, objects in these shots are reduced to mere symbols, capable of being replaced with other members of their kind

Against continuity…

Soviet Intellectual Montage stood in direct antithesis to the practice of Continuity Editing that American pioneers had established as standard for narrative cinema. Instead of eliminating seams by providing the illusion of spatial and temporal continuity, it exposed and harnessed those very seams in order to urge the audience to take part in the meaning-making process. A politically charged technique, it is a reliable go-to choice for simple agitprop cinema.

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Printable version | Jan 15, 2021 8:24:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/Outtakes-Intellectual-Montage/article13907237.ece

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