Soviet Montage Theory

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The Soviet montage theory is based on the history of film production and cinemas. An argument is an approach towards creation and understanding of cinemas through dependence on editing. Montage is a French name which refers to editing or assembly (Dancyger 23). Montage is credited as the primary contribution to the ideas and writings of Soviet film theorists in global cinema and led to the introduction of formalism in filmmaking. Several Soviet filmmakers of the 1920s had disagreements on the perception that they should have towards montage. However, Sergei Eisenstein made a comment which differed with the position of other filmmakers of the time through "A dialectic approach to film form." Eisenstein commented that the nerve of cinema was in montage and that the efficient mechanism of understanding montage's nature would be through solving the particular issue affecting cinema.

The influence of montage was significant in filmmaking in diverse aspects such as politically, commercially and academically. Several individuals accredited the contribution of montage in film history as an essential contribution to film production and cinemas for the public. The theory is still manifested in the modern world through the creation of narrative fiction films. Montage's theory influence was revealed even after the Soviet theories period through film aspects such as grammar and language. Eisenstein is accredited significantly for his writings and remarks concerning the impact of Soviet montage theory in filmmaking, and the ideas are widely accepted even in the modern world.

Some Soviet filmmakers including Vertov, Shub, Pudovkin, and Kuleshov, emphasized the elements and impact of montage effect on filmmaking during the time. However, Eisenstein had a contrary perception to montage as an idea that was developed through the interaction of independent shots in the industry. Eisenstein also asserted that every following element was not dependent as being net to another, but one part is on top of the other, an idea that is accepted widely in the modern world. The Soviet theory influence lasted up to the 1950s, and it was characterized by cinematic languages, documentary techniques, foundations for well-developed theories and simultaneous editing of films. 

Father of Soviet montage theory

Lev Kuleshov is accredited as the father of Soviet Montage theory as he developed a hypothesis on film production. The new film approach gave the industry a new outlook as the actors would depict the change in moods and expressions depending on the situations presented. Kuleshov was supported by other Soviet greats who endorsed the idea of montage such as Eisenstein, Vertov, and Pudovkin. Kuleshov's discovery introduced what came to be referred to as the Soviet golden era (Toscano Para 3). Kuleshov made several experiments on his discovery some which include the creation of one woman from an assortment of various women. According to Toscano (Para 4), Kuleshov noted that they used montage discovery in depicting the girl just as it would have been done through nature. The woman was created through shooting the back of one woman, lips of a different one, legs of a third woman and eyes from a fourth woman (Toscano, Para 7). The woman developed through montage by Kuleshov was a unique individual who despite being a collection of elements from different women was complete retention of natural materials.

Kuleshov emphasized that the assembly of the film shots was more significant than how the same had been collected. Although Kuleshov and Alfred Hitchcock lived in different decades and worlds apart, Hitchcock made a remark that montage gave rise to the pure cinema for its contribution in providing meaning to issues that did not exist in the human eyes but just in their minds. Kuleshov effect was defined as the correlation between montage meaning and perception. Kuleshov emphasized the significance of Soviet theory through montage by the power which was demonstrated by the editing of films through motion pictures demonstrated through fine details such as bending the inner reality of film shots. Kuleshov was perplexed by the medium flexibility and the ability to give contextual meanings to moving images. Such power is still essential in the modern world although during the time photography was associated with artifact, faithful, true and concrete free of subjectivity limitations. The photography perceptions were not essentially true.

The experiments by Kuleshov contributed to his definition by Ronald Levaco as the first aesthetic cinema theorist (Toscano, Para 6). The success of the experiment was due to several activities happening around the world such as mass starvation, World War 1, civil war and the October revolution which destroyed the Russian cinema. For instance, civil war destroyed the Russian cultural centers and led to the fleeing of studio owners with film stock and cameras from Bolsheviks. Essential film instruments which were complex to operate, difficult to acquire replacements and expensive had been destroyed. Moscow also has several theatres before World War 1, but by the end of the war, there were no remaining operational theatres. During the 1920s, Hollywood was busy making films while Kuleshov and Soviets concentrated on film thinking hence developing an experimental and theoretical approach to filmmaking. The process was possible with the availability of filmmaking equipment. Kuleshov made his most popular film Mr. West in the Land of Bolsheviks which was a major financial success and one of the first lengthy Soviet Union films.

Although it was a significant piece in cinema history, it was not a great piece of art. Kuleshov's cinematic students made more compelling theories that what he ever did despite the incorporation of his ideas in their developments. Kuleshov is therefore defined as a major contributor to filmmaking during the Soviet period but a minor filmmaker. Although Soviet montage theory has a short lifespan, it had high glory, and it lasted between the period of 1924 and 1930 (Scott, 45). The period came to an end due to several factors such as theory artistic exhaustion, the introduction of sound, differences between significant movement figures and Stalin disapproval. Eisenstein was accredited as the most natural and greatest of the filmmakers of the time since he emphasized on understanding the frontiers and roots of Kuleshov's doctrine. Eisenstein exhausted and fulfilled the vision of Soviet Montage through the production of Battleship Potemkin and Strike films which were both unique and undoubtedly great through the stylistic elements incorporated.

Although the golden age which had been developed and fathered by Kuleshov came to an end by 1930, the effects of Soviet montage had been spread throughout the globe (Toscano Para 7). The theory led to the establishment of global cinema through depositing its achievements in cinematic, inventions and theories. The global cinema was a genre accredited to California-based and Hollywood film schools at the time.  Soviet Montage theory of filmmaking died at around 1935 under what was termed as "For a Great Cinema Art." The montage movement was rejected by Stalin and his party as they turned against the theory's practitioners such as Eisenstein who became common names among political aspirants.

Effect of Soviet Montage on Neorealism

The Italian filmmakers were keen to make an impact in the post-war period through cinematic languages that captured their daily hardships when the country was shattered. The new development had a revolutionary effect, but it was not a complete separation from what was evident in the past. The new development's work was profound and emphasized more through the film directors beyond what had been witnessed in the past decades. It had a style of innovation and themes that would shape the cinema's influential movements.

The influence of the Soviet montage on the film production would often be debated over especially in the post-war period. Notably, during the 1940s, several theoretical debates were held over the differences and relationships filmic realism and Soviet montage cinemas. A French theorist and critic Andre Bazin made an argument that montage cinemas were informative but gave viewers a manipulation towards a particular perception on an issue. However, realism through several of its stylistic elements such as long takes and deep emphasis enabled the filmmaker to keep an aesthetic reality without necessarily imprisoning the viewer on a particular point of view. Although Bazin's point of view had been a common argument from several theorists, neorealists had unique admiration and liking for Soviet montage filmmakers like Pudovkin, Eisenstein, and Vertov. Italians such as Alessandro Blasetti and Visconti were some of the earliest Italians to draw knowledge and ideas from the Soviet montage school of thought (Cook 54). The post-war film production had a human aspect which demonstrated potential in the development and growth of the industry.

 Although Pudovkin is often depicted as less influential and radical in experimenting the montage theory as compared to Eisenstein, he had significant contribution in individual and social interaction. The elements portray his as a crucial contributor of neorealism. People on Sunday is an example of a neorealism film which is comparable with the new city of the 1920s during the Soviet montage era. The filmmakers eventually were incorporated into Hollywood during the 1930s due to their significant contributions in the production (Cook 22). The emergence of Italian neorealism was a significant development during the post-world war II period. The event led to the use of unprofessional individuals in crucial roles, new realism, disregarded the structure of classical narrative and would capture and shot scenes in the country's war-torn landscapes of Italy.  Post World War II was characterized with decolonization thus opening different areas for neorealism cinema application such as India, Cuba, Philippines, China, Mexico, and Brazil.


The Russian montage was a significant development during the 1920s, and it was spread through several of its students such as Vertov, Pudovkin, Eisenstein, and Shub. Kuleshov is credited as the father and developer of montage theory through several of his successful experiments. Eisenstein emphasized the significance of assembly of shot scenes in comparison with the shots collection. Montage had a significant contribution towards the emergence of neorealism in Italy particularly after World War II. Bazin advocated for the significance of realism as opposed to montage as he argued that the latter influenced the viewer's attention towards a particular point of view. Pudovkin may not be accredited for his contribution to the development of Montage theory, but he had a significant impact on the emergence and progress of neorealism.

Works cited

Cook, David A. A history of narrative film. WW Norton & Company, 2016.

Dancyger, Ken. The technique of film and video editing: history, theory, and practice. Focal Press, 2014.

Michael Toscano. "Kuleshov's Effect: The man behind Soviet Montage."  Film and Television. 2015. Accessed on 18th December 2018.

Scott, Susan. "Utilising Soviet Montage Theory to Consider Future Narratives, Designed For New Technologies." (2015).

September 25, 2023




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