Tagged: montage

HOFT How Film Theory got lost

Ray. Robert B “How a film Theory got Lost.” How a Film Theory got Lost and Other Mysteries in Cultural Studies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. 1-14

Ardono defined the history of film theory when he defined cinema as “the crossroads of magic and positivism:? Or a more succinct definition of film theory’s traditional project than to “break the spell” p2

Ray discusses the influence of cinema on the rest of society. That major businesses like Ford and General Motors started to employ cinematic strategy when they realised that enchantment sells. Back to cinema, Eisenstien alligned himself with the artistic principles of pictorialism; the movement that sought to legitimize photography by discusing its images as paintings. While not succumbing to the retrograde qualities he did subscribe to it’s fundamental premise: “that a medium’s aesthetic value is a direct function of its ability to transform the reality serving as its raw material.” p 3 “the artist-critic whose writings create the taste by which his own aesthetic practice is judged.”p3

Cinema afforded the artist editing, and montage enabled the director to manipulate the narrative. “less than ever does the mere reflection of reality reveal anything about reality… something must in fact be built up, something artificial posed.” p4 “Eisenstein had a thoroughly linguistic view of filmmaking, with shots amounting to ideograms, which, when artfully combined, could communicate the equivalent of sentences.” p5

Photogenie has an obvious connection to fetishism. “To endow with a poetic value that which does not yet possess it, to willfully restrict the field of vision so as to intensify expression: these are two properties that help make cinematic decor the adequate expression of modern beauty.”


Bazin contested the school of German and Soviet cinema saying that they “had betrayed this sacred purpose by “putting their faith in the image’ instead of in reality, convulsing the camera’s objectivity with abstracting montages and grotesque mise-en-scene”pg 8 “With photography, Bazin kept insisting, an absolutely accurate representation of the world could be produced, for the first time in history, by accident. This miraculous revelatory power made the Soviet or Expressionist imposition of subjective meanings seem a kind of misguided vanity.” p8

Directors like Welles and Wyler relied on long takes and deep focus, they had modestly permitted reality to speak for itself.


mise-en-scene “But at the heart of the Cashiers position lay a priviledged term that evoked both photogenie’s ineffability and the Surrealists’ “objective chance”. The term was mise-en-scene”.p9

“For me, mise-en-scene is not merely the gap between what we see and feel on the screen and what we can express in words, but is also the gap between the intention of the director and his effect upon the spectator…” pg9

“this paradigm accomplished wonderful things, above all alerting us to popular culture’s complicities with the most destructive, enslaving, and ignoble myths.”p12

“In the new dispensation, occassional film theorist Fredric Jameson would acknowledge that the appeal of beautiful and exciting storytelling is precisely the problem.” p12

“the most important debates in film theory will turn on the extreme path-dependence Barthes saw constraining the humanities.”

“Can the rational, politically sensitive Eisenstein tradition reunite with the Impressionist-Surrealist interest in photogenie and automatism? Can film theory, in other words, imitate filmmaking and recognize that, at it’s best, the cinema requires, as Thalberg understood, a subtle mixture of logical structure and untraslatable allure? Can film theory revive the Cahiers-Vouvelle Vague experiment, learning to write differently, to stage its research in the form of a spectacle?” p 13



Readings: The Evolution of the Language of Cinema

Bazin, Andre. 1997, The evolution of the language of cinema, Defining cinema, Lehman, Peter (ed). p 59-72, London: Athlone Press

This article explores the evolution of cinema, editing techniques, namely montage vs deep focus long shots through the transition of silent cinema into talkies. Bazin indicates that rather than being viewed as cinematic values operating in direct opposition to each other, we view the two as different concepts of cinematographic expression that are free to employ stylistic influence but are ultimately different “families of styles”.

Bazin highlights two opposing trends within cinema of the 192os-40s. That being the directors who’s artistic influence is felt through the “image” versus those who capture reality and inflict their influence through the editing process and the effects allowed by montage.

Bazin defines the school of IMAGE as “everything that the representation on the screen adds to the object there represented.” where as the school of REALITY directors relate to the “resources of montage, which after all, is simply the ordering of images in time.” pp 60.

Bazin argues that it was “montage that gave birth to film as an art, setting it apart from mere animated photography, in short, creating a language.” pp60

Three processes of Montage:

Parallel montage – conveying a sense of the simultaneity of two actions.

Accelerated montage – depicting change in pace/time – accelerating speed by a multiplicity of shots of ever-decreasing length.

Montage by attraction – reenforcing the meaning of one image by association with another image not necessarily part of the same episode. “Montage as used by Kuleshov, Eisenstein, or Gance did not show us the event, it alluded to it.” pp 61

Bazin suggests that “expressionism of montage and image constitute the essence of cinema.” However notes that several directors of the silent era refute this by engaging in no way with montage, and in fact the strength of their work in fact relies on its absence.

“We would undoubtedly find scattered among the works of others elements of nonexpressionistic cinema in which montage plays no part – even including Griffith. But these examples suffice to reveal, at the very heart of the silent film, a cinematographic art the very opposite of that which has been identified as cinema par excellence,  a language the semantic and syntactical unit of which is in no sense the Shot; in which the image is evaluated not according to what it adds to reality but what it reveals of it.” pp. 62

Bazin explores the cinematic language that emerged between 1930 – 1940, largely driven by the american hollywood system which consisted of major film types:

1. The American comedy

2. The burlesque film

3. The dance and vaudeville film

4. The crime and gangster film

5. psychological and social dramas

6. Horror or fantasy films

7. The Western

Then Bazin comments that the real driver of cinematic language’s development came in the 1940s-1950s when new blood and new themes were explored; that “the real revolution took place more on the level of subject matter than of style.” pp63

The three contributing factors to the classical perfection were 1. the maturing of different kinds of drama, 2. the drama inherited from the silent film and 3. the stabilization of technical progress.


From the era of Image vs Reality came the artifice of montage “expressionist” and “symbolistic”, in the modern era we can describe the new kind of storytelling as “analytic” and “dramatic”.

In the era of image vs reality “the changes of point of view provided by the camera would add nothing. They would present the reality a little more forcefully.” pp 65

When moving forward into the modern era Bazin explores directors like Orson Wells in particular and the influence of Citizen Kane on bringing to life the method of single take, deep focus shots. “whole scenes are covered in one take, the camera remaining motionless. Dramatic effects for which we had formerly relied on montage were created out of the movements of the actors within a fixed framework.” pp66

“The soft focus of the background confirms therefore the effect of montage, that is to say, while it is of the essence of the storytelling, it is only an accessory of the style of the photography.” pp 66

Welles’ composition in depth is partially a replacement of montage…”It is based on a respect for the continuity of dramatic space and, of course, of its duration.” pp67

Rather than viewing the lack of edit points as an element of cinema missing, Bazin argues that Welles’ long shots “[refuse] to break up the action, to analyse the dramatic field in time” pp67 which is a positive action.


1. Depth of focus brings the spectator into a relation with the image closer to that which he enjoys with reality.

2. It implies, consequently, both a more active mental attitude on the part of the spectator and a more positive contribution on his part to the action in progress.

3. in analyzing reality, montage presupposes of its very nature the unity of meaning of the dramatic event. – montage by its very nature rules out ambiguity of expression.


“Through the contents of the image and the resources of montage, the cinema has at its disposal a whole arsenal of means whereby to impose its interpretation of an event on the spectator.” pp61

“The framing in the 1910 film is intended, for all intents and purposes, as a substitute for the missing fourth wall of the theatrical stage… [whereas the cinema of Welles or Wyler] the setting, the lighting, and the camera angles give an entirely different reading. Between them, director and cameraman have converted the screen into a dramatic checkerboard, planned down to the last detail.” pp67

“What we are saying then is that the sequence of shots “in depth” of the contemporary director does not exclude the use of montage – how could he, without reverting to a primitive babbling? – he makes it an integral part of his “plastic.” pp67

“This is why depth of field is not just a stock in trade of the cameraman… it is a capital gain in the field of direction – a dialectical step forward in the history of film language.” pp67

neorealism tends to give back to the cinema a sense of the ambiguity of reality” pp69

“The sound film nevertheless did preserve the essentials of montage, namely, discontinuous description and the dramatic analysis of action. What it turned its back on was metaphor and symbol in exchange for the illusion of objective presentation.”pg70

“it draws from it the secret of the regeneration of realism in storytelling and thus of becoming capable once more of bringing together real time, in which things exist, along with the duration of the action, for which classical editing had insidiously substituted mental and abstract time.” pp70

“In other words, in the silent days, montage evoked what the director wanted to say; in the editing of the 1938, it described it. Today we can say that at last the director writes in film.” pg 71