History of Montage



- From the French Verb monter which means; to assemble.
- An editing style of assembling together different shots that add a new sophisticated element to cinematic language.

Introduction and pre-history

At the end of the first world war Russia was a complete mess. The Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin had governed and ruled the Tsar in 1917, and of 160 million people - most of them uneducated and poor - was torn apart from years of civil war. The first task of the ruling party was to consolidate and communicate to the masses and therefore they turned to film as a mass communication medium.

However the producers and technicians of the pre revolutionary cinema were capitalists and most of them were driven out uncooperative with the Bolshevik government. Film resources were bearly existant, what little they had was stregnthened by putting together a Cinema Commitee within the New People´s Commissariat of Education. Headed by Lenins wife, the Cinema Commitee founded a film school to train new filmmakers.

  • The VGIK: All Union State Institute of Cinematography / or / The Moscow Film School - founded in 1919  - the first film school in the world. 

One of the co-founders of the school, Lev Kuleshov, would bring new insight into the psychological workings of the motion picture. With film stock being so rare, he spent most of his time making films without celluoid - writing scenarios and assembling actors in a sort of mock filmmaking exercise in his workshops that he held as a separate study group outside of the VGIK school.

Lev loved D.W Griffith´s film "Intolerance" (1919) and made sure to order it to be screened all across the Soviet Union. "Intolerance" did not only become the most influential film in Russia for the next 10 years, but also subject of deep and intese study in Kulesov´s workshops.


- They dissected "Intolerance" and Griffith´s editing structure and even deconstructed and reassembled them in hundreds of ways to examine the impact that different edits had.

- Once film stock was avalible in Soviet, 1922, Kuleshov was ready to experiment with some of the lessons he had learned from studying Griffith´s film.

- The first experiment would illustrate what has become known as "The Kuleshov Effect". He took a shot of a expressionless face and created three different short films, editing the face with a bowl of hot soup, girl in a coffin, and a seductive woman on a couch.

/ Screenshot from the FilmmakerIQ´s Vimeo Tutorial /

- The meaning of the film was not only in spatial composition, but in the arrangements of shots. 
- To Kuleshov, the creation of the film does not start when the camera starts rolling. - That is just getting the raw material - A film is born in the edit, wich the Soviet called Montage. 

Sergei Eisenstein

“Everyone who has had in his hands a piece of film to be edited knows by experience how neutral it remains, even though a part of a planned sequence, until it is joined with another piece, when it suddenly acquires and conveys a sharper and quiet different meaning than that planned for it at the time of filming.” 

- This montage theory would see even greater refinement by one of Russia´s most famous silent filmmaker and student of the Kuleshov Workshop, Sergei Eisenstein. 
- Sergei Eisenstein alongside D.W Griffith are two of the poineering geniuses of when it comes to modern Cinema.

  • D.W Griffit developed continuity editing, which portraied film as enchanced theater within real space and time. 
  • While Sergei Eisenstein developed Montage through theory, breaking confines of space and time to make film a unique language. 

Battleship Potemkin would become Eisenstein´s most critically acclaimed and influentual films. Shot in 1925, running 86 minutes lond and containing 1 346 shots - filmed over a duration of 10 weeks. It was an international success - a clear win for Eisenstein and his use of montage to elicit emotinal response from the viewer. The film was pure propaganda - but the best ever made. 

/ Sergei Eisenstein /

Key to Potemkins success was the editing, in which Eisenstein begins to articulate his most important contribution. Eisenstein, as an ture intellectuel Marxist, saw montage as a process which in the same way as looking at the course Marxist Dialectic.

Marxist Dialectic - A way of looking at history as the perpetual conflict in which a thesis or a force collides with an anti-thesis or a counter force to create a new phenomenon called a synthesis. 

Eisenstein saw the collision of a one shot or montage cell with another as creating conflict, that produced a new idea. This new idea would create a new thesis and collide with another anti-thesis creating yet another synthesis idea. Again and again these dialectics build up in a film, like a series of controlled explotions in an internal combustion engine, driving the film forward. This is where and how he came up witht he five methods of montage, to drive a film forward.

5 Methods of Montage

Eisenstein lists 5 methods of Montage, or how these collisions between shots can be created each one building on the complexity of the previous one.
(Listed bellow from simplest to most complex)

  1.  Metric Montage: The first one is the most basic, - cutting to the beat. Cutting based purely on the length of the shot, this elicits the most the most basic emotional response. That of tempo which can be raised or lowered for effect. 
  2. Ryhtmic Montage: Concerning rythm of action in the shot. This type of Montage is much like Metric, in the sense that it is based on time and tempo. But Rythmic concerns itself with what´s in the frame - cutting in tempo with the action like in the scene from "Potemkin, where the soliders are marching down the steps, the rythm of the soliders marching legs drives the movement of the sequence beyond the basic cut. 
  3. Tonal Montage: Concerning with the tone of the shot - from the lighting, the shadows and shapes in the frame. Cutting between shots of different aestethic tones creates these Marxist dialectics. 
  4. Over Tonal Montage: Above Tonal Montage we find "Over Tonal", which is on a larger scale macro cell that combines metric, rhytmic, and Tonal Montage - essentially how whole sequences play against each other. 
  5. Intellectual or Ideaological Montage: The last of five Montage methods, where this one is the one that most interested Eisenstein, concerning Ideas - Whereas the previous methods focused on inducing emotional response, the Intellectual Montage sought to express abstract ideas relationships between opposing visual intellectual concepts. An example of this is from the final scquence in the Odessa steps, three quick shots of a rising stone lion - representing the rise of proletariat.
So invested in the intellectual montage - Eisenstein dedicated his next film, "October" - a 10th anniversary recreation of the Bolshevik Revolution, to esxploring its possibilities. In the end, the wild cutting were simply too much abstraction for the audiences to follow. 


- Some film theorists such as French film crtics, Andre Bazin, claimed that dialectical montage was too manipulative as well as too totalitarian in the way it seeks to control the audience by ignoring natural spatial and time relationships such as in continuity editing.

- The debate may be a matter of taste, but the effects of early Soviet Silent filmmakers and their montage theory would be refined and pushed even further in the 1950´s as the French New Wave as well as Hollywood visionaries like, Alfred Hitchcook, began to incorparate the montage as a part of their storytelling technique.

- Wuth both the continuity style bu D.W Griffith with emphasis on clear understandable space and time. And the Soviet montage style which ignored space and time completely to create impact through the juxtaposition of different images, the rudiments of cinematic language emerged in roughly the first 30 years of Cinema´s existence. It quickley became a nuanced and intricate artform through experimantation and theory.

- It was these first practitioners, who studied and built on each other´s work, would be studied and immitated by the next generation of filmmakers. Carrying on the human tradition of storytelling.

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