The Montage and the Cinematic

Eisenstein’s piece compares the work of director Griffith to the works of Dickens. The idea of the montage is a reoccurring theme that Eisenstein constantly goes back to. A montage arrived “through the method of parallel section” (205). It is essentially multiple, parallel story lines that are woven together– “the two never-convergent parallel racers, interweaving the thematically variegated strips with a view towards the mutual intensification of entertainment, tension, and tempi” (254).

The montage is able to exist in both text (Dickens) and film (Griffith), as shown by Eisenstein. We always think about applying the text to the film, but can it be the other way around? Can words that are associated with film/images/moving images such as montage of the cinematic (Eisenstein notes the ” ‘cinematic’ surprises [that] must be hiding in Dickens’s pages”(214).) Why is Eisenstein specifically choosing to use terms to describe both film and text?

One possibility is to give legitimacy to the film. As read in the Robert Stam’s introduction, there is a lot of negativity surrounding film and cinema. Film is considered to be the “cheaper” version of literature. Thus, it only makes sense to apply literary terms such as “metaphors” and “allusion” to film (which does not deserve to have its own terms). Eisenstein is showing how film does have legitimate terms and features of its own. Another possibility (related to the first) is to place film on the same social level as literature. Eisenstein does not forget that ideas of montage and cinematic has existed before film–the comparison between Dickens’s Oliver Twist and Griffith’s films is are strong examples. Thus. he does not believe that film is necessarily superior to literature.  The ability to  describe Dickens’s work as cinematic means that there are certain elements that remind the reader of a film. The constant comparison and calling “this” a montage or “that” cinematic just shows how interlinked literature and film is. Yes, literature existed before cinema, but they share enough similarities that terms can be interchanged. Furthermore, terms are just terms–arbitrarily created and designated to describe something.

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2 Responses to The Montage and the Cinematic

  1. Mike Salerno says:

    I think that the ideas of montage and “cinematic” storytelling reach far beyond just the literary and film arts. As you said, these terms are just terms, and what I think Eisenstein hints at but is ultimately not concerned with, is that the idea of parallel storytelling transcends books and film and can appear in all art forms (song, dance, even less ‘dynamic’ media such as paintings and photography). For example, Romeo and Juliet has been adapted not just into film, but into a ballet and a fantasy overture. Although the media are different, I wonder if the essential art of adaptation remains the same no matter into which medium one is adapting a work.

  2. Raj says:

    I like the reference to Saussure at the end of the post, and agree that terms/words are arbitrarily created which permits a degree of play between the term and what it is intended to signify, enough so that attempts to strictly delineate texts as ‘novelistic’ or ‘cinematic’ seem awkward and unnecessary.

    However I do feel that at a certain point in his essay Eisenstein begins to favor non-written texts in that he feels they are better able to intersect (not just parallel) logical, affective, and inner language (249-51). So while film (such as Griffith’s) can be viewed as on the level of (great) novels this misses the potential of film to move beyond parallels. The highly descriptive elements of Dickens, found in Griffith’s works, are meaningful and useful but represent only one set of ‘words’ to use–insufficient as noted by Shishkov who states, “In language both long and short words are necessary…” (250). Eisenstein seems to feel that only Soviet cinema is able to properly interweave both the long and short to create a montage that represents a ‘higher order’ (254) in part because of American cinema’s ties to Griffith and his ties to (the highly descriptive) Dickens show a reliance on ‘long words’ only. The ‘short words’, the words of casual speech for instance, are either ignored or not interjected in American cinema as they could be.

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