Sergei Eisenstein’s Montage Techniques and their Meanings in Comparison to Louis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou In the 1930s the Soviet revolutionary cinema changed the former understanding of film editing, ahead of everyone Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948), whose aim it was to promote the idea of political rebellion. Cinema was the easiest way to transport a political conviction to all people, from upper class to peasants, who were unable to read. Truth could be boring and so the events had to be dramatized to encourage imitation.
This essay will examine the innovative montage techniques of Eisenstein and their meanings with emphasis on The Battleship Potemkin. In addition, a comparison to Louis Buñuel’s Un chien andalou, one of the most famous Surrealist films, will be drawn. The movement of Surrealism grew out of a Parisian society of artists, writers and filmmakers who tried to create an immediate translation of dreams, imagination and the unconscious. The recipient should be dissuaded from his habitual viewing or thinking patterns.
In 1923, Eisenstein published his first and most famous essays: The Montage of Attractions.  In this treatise Eisenstein describes his “attempt to create a ‘film language’ consisting of visual figures of speech and abstract discursive arguments.” He understood the term ‘attractions” as images or events which easily attract the attention of the viewer, similar to circus acts. Thus, it is his purpose to not only combine concrete visual images, but to cause whole chains of associations. It is not the realistic depiction that interests Eisenstein, but the motoric and associative construct behind it and that all shots are selected with regard to an underlying concept and effect.
In the following years, Eisenstein enhanced his theory of attractions to a theory of dialectic montage, which involves the spectator and his own thoughts, conveys an ideological thought and encourages to imitate the seen events. Eisenstein used to describe this kind of montage as ‘intellectual montage’: “The prospect of a discursive cinema that could lay out arguments and present entire systems of thought” fascinated Eisenstein, “he envisioned using montage to generate not only emotions but also abstract concepts: ‘From image to emotion, from emotion to thesis.’” In contrast to conventional editing that juxtaposes continuing shots, Eisenstein held the belief that shots create the most powerful meaning when they clash. In this logic he refers to German philosopher Hegel (1770-1831) and his dialectical process, in which one shot (thesis A) and the succeeding shot (antithesis B) clash and simultaneously unify to synthesis C and yield a higher, ‘third meaning’. In this sense, the combination of two images of concrete objects has “to be regarded not as their sum, but as their product” a depiction of an abstract concept or idea that is graphically unrepresentable, invisible and not a fixed symbol. He explains: “It is exactly what we do in cinema, combining shots that are depictive, single in meaning, neutral in content – into intellectual contexts and series.”
Eisenstein lays emphasis on the relation between two shots. The interaction between those two has to be a contrary movement, only then “dialectical montage operates fully.”
In his essay “The Fourth Dimension in Cinema”, Eisenstein differentiates between five types of montage, of which each has a certain effect on the viewer: metric, rhythmic, tonal, overtonal and intellectual. Metric means that the individual consecutive shots have the same duration, regardless of their content. The metric montage is the most simple kind and translates into a “consistent beat”, for example the tapping of one’s toe with the beat. In contrast, in the rhythmic montage the length of the shots depends on the content. Thus, for instance, long shots get a longer screening time than close-ups. This type causes a simple emotional reaction. Tonal montage, however, focuses on the creation of an emotional expression. The fourth type, called overtonal or associational montage, is a combination of the first three types and therefore also a mixture of motoric and emotional effect. As the last and highest stage, Eisenstein defines the already mentioned intellectual montage. Rather than at emotional experience as in the tonal montage, here the meaning of the individual shots has to be figured out by the viewer.
Those five montage types tend to overlap in practice which can be seen in the Odessa staircase scene. The fragmentaric images of Eisenstein confront the viewer – he has to think about them and draw his own conclusion, “in further consequence, the seen images merge with the associative thoughts of the viewer and a third ‘higher’ – in Eisenstein’s case a political and ideological – meaning emerges.” To achieve this effect and arouse strong feelings in the viewer, Eisenstein’s montage strings together a number of shocking ‘attractions’. The massacre on the Odessa stairs is especially outstanding.
The scene shows remarkable how in a basically realistic context expressive images and movements can lift the sequence on a whole new level. In fact, the scene does not help much to carry on the plot, it rather reminds of a musical sequence, which is dominated by a strong rhythm. Eisenstein builds emotion and meaning up progressively, elaborately leading to the climactic moment.
 The Battleship Potemkin, dir. Sergei M. Eisenstein, feat. Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barsky, Grigori Aleksandrov (Goskino, Soviet Union, 1925).
 Un Chien Andalou, dir. Luis Buñuel, feat. Pierre Batcheff, Simone Mareuil (Ursulines Film Studio, France, 1929).
 eisenstein, Sergei, Montage der Filmattraktionen, in: Das dynamische Quadrat: Schriften zum Film (Köln: Röderberg Verlag, 1991, pp. 17-45).
 bordwell, David, The Cinema of Eisenstein (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993, p.13).
 cf. Nichols, Bill, “Battleship Potemkin: Film Form and Revolution”, in: Geiger and Rutsky (eds.), Film Analysis. A Norton Reader (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005, p. 161).
 cf. Sergei Eisenstein, 1991, p. 19.
 cf. Sergei Eisenstein, 1991, p. 32.
 cf. Sergei Eisenstein, 1991, p. 42.
 David Bordwell, 1993, p. 14.
 Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (eds.), Film Theory and Criticism (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 128).
 Braudy & Cohen, 2009, p. 129.
 David Bordwell, 1993, p. 129.
 cf. David Bordwell, 1993, pp. 131-133.
 David Bordwell, 1993, p. 131.
 cf. David Bordwell, 1993, p. 132.
 David Bordwell, 1993, p. 128.
 cf. David Bordwell, 1993, p. 11.
- Quote paper
- Sandra Kuberski (Author), 2011, Sergei Eisenstein’s Montage Techniques and their Meanings in Comparison to Louis Buñuel’s "Un Chien Andalou", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/286021