Archives For Eisenstein

A Dialectic Approach to Film Form

The article starts:

According to Marx and Engels the dialectic system is only the conscious reproduction of the dialectic course (substance) of the external events of the world.


The projection of the dialectic substance of things into the brain

into creating abstractly
into the process of thinking

yields dialectic methods of thinking: dialectic materialism. (Philosophy)

And also:

The projection of the same systems of things

while creating concretely
while giving form

yields Art

The foundation for this is asserted as a dynamic concept of things:

That “being” is a constant evolution of the interaction between two contradictory opposites. This is synthesis: the result of thesis and antithesis. In art this equates with conflict as the fundamental principle of every artwork and every art form.

“It is art’s task to make manifest the contradictions of being.”

The article asserts the word “hypertrophy” to mean the expansion or enlargement of context/readability/meaning in art. I.e. a painted landscape becomes a topographical map. The dictionary definition of Hypertrophy means the excessive enlargement of a part or organ. It is a medical term. The limit of the organic form is Nature; the limit of the rational form is Industry. Thus Art stands at the intersection between these two. This is a good picture of the position of art in culture, similar to Scott McClouds history of the temporal map; where art collides with technology. This interaction is dynamism, and also the dialectic of the art-form.

“The quantity of interval determines the pressure of the tension.”

The article asserts that this concept is in harmony with human expression, which itself is a conflict between conditioned and unconditioned reflexes. This is a good topic to discuss with regards to Greek thought and Plato’s ideas of ideals.

With regard to film, it can be established that shot and montage are the basic building elements, the structures, of cinema. It seems obvious to contemporary audiences that the collision of shots is the root of the tension in cinema, though this thought arises in the Soviet school.

Eisenstein: Methods of Montage

Eisenstein sets out his five concepts of montage methodology. They appear in a clear hierarchical order, perhaps in terms of the evolution of their development both practically and intellectually.

1.) Metric Montage: relates to the absolute lengths of the pieces. There is repetition of “measures”. The method degenerates through complexity:

“Simple relationships, giving a clarity of impression, are for this reason necessary for maximum effectiveness.”

If a systems of Metric Montage is to complex it becomes unobtainable through impression and only comprehendible through mathematical measurement. This has more to do with the perceived pulsing and rhythm of the film than with an audience perception of the filmmakers formula.

2.) Rhythmic Montage: the mise-en-scene picks up importance here having an equal footing with regards to choice of shot length. A more flexible arrangement. The Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potempkin is a clear demonstration of this.

3.) Tonal Montage: a step beyond rhythmic montage. In rhythmic montage the cut is determined by movement within the frame. In tonal montage, movement is perceived in a wider sense. It refers to all affects of the montage piece. Here, montage is based on the over-all characteristic emotional sound of the piece. Tone is a level of rhythm.

“Working with combinations of varying degrees of soft focus or varying degrees of ‘shrillness’ would be a typical use of tonal montage.”

4.) Over-tonal Montage: distinguishable from tonal montage by the collective calculation of all the pieces appeals. The impression of the montage is increased from a “melodically emotional coloring” to a “directly psychological perception.”


the transformation from metrics to rhythmics came about from the conflict between the length of the shot and movement within the frame, tonal montage from the conflict between rhythmic and tonal principles, and finally over-tonal from the conflict between the tone of the piece (its dominant) and its over-tone.

5.) Intellectual Montage: a conflict of physiological and intellectual over-tones; juxtaposition/conflict of accompanying intellectual affects.

“In my opinion, the question of overtone is of vast significance for our film future. All the more attentively should we study its methodology and conduct investigation into it.” Eisenstein

Susan Haywood: Soviet Cinema/School

This article asserts the context of the revolution. The revolution was an agent of change and experimentation for the arts. This can be seen in the art of the Russian futurists (1912). The pre-revolutionary futurist movement believed in technique and the evacuation of fixed meanings; the influence of Modernist art is obvious. In post-revolution times Lenin and Stalin both saw the potential of cinema for propaganda and the promotion of the Soviet state. A great portion of the masses were illiterate and spoke in different dialects, thus silent cinema was the ideal. The film industry was nationalized in 1919 and its position and its ideological function was secured. Soviet Montage is thought of by its contemporaries as a revolutionary film style. From a practical view-point, the scarcity of film stock and the act of remixing old material contributed to the development of montage as the dominant process/form (a commonality with the development of Italian Neo-Realism). the aesthetic appeal could be thought of in terms of the rapid and energetic change and pace.

“A film shot acquires its meaning in relation to the shots that come before and after it.”

Eisenstein takes Montage further to be more about collision and conflict than juxtaposition. He would play down individualism by using masses of non-actors to create a ‘mass hero’, a representation of the proletariat. Eisenstein saw that a revolutionary culture needs a revolutionary art-form to rally and bond the masses. To extent does this connect with the above-discussed role of art? John Grierson was an admirer of Eisenstein’s fervor.

See Marx’s theory of material dialectics.