Soviet Montage Movement

Movement No 5 (7 All)

Soviet Montage Movement and Soviet Montage Film List

Article 16min to read List 19 Films

Origin Soviet Union
Most Active Years 1924 – 1933

Introduction to Soviet Montage

Russian filmmakers developed the theory of Soviet Montage, which shaped the history of cinema as well as Russian history during and after the First World War. In accordance with the developed theory, many Soviet montage films were shot for about 10 years. Soviet Montage films brought a brand new competence to the cinema with their innovative montage techniques.With this competence that strengthens the narrative, cinema has become an important propaganda tool for the manipulation of the masses in Russia, which was dragged from the 1st World War to the October Revolution and the civil war.
Soviet Montage Film Movement

What is Soviet Montage

The Soviet montage movement is a movement that was developed theoretically and experimentally in cinema schools in order to convey the aims of the Lenin government to the public in Russia and also to construct the ideological motivation in the field. With this movement, radical changes were experienced for cinema in many subjects, especially in montage, camera angle, framing, cutting and camera movement.

Origin of the Term Montage

Montage in the cinema: It is the whole of the processes such as cutting and combining the film in accordance with the narrative style desired to be used after the image is recorded on the film.

Brief History of Soviet Montage

Background

After the import stopped during the First World War, film companies working in Russia released quality films for the domestic market. These films were melodramas that were based on the bravura performances of the actors, had emotional intensity and generally progressed at a slow tempo.

Russia, like all other European countries, was in a great economic recession. With World War I, this recession led countries to economic collapse faster than expected. After the economic collapse, the February revolution against Tsar Nicholas II took place at the beginning of 1917 and the tsar was overthrown. The Russian Provisional Government took over the administration. Although the Provisional Government came to power with the hope of overthrowing the tsar and making great change, it failed to meet expectations. During the spring and summer of 1917, the economic recession in Russia continued to increase. Major industrial centers in Uralo, Donbas and other regions were closed. Russia’s national foreign debt rose to a record high in a very short time.

The Bolsheviks, consisting of workers, peasants and soldiers, organized under the leadership of Lenin (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov), were the class most affected by the negativities. The economic crisis was soon added to the sociological and political crises. The tension over the worker, peasant and soldier classes increased even more during this period. The working class organized against the boss and his representatives in the factories. Mining, oil, railway and textile workers, on the other hand, made serial strikes to defend their diminishing rights and working conditions during this period. Tensions between peasants and landowners increased day by day. The peasants wanted to have more initiative and to get a bigger share of the land they cultivated.

Strikes and uprisings in all classes did not lead the current government to a solution. The income level of the people has decreased, the access to food and basic needs has decreased.

The decision of an armed uprising was taken with the voting held in the Bolshevik Central Committee on October 23, 1917. With the speech of Lenin after the decision taken, the Bolsheviks successfully carried out the October Revolution.

After the October Revolution, a new government was formed under the leadership of Lenin. The newly established government would show its effectiveness in every field to save the country from the bad economic, sociological and political conditions it was in. Cinema was one of these areas.

Beginnings

Russian film companies resisted the move to nationalize private property immediately after the October Revolution. They refused to provide films to theaters operating under the new government’s control. In July 1918, the film department of the government-controlled State Commission of Education established tight control over existing film stock. It also banned the import of film stock. As a result, some of the film production companies began to stockpile film stock. Some companies fled to other countries with all their equipment due to the oppressive nature of the new regime, especially the lack of film stock. The reasons for leaving some of the companies that left Some of the film companies that did not leave Russia continued to make films at the direction of the government, hoping that the Bolsheviks would lose the Russian Civil War in 1918 and then conditions would return to pre-Revolutionary conditions.

With the civil war of 1918, a new genre of filmmaking emerged called Agitka. Agitkas were movies that were also seen during the First World War before the civil war. Its general purpose was to raise the morale of the Soviet army fighting at the front. In Agitkas made for the civil war, formats developed in the pre-Revolution propaganda films that emerged during the First World War were utilized.

Russia had Agit trains. Agit trains housed wagons where the films shot at the front were assembled and post-production processes were completed. At the same time, film screenings were held on Agit trains. The agit trains, which had pictures of the famous actors of the period on their exteriors, were responsible for performing all the services such as production, logistics, production and screening for the cinema.

Agitka films were made for the Red Army of the Bolshevik Government during the civil war. Agitka films were usually shot on the battlefields. Using innovative montage techniques, often unconnected images collected from the field, from the conflict areas, and from the Bolshevik presence close to the conflict areas were put together and turned into a film. Apart from the montage methods used in Agitka, the shooting (camera movements, especially the framing camera angles) and post-production methods were also quite different from other films due to the conditions. The experience gained with the solutions developed to produce films under adverse conditions in Agitka formed the basis of Soviet montage cinema.

The Bolshevik Government developed successful policies both to rebuild the national film industry and to train the next generation of filmmakers. The Bolshevik Government established “The People’s Commissariat for Education”, known as Narkompros, in 1918. In 1919, Lenin issued a decree nationalizing the film industry and entrusted Narkompros with the responsibility of regulating the entire photography and cinema industry.

In the same year, Narkompros founded The Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (VGIK), which will train filmmakers who will bring the Soviet Montage theory to the cinema and shoot many films under the Soviet montage movement. VGIK was the world’s first film school. The motivation behind the Bolsheviks giving such importance to cinema was to develop propaganda cinema and effectively convey the government’s ideas to the masses. At the same time, it was expected that new and more effective methods for the withdrawal of agitka, necessary for the motivation of the red army in the civil war, would be developed in such schools.

Main Period

One of the founding instructors of VGIK was Lev Kuleshov, who was also involved in agit trains before. Lev Kuleshov worked at the State Film School before the revolution and directed films. While Lev Kuleshov was teaching under VGIK, he also had an autonomous workshop within VGIK. Kuleshov Workshop carried out work outside the formal education of VGIK. The Kuleshov Workshop, like the rest of Russia, did not have film stock. For this reason, Kuleshov, together with his team, focused more on film theory and screenplay technique development.

After the screening of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916) in Moscow in 1919, Lenin found the propaganda and agitation elements he was looking for in this film. Numerous copies of the film were ordered by Lenin’s direction and delivered to all possible locations in Russia. In a short time, Intolerance has also become the most important reference source of VGIK and Kuleshov Workshop.

Kuleshov Workshop did a lot of work on Griffith’s Intolerance. Much of the work involved cutting and re-editing the film. With Intolerance, Griffith brought the continuity editing technique to the highest level. With continuity editing, the concepts of time and space in the film were formed exactly as they should be. There was no space or time shift in the transitions.

This montage method greatly increased the intelligibility of the film. In the Kuleshov Workshop, a lot of work was done on continuity editing, which is the most important feature of Intolerance. Many variations of the film’s scenes and plans were created by changing their locations. As a result of the studies, montage techniques in which there is no continuity and time and space shifts have emerged, unlike continuity editing. Among these techniques, the main assembly methods that will be named after Kuleshov were: Kuleshov effect and creative geography. In a short time, these two effects and others started to have an important place in Soviet Montage movement films.

Mikhailovich Sergei Eisenstein was another director who would produce works within the Soviet Montage movement. Eisenstein, who was interested in art and circuses from an early age, studied engineering under the direction of his father. Eisenstein actively participated in the revolution and built bridges during the civil war, worked on Agit trains, and helped design many theatrical sketches for the Red Army. Eisenstein’s work, combined with engineering and artistic work, created an image in harmony with the Constructivism movement. After the end of the civil war, Eisenstein went to Moscow and worked at the Proletkult Theater. From here, he made the transition to cinema by making short films.

Eisenstein included the montage techniques he developed, inspired by Karl Marx’s Dialectical Materialism, in his films. The basis of these assembly techniques was based on Kuleshov. In his films, Eisenstein created a thesis and an antithesis against the thesis, staged the collision of these two concepts, and then created a synthesis. In his films, motion and tempo were at a high level compared to the films of the period. With his montage technique in his films, Eisenstein made montage an effective component of narrative.

Dziga Vertov first founded the Kino-pravda (Film Truth) movement and then the Kino-eye (Kino-glaz) movement with the cinema group Kinoks (cinema-eye men). Films shot in the Kino-eye movement were created using real-life images and montage techniques without any script. This movement, which tries to remove all foreign elements coming from cinema, theater and other fields, was based on the camera’s ability to replace the human eye and detect life as it is everywhere at any time.

Over time, VGIK played an influential role in the development of the Soviet Montage theory and hosted very important students and teachers. Film directors who taught at VGIK included such filmmakers as Lev Kuleshov, Marlen Khutsiev, Aleksey Batalov, Sergei Eisenstein, Mikhail Romm and Vsevolod Pudovkin. VGIK graduated filmmakers, including Sergei Bondarchuk, Elem Klimov, Sergei Parajanov, Alexander Sokurov and Andrei Tarkovsky.

End of Soviet Montage

The decline of the Soviet montage film movement was not primarily due to industrial and economic factors as in Germany and France.

The inclusion of sound in cinema had drawn some of the Soviet montage filmmakers into sound film production. But more important than that was the change in State administration. With the coming to power of Joseph Stalin in 1924, the government’s perspective on cinema also changed. Over time, Stalin changed the structures of state institutions that played a role in the emergence of Soviet montage cinema. Under Stalin’s direction, the Soviet authorities encouraged filmmakers to create simple films that could be easily understood by all viewers. Formal experiments or unrealistic topics were often criticized or censored.

This trend became more widespread when the government launched a new artistic policy called Socialist Realism. Socialist realism was dictated to artists to practice. The government aimed to remove the unrealistic narrative methods that emerged with the Soviet Montage movement. With Socialist realism, the stories became clear in the films, and the cause and effect relationships were clearly revealed. With Socialist Realism, Russian cinema methodically approached Hollywood. Socialist Realism’s effectiveness in Russian cinema increased in a short time with the use of sound in the film.

The policy of socialist realism dictated that all works of art must depict revolutionary development with strict adherence to realism. Great Soviet directors continued to make films and make masterpieces, but 1920s Montage techniques were not supposed to be incorporated into films. Eisenstein managed to continue his work on the montage, but at times came under the wrath of the authorities. It can be said that the Soviet Montage movement ended in 1933 with the release of the last films of the movement, such as Vertov’s Entuziazm Simfoniya Donbassa and Pudovkin’s Dezertir (Deserter, 1933).

Characteristics of Soviet Montage

Kuleshov Effect

This effect, named after Kuleshov, is also the most well-known form of montage in Soviet montage cinema. The classic example given to explain the assembly is as follows.

With this effect, the player who displays an unresponsive face is emotionally charged with the content included in the plan shown before the player’s unresponsive face. The same image of the actor, who was initially described as unresponsive by the audience, is interpreted as “hungry” after the image of soup, “sad” after the image of a corpse in the coffin, and “desirous” after the image of an attractive woman.

Creative geography

With the creative geography effect, very fast transitions can be achieved between different places. For example, what the police officer shows when he is moving in the vehicle to the person next to him is in a completely different place independent of the place they are in and the ones in that place. With a simple cut, the change of place is provided perfectly. Creative geography effect can also be found in door transitions. In a scene, the person who opens the door and enters through the door can actually enter into a completely different space by cutting. With the creative geography effect, the integrity of the independent spaces in the cinema is ensured.

Metric Assembly

In the metric montage method, the length of the film meter most suitable for narration and stock footage is determined. The film is cut according to the determined length and the plans are added one after another. While making cuts, the strictly determined film meter is adhered to and the emotional connection with the content of the cut film is completely broken.

Rhythmic Montage

Rhytmic montage, like metric montage, has another reference outside of the footage where the cuts are to be made. This is the reference rhythm. The film is cut and combined in lengths suitable for the rhythm, which corresponds to the emotion desired to be conveyed to the audience. Since the rhythm is low in the parts where the excitement element is low, the length of the film between the two cuts is kept longer. When it is desired to increase the excitement element, the number of cuts is increased and the time between cuts is shortened.

Tonal Montage

It is created by concentrating the images shown one after the other on a certain emotion to support the emotion desired to be conveyed to the audience. For example, the images of a flower blooming, a small child and the sunrise shown one after the other convey to the audience that a new beginning has been reached in the main subject of the new scene.

Over-tonal Montage

Over-tonal montage refers to combinations of metric montage, Rhythmic montage and tonal montage used together.

Intellectual or Ideological Montage

This type of montage, as the name suggests, is a type of montage whose successful realization depends on the intellectual accumulation of its audience. It is aimed to reveal a meaning by matching the images shown one after the other by the audience. For example, in the movie Strike, the images of the Bolsheviks attacked by the soldiers and the images of a slaughtered animal are blended together and take their place in the movie. The viewer is expected to link the two images with the reference from the events that took place and to match the Bolsheviks with the slaughtered animal.

The Influences of Soviet Montage

The montage technique developed within the Soviet montage movement was accepted in the world cinema. With the methods used in the movement, montage became a distinct tool for expressing time, space and meaning, rather than just a simple film cutting process. The montage techniques that emerged as a result of theoretical and experimental studies in the movement turned into unchangeable components of cinema.

Filmmakers in other countries, especially those with leftist, communist and sociolist views, used the propaganda elements of the Soviet montage movement to propagate leftist tendencies in their own countries. Similarly, the authorities who wanted to turn the cinema into a propaganda purpose also resorted to the innovative methods of the movement.

Many filmmakers fleeing the regime in Russia carried the effects of the movement to the cinemas of the countries they migrated to. Many movements, especially British Documentaryism, French Poetic Realism and Italian Neorealism, managed to impress their audiences with the techniques of the Soviet Montage film movement.

The theoretical writings of Pudovkin and Eisenstein, which had a profound effect on cinema, were discovered by critics and filmmakers from the moment they were translated into other languages. A lot of criticism, academic articles and experimental films were produced on these articles.

Soviet Montage Film List

*Films sorted by release year, from newest to oldest.

  1. Earth (1930) Aleksandr Dovzhenko
  2. Earth 1930 poster

    Dovzhenko’s “film poem” style brings to life the collective experience of life for the Ukranian proles, examining natural cycles through his epic montage. He explores life, death, violence, sex, and other issues as they relate to the collective farms. An idealistic vision of the possibilities of Communism made just before…➝


    Trailer, info

  3. Enthusiasm (1930) Dziga Vertov
  4. Enthusiasm 1930 poster

    How the miners of the Don coal basin (one of the industrial regions of Ukraine) were striving to fulfill in four years their part of the Five Year Plan.


    Trailer, info

  5. Man with a Movie Camera (1929) Dziga Vertov
  6. Man with a Movie Camera 1929 poster

    This playful film is at once a documentary of a day in the life of the Soviet Union, a documentary of the filming of said documentary, and a depiction of an audience watching the film. Even the editing of the film is documented. We often see the cameraman who is…➝


    Trailer, info

  7. Arsenal (1929) Aleksandr Dovzhenko
  8. Arsenal 1929 poster

    Set in the bleak aftermath and devastation of the World War I, a recently demobbed soldier, Timosh, returns to his hometown Kyiv, after having survived a train wreck. His arrival coincides with a national celebration of Ukrainian freedom, but the festivities are not to last as a disenchanted.


    Trailer, info

  9. My Grandmother (1929) Kote Mikaberidze
  10. My Grandmother 1929 poster

    The protagonist, a lazy pen-pusher, gets the sack for his bureaucratic idleness, and learns that the way back into the job market depends on getting a letter of recommendation from a “grandmother”.


    Trailer, info

  11. The New Babylon (1929) Grigoriy Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg
  12. The New Babylon 1929 poster

    In the beginning of the industrial revolution, the Paris Commune was established in 1871 against the rich and the powerful, and violently repressed by the army that remained faithful to a tamer form of Republicanism. How could the love story between a young sales girl and a soldier unable to…➝


    Trailer, info

  13. Storm Over Asia (1928) Vsevolod Pudovkin
  14. Storm Over Asia 1928 poster

    In 1918 a simple Mongolian herdsman escapes to the hills after brawling with a western capitalist fur trader who cheats him. In 1920 he helps the partisans fight for the Soviets against the occupying army. However he is captured when the army tries to requisition cattle from the herdsmen at…➝


    Trailer, info

  15. Dom na Trubnoy (1928) Boris Barnet
  16. Dom na Trubnoy 1928 poster

    A girl Parasha Pitunova comes to Moscow from a deep province, eventually she arrives at a house. This is a story about the house and its inhabitants.


    Trailer, info

  17. Konets Sankt-Peterburga (1927) Vsevolod Pudovkin, Mikhail Doller
  18. Konets Sankt Peterburga 1927 poster

    A peasant comes to St. Petersburg to find work. He unwittingly helps in the arrest of an old village friend who is now a labor leader. The unemployed peasant is also arrested and sent to fight in World War I. After three years, he returns ready for revolution.


    Trailer, info

  19. October (Ten Days that Shook the World) (1927) Grigoriy Aleksandrov, Sergei Eisenstein
  20. October Ten Days that Shook the World 1927 poster

    In documentary style, events in Petrograd are re-enacted from the end of the monarchy in February of 1917 to the end of the provisional government and the decrees of peace and of land in November of that year. Lenin returns in April. In July, counter-revolutionaries put down a spontaneous revolt,…➝


    Trailer, info

  21. Zvenigora (1927) Aleksandr Dovzhenko
  22. Zvenigora 1927 poster

    An old Ukrainian man protects and searches for a legendary treasure in the midst of political upheavals.


    Trailer, info

  23. The Eleventh Year (1927) Dziga Vertov
  24. The Eleventh Year 1927 poster

    The documentary film “Eleventh” is showing the hard labor of countrymen in industrial production to strengthen the U.S.S.R. economy and turning their country into a world power. The documentary film was directed in 1928 by famous Dziga Vertov.


    Trailer, info

  25. Mother (1926) Vsevolod Pudovkin
  26. Mother 1926 poster

    A man whose wife has died remarries, and his new wife has a daughter of her own from a previous marriage. The man’s young son, however, who loved his mother deeply and misses her terribly, resents his father’s new wife, not wanting her to take the place of his beloved…➝


    Trailer, info

  27. The Overcoat (1926) Grigoriy Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg
  28. The Overcoat 1926 poster

    One of the most acknowledged film interpretations of classic short story “The Overcoat” (1842) by Nikolai Gogol, describing a fate of a “small person”.


    Trailer, info

  29. Battleship Potemkin (1925) Sergei Eisenstein
  30. Battleship Potemkin 1925 poster

    Based on the historical events the movie tells the story of a riot at the battleship Potemkin. What started as a protest strike when the crew was given rotten meat for dinner ended in a riot. The sailors raised the red flag and tried to ignite the revolution in their…➝


    Trailer, info

  31. Stachka (1925) Sergei Eisenstein
  32. Stachka 1925 poster

    In Russia’s factory region during Czarist rule, there’s restlessness and strike planning among workers; management brings in spies and external agents. When a worker hangs himself after being falsely accused of thievery, the workers strike. At first, there’s excitement in workers’ households and in public places as they develop their…➝


    Trailer, info

  33. Luch Smerti (1925) Lev Kuleshov
  34. The Death Ray 1924 poster

    In a capitalist country, workers are heavily repressed but manage to get a “death ray” to fight back. (A part of the movie is lost.)


    125min | Trailer, info

  35. Kino Eye (1924) Dziga Vertov
  36. Kino Eye 1924 poster

    This documentary promoting the joys of life in a Soviet village centers around the activities of the Young Pioneers. These children are constantly busy, pasting propaganda posters on walls, distributing hand bills, exhorting all to “buy from the cooperative” as opposed to the Private Sector, promoting temperance, and helping poor…➝


    Trailer, info

  37. The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924) Lev Kuleshov
  38. The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks 1924 poster

    The film chronicles the adventures of an American, “Mr. West,” and his faithful bodyguard and servant Jeddie, as they visit the land of the horrible, evil Bolsheviks. Through various mishaps, Mr. West discovers that the Soviets are actually quite remarkable people, and, by the end of the film, his opinion…➝


    Trailer, info

Best Soviet Montage Directors

  • Sergei Eisenstein
  • Dziga Vertov
  • Lev Kuleshov
  • Vsevolod Pudovkin
  • Aleksandr Dovzhenko

Best Soviet Montage Films

  • The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924) Lev Kuleshov
  • Kino Eye (1924) Dziga Vertov
  • Battleship Potemkin (1925) Sergei Eisenstein
  • Konets Sankt-Peterburga (1927) Vsevolod Pudovkin, Mikhail Doller
  • Man with a Movie Camera (1929) Dziga Vertov

References and Further Reading

http://web.archive.org/web/20220103201838/http://cinecollage.net/soviet-montage.html
https://www.classicartfilms.com/category/film-movements/soviet-montage
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_montage_theory
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agit-train
The Oxford History of World Cinema : Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey