In scientific discovery it’s an established standard that the way to test your hypothesis is to try and prove it wrong through experimentation and asking more questions – in cultural academic theory, the process is similar. So it’s no surprise that when the academics who were working out the practical applications of Soviet Montage Theory would be met with some opposing views.
The Issue At the Time
This is where the theory really gets into abstract terms and, in my opinion, becomes a bit subjective.
Many of Montage Theory’s proponents believed that the art of montage was the “essence” of cinema, in that editing is what shapes the story, emotion, and message of the film and makes cinema as an art form possible. Critics of the theory argued that while, yes, editing definitely makes cinema as an art form viable, it doesn’t hold as much weight as performance, and that the message ultimately is at the whim of the film’s creator and his motives.
This idea was expanded upon in the 1940s by the French and has since evolved into:
An Auteur as defined by [Wikipedia](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auteur) is “a singular artist who controls all aspects of a collaborative creative work, a person equivalent to the author of a novel or a play. The term is commonly referenced to filmmakers or directors with a recognizable style or thematic preoccupation.”
The Nina’s Nutshell Version (TM) of this theory, is that the Auteur has his/her fingers in every aspect of the film, and manages to keep a unique but consistent vibe throughout every piece of art that they helm. Frequently, they are the pioneers and trendsetters for certain styles and ways of executing things, making them particularly recognizable.
There are many filmmakers who have been classified as auteurs. If you’ve ever seen a movie by Quentin Tarantino, Alfred Hitchcock, Wes Anderson, or my personal hero, David Lynch, then you might already know what I’m talking about. You can watch a Wes Anderson film for example, without necessarily knowing explicitly that he directed it, but still recognize it as a Wes Anderson film.
This theory has also had its share of controversy and counter-theory, but that’s a series for another day.
Perhaps one of the biggest counter-theories to Soviet Montage Theory was the Kino-Eye movement, which was spearheaded by Dziga Vertov – who is most well known for his film “Man With the Movie Camera” in 1929. Kino Eye was an early form of documentary, and its goal was to present real footage of daily life in a way that seems devoid of political agenda. But if you read the movement’s manifesto, it’s clear that they absolutely were politically motivated!
In 1920s Soviet Russia, it was important to the proponents of the Kino Eye movement to stick it to the dirty art-loving bourgeois by showcasing laborers and the working class in a newsreel type fashion. In their minds, having scripts, representational imagery, or staged scenes to tell a story in film was an attempt by capitalists to hypnotize their worker comrades and therefore a detriment to the revolution.
Ironically, Eisenstein criticised the movement’s goals as being devoid of ideological method, but as far as they saw it, there was nothing more powerful than unscripted action.
Speaking of politics, next week we’ll dive a little deeper into the political climate which cultivated all these theories.