“Montage is conflict.”
It’s not always easy to comprehend a Russian book of essays more than 50 years old and translated into English (and reduced to a blog post), but that doesn’t mean we should totally shy away from something more than a traditional sound bite. So here’s some meat to chew on today from someone that Entertainment Weekly listed as the #29 greatest director of all time (between Preston Sturges and Fritz Lang).
“These are the ‘cinematographic’ conflicts within the frame:
Conflict of scales.
Conflict of volumes.
Conflict of masses.
(Volumes filled with various intensities of light)
Conflicts of depths.
And following conflicts, requiring only one further impulse of intensification before flying into antagonistic pairs of pieces:
Close shots and long shots.
Pieces of graphically varied directions. Pieces resolved in volume, with pieces resolved in area.
Pieces resolved in volume, with pieces of lightness.
And, lastly, there are such unexpected conflicts as:
Conflicts between an object and its dimesnsion—and conflicts between an event and its duration.
These may sound strange , but both are familiar to us. The first is accomplished by an optically distorted lens, and the second by stop-motion or slow-motion.”
Writer/Director/Editor Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin)
P.S. Eisenstein worked as an engineer for the Red Army before becoming a filmmaker (which explains the technical & theoretical angle his thoughts come from. And according to IMDB, he once considered Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) as the single greatest film ever made. So watch that film again and see how visual conflict is handled. (Fittingly, here’s a Russian translation of the poisoned apple scene from Snow White.)
Related post: Everything I Learned in Film School (Tip #1)