Sergei Eisenstein A Dialectic Approach To Film Form

Sergei Eisenstein adopts the theory of dialectics into art. Where the dynamic force that animates art is given as a series of conflict: conflict of social mission, nature and methodology.

“According to its social mission because: It is art’s task to make manifest the contradictions of Being. To form equitable views by stirring up contradictions within the spectator’s mind, and to forge accurate intellectual concepts from the dynamic clash of opposing passions.”

According to its nature because: Its nature is a conflict between natural existence and creative tendency.

The ossified, inorganic, dead formalism that no longer has the power to move is in combat with an effortful move towards the new. This dynamic conflict Eisenstein sees this not just as the basis of art, but all thinking:  the intellectual lives of Plato or Dante or Spinoza or New- ton were largely guided and sustained by their delight in the sheer beauty of the rhythmic relation between law and instance, species and individual, or cause and effect.

Finally, there is the conflict in the methodology. Eisenstein looks at the basic movement of image to image: the montage. He looks at the older theory of montage, which sees it as a sequential series of images to convey an unfolding of an idea. ” The earliest conscious film-makers, and our first film theoreticians, regarded montage as a means of description by placing single shots one after the other like building-blocks. The movement within these building-block shots, and the consequent length of the component pieces, was then considered as rhythm.”

But he thinks this is a mistake. The power of the images are not so much in their series, but in their relation to one another. “According to this definition, shared even by Pudovkin as a theoretician, montage is the means of unrolling an idea with the help of single shots: the “epic” principle. In my opinion, however, montage is an idea that arises from the collision of independent shots-shots even opposite to one another: the “dramatic” principle.”

Like how art creates dynamism by vibrant contrast of colors, arrangement of lines or postures to convey movement, or use of disproportion to draw attention to ideas; like music that uses counterpoint to expand it’s theme, the montage creates dynamism by drawing out the conflict between images

For all this, the basic premise is: The shot is by no means an element of montage. The shot is a montage cell (or molecule). In this formulation the dualistic division of Sub-title and shot and Shot and montage leaps forward in analysis to a dialectic consideration as three different phases of one homogeneous task of expression, its homogeneous characteristics determining the homogeneity of their structural laws. Inter-relation of the three phases: Conflict within a thesis (an abstract idea) – formulates itself in the dialectics of the subtitle – forms itself spatially in the conflict within the shot – and explodes with increasing intensity in montage-conflict among the separate shots.

In Methods of Montage Eisenstein elaborates on five kinds of montage: metric, rhythmic, tonal, overtonal, and intellectual. In true dialectic form, he believes that each state subsumes the other and enters into conflict with the one before it: metric is in conflict with rhythmic, overtonal with tonal. The overtonal is the highest form of this category, which works on the physiological (affect?) level. But Eisenstein has in mind a movement towards a new kind of film, the one that turns the intellectual montage into a full-fledged intellectual movie. Once the physiological overtonal conflict is resolved in the intellectual will this emerge:

The intellectual cinema will be that which resolves the conflict-juxtaposition of the physiological and intellectual overtones. Building a completely new form of cinematography- the realization of revolution in the general history of culture; building a synthesis of science, art, and class militancy.

Addenum: In his ideas concerning the intellectual cinema, Eisenstein relies on a concept well developed by Soviet psychologists which has been explored in the series on Bakhtin: that of inner speech. Here are some quotes from Eisenstein about the idea in relation to montage, from his book of essays Film Form:

How fascinating it is to listen to one’s own train of thought, particularly in an excited state, in order to catch yourself, looking at and listening to your mind. How you talk “to yourself,” as distinct from “out of yourself.” The syntax of inner speech as distinct from outer speech. The quivering inner words that correspond with the visual images. Contrasts with outer circumstances. How they work reciprocally. . . .
To listen and to study, in order to understand structural laws and assemble them into an inner monologue construction of the utmost tension of the struggle of tragic re-experience. How fascinating ! (105)

Inner speech, the flow and sequence of thinking unformulated into the logical constructions in which uttered, formulated thoughts are expressed, has a special structure of its own. This structure is based on a quite distinct series of laws. What is remarkable therein, and why I am discussing it, is that the laws of construction of inner speech tum out to be precisely those laws which lie at the foundation of the whole variety of laws governing the construction of the form and composition of art-works. And there is not one formal method that does not prove the spit and image of one or another law governing the construction of inner speech, as distinct from the logic of uttered speech. It could not be otherwise. (130)

Concerning “affective logic,” about which Vendryes writes and which lies at the base of spoken speech, montage very quickly realized that “affective logic” is the chief thing, but for finding all the fullness of its system and laws, montage had
to make further serious creative “cruises” through the “inner monologue” of Joyce, through the “inner monologue” as understood in film, and through the so-called “intellectual cinema,” before discovering that a fund of these laws can be found in a third variety of speech-not in written, nor in spoken speech, but in inner speech, where the affective structure functions in an even more full and pure form. But the formation of this inner speech is already inalienable from that which is enriched by sensual thinking

Thus w􀀅e arrived at the primary source of those interior principles, which already govern not only the formation of montage, but the inner formation of all works of art-of those basic laws of the speech of art in general-of those general laws of form, which  lie at the base not only of works of film art, but of all and all kinds of arts in general. But of that-at another time. (250-251)

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