Pudovkin and Eisenstein agree on the fact that editing is the most important aspect of the filmmaking process, without which film would have no meaning. What they don’t agree on is how editing can best be understood and utilized to this end. Pudovkin believes that separate shots are building blocks that, when joined together, create a larger meaning than any of its individual parts. Eisenstein believes that each shot is part of the editing/montage itself. Perhaps, I should read their essays more carefully, but to me it just seems like tomatoes and tomahtoes. Where their ideas really diverge is in practice.

Pudovkin has a more traditional viewpoint on editing. He believes that the editing should mimic the changing attention of an imaginary viewer. To me, this sounds a lot like the continuity system of editing, especially when he talks about the film cutting between parallel stories just as the viewer begins to wonder what’s happening in the other story. However, he makes a point of examining other uses for editing in order to enhance the meaning of an action or a scene, which are more artistic. He gives the example of a bomb exploding on film and explains how the filmmaker can construct a greater meaning and make the scene more powerful by never even actually showing the bomb explode. Sounds a lot like emotional manipulation, but that’s kind of what art is.

Eisenstein’s ideas about montage and editing are rooted in Marx’s theory of dialectical materialism. He believes that the meaning of the film is derived from a constant conflict between and within each individual shot. In addition, the visual aspects of each shot (lighting, space, planes of view, etc.) should be in conflict with the sound and the titles as well as each other.

Both Pudovkin and Eisenstein liken the editing process to the construction of language, which I found fascinating. I particularly like Eisenstein’s discussion of individual Japanese characters coming together to create a different, greater meaning than either of them alone. I’m not sure I agree that the individual characters were completely devoid of meaning just because they lacked context. A bomb exploding is still a bomb exploding and most people will be moved by an image of a baby regardless of whether it’s crying or laughing.

Pudovkin compares the process of montage with the writing of poetry. A word alone is dead, completely devoid of meaning, but when joined with other words its meaning mingles with that of the other words to create a fuller, more potent image and meaning. Again, I think he’s exaggerating a bit about individual words being dead but he makes a good point.

Dziga Vertov comes from an entirely different school of thought. He believes that filmmaking should be completely divorced from art and should focus instead on describing real life in order to promote unity around the world among the proletariat for the Soviet cause. He’s pretty militant in his views, likening dramatic films to vodka and infections. His tone is kind of disdainful towards the viewers. They need to be woken up and shown the right way. He’s not shy about calling his work propaganda. In terms of practice, he wants to have an army of cameramen on the streets, looking to shoot footage based on a particular theme, which is edited together in order to show the life of the working class and hopefully inspire them to revolution. I’d be interested to know what he thought about Eisenstein’s work, which is rooted in drama, but also manages to get across a very strong political message. I’m also curious how successful Vertov’s work was in appealing to the working class because the bits of Man with a Movie Camera I’ve seen actually seem pretty avant-garde.

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