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Discuss the Soviet montage movement of the 1920s, focusing on Dziga Vertov’s The Man with the Movie Camera and exploring the central thematic and stylistic concerns of the film.

The Importance of Art and Film

The making of film has always been a challenge to the producers and directors. This was more challenging in the early years of the twentieth century when the entire world was standing on the brink of the First World War, one of the most horrifying wars witnessed by humankind (Feldman, 1998). Towards the end of the war, the entire Europeans landmass was ravaged and even the Soviet Union faced widespread repercussions. This common masses of the land were completely disillusioned with the advantages of war and they needed some kind of distraction to help them to come out of the miserable social and economic conditions (Feldman, 1998). This period saw many changes in the thought process of the people who started to believe that some changes were needed immediately in the society so that such horrific conditions might never reoccur. Some of the people of Soviet Union took up this initiative by revolutionizing the sphere of film making within the country (Feldman, 1998). This essay seeks to discuss the montage movement introduced in the Soviet Union in the early years of the twentieth century. The paper further seeks to analyze the changes brought about in the sphere of film making by focusing on the main theme of the movie The Man with the Movie Camera, directed by Dziga Vertrov. This movie shows the beginning of the Montage Movement and how it had a deep impact on film making. The essay concludes with the importance of films for the society and for continually changing and revolutionizing the social structure.

The importance of art is that art has always had a special place in the lives of individual (Vaughan, 1979). Art is the mirror image of the prevailing social conditions in the world; it tries to depict the real life conditions of the people and also, what are the various desires and needs of the humankind. For instance, Anatole Chernyshevsky (1855), in his work “The Aesthetic Relations of Art and Reality” opined that art simply does not show the beautiful and desired life, but it also shows what the reality in the world is during that point of time (Vaughan, 1979). This art can be show cased in a variety of ways such as painting, through acting, through singing and dancing and various other ways by which the emotions of an individual is brought out in front of an audience in an exquisite manner. This fundamentally central position that art occupies in the daily lives of human beings makes it very challenging for the different makers of art to always cater to the different needs of different individuals and to make the various forms of art appealing to their audience (Vaughan, 1979). Moreover, these people also have the responsibility to do something constructive for the society as it is solely through the various forms of art that human beings get inspired to bring in revolutionizing changes in the society for the welfare of the people (Vaughan, 1979).

The Emergence of Soviet Montage Theory

The revolutionizing idea of montage emerged in the twentieth century to show in detail the prevailing social situations to the common masses (Petric, 1996). The directors believed that film making should not only be confined to a utopian idea, but rather, should portray the ground reality. The Soviet montage theory tries to show that movies should not only be made on the based on the scripted emotions of the actors. Rather, they should also try to show the real emotions of the people who are not aware that a movie is being shot (Petric, 1996). This will help the audience to know what the expected behavior of an individual is when dealing with a particular circumstance. The montage theory tries to underline the importance of the shot rather than simply focusing on the content of the shot. The main focus in such a theory is to show real emotions and behavior of the people (Petric, 1996). The idea behind such movies is usually very complex and the audience is left hanging on to the edge of their seats as no story line is revealed in a proper sequence. It is only towards the end of the film that the audience finally gets to know what the entire movie was on about (Petric, 1996). The Soviet montage theory thus laid more emphasis on the editing of the different shots, instead of focusing on the story line. The film makers paid very little attention to the meaning, choosing to focus on the manner of shooting for the scenes of the film (Petric, 1996).

The Soviet Montage Theory was in sharp contrast to the film making in the Western Europe and other capitalist countries (Vertov, Kaufman & Svilova, 1998). The main focus of the Soviet Union was in the spread of the Communist ideologies to the other parts of the world, influencing as many people as capable. The entire world was divided on the issue of capitalism and socialism since the end of the nineteenth century. Capitalism mainly focused on the importance of the private players. It advocated the non-interference of the State or minimal interference of the agency of the State in the matters of human life (Vertov, Kaufman & Svilova, 1998). As such, it propounded the theory of laissez faire. Communism emerged as a reaction to capitalism. The main advocator of Communism was Karl Marx. He stated that the private players are exploiting the weaker vulnerable sections of the population by not giving them their share of natural resources. The entire capitalist economy functions of the basis of who can produce the maximum (Vertov, Kaufman & Svilova, 1998). The people who are able to produce more earn more riches while the others are left with comparatively lesser finances and resources. Such style of film making also emerged in reaction to this. The Montage Theory of film making focused more on the real life situations and with the help of this, it tried to counteract the veil of optimism provided by the capitalist society. The main aim of the Soviet film directors is to show to the world the adverse consequences of capitalism and how the rich people exploit the poor people (Vertov, Kaufman & Svilova, 1998). In contrast to this, the communistic nature of society believes in the equal sharing of all the resources of the community amongst all the concerned people living in the society; no one will have a greater claim on the resources than his or her counterpart. Communism believes in equal sharing of resources.

Differences between Capitalism and Communism in Film Making

One of the most commendable movies directed along the lines of the Soviet Montage Theory is The Man with a Movie Camera. It was directed by Dziga Vertov in the year 1929 (Vaughan, 1979). The movie does not have any actors or a story line in general. Rather, it focuses on a camera man and his journey of the urban life of a city within Soviet Union. The time span of the movie is one day and it shows what the various techniques required for directing the movie and the process for doing it (Feldman, 1998). The movie follows two many types of editing, that is collision editing and series editing (Feldman, 1998). In series editing, the director tries to focus only on the most important scenes. It is done by compressing the most significant shots into smaller parts and is shown sequentially in a quick manner. Series editing has been perfectly portrayed in the movie whereby it is seen often times that the camera man is transported quickly to his desired place, instead of showing the entire journey of the camera man (Feldman, 1998). However, it is collision editing which occupies the central position in a montage film according to several film theorists (Petric, 1996). Collision editing involves showing two different events which are completely not connected to each other, being collided in the shot so as to give a deeper meaning to the two events as if they are relevant at some level. This is revealed beautifully in the film by the way of a woman (Feldman, 1998). One of the scenes show that a woman wakes early in the morning and faces her faces with water. Instantly, another scene is shown in the movie where a high pressure water is cleaning a pole. Moreover, when the concerned woman cleans her face with a clothes, another scene of some another woman cleaning a window with a similar cloth is shown. The film director is trying to give rise to an idea in order to enhance the deeper meaning of the movie (Petric, 1996). For instance, when the woman blinks her eyes, the blinds of a window is seen to be going up and down, in absolute sync with the blinking of the eyes of the woman. Such collision editing is done and is left to the interpretation of the audience. One of the interpretation that can be done about the scene concerning the woman is that the life of a person in a city is somewhat similar to a machine which has its daily process of cycling, without any alteration in their functioning (Petric, 1996).  

Analysis of Dziga Vertov's The Man with a Movie Camera

The movie tries to show the differences between the lives of the people who have to work every day in order to earn their basic minimum standard of living and those who are rich enough that they do not need to work every day (Vaughan, 1979). This again is portrayed magnificently in the movie with the help of collision editing. For instance, it is shown that a women is sitting in a comfortable environment, getting her hair washed and groomed with the help of a hairdresser while she relaxes. On the other hand, it is shown that a woman is washing her clothes on the streets with water. The linking point of these two scenes in the soapy water (Petric, 1996). The movie also shows the striking contrast between the lives of those people who have the leisure time and the luxury money to spend their vacations relaxing and enjoying themselves on the beach while those who work under them have to toil every day and work in a regular pattern in order to earn their living. The film harps on the fact that these working class people do not have the luxury or the money to spend their time indulging in leisure activities (Vertov, Kaufman & Svilova, 1998). This is due to the capitalist structuring of the society where the people with wealth and resources have the capability to further accumulate more wealth and resources by exploiting the common masses who are in actual need of the resources (Dziga Vetrov Life Caught Unawares, n.d.). The people constituting the working class are the ones who are indispensable to the process of production but under the capitalist structure of society, they do not get their deserved recognition or resources.

One of the most important feature of the film is the background music which gives character to the movie (Vertov, Kaufman & Svilova, 1998). Within the parameters of the city, the background music is particularly eerie and melancholic. It is trying to signify that the life in the cities is one of misery and sadness. There is no happiness and no time for the people to relax and enjoy (Vertov, Kaufman & Svilova, 1998). The people in the city are always in a hurry and have no time for any personal happiness. Their entire life revolves around their place of work.

Another important feature of the movie is the presence of machines (Vaughan, 1979). Industrial Revolution had emerged in the continent of Europe in the late eighteenth century. This had immense effect on the lives of the individuals and on the society as a whole. Industrial Revolution is the main factor behind the rise of the capitalist nature of society (Vertov, Kaufman & Svilova, 1998). The presence of machines in the movie shows that the world will be non-functional without any machines. Machines have become an indispensable within the social structure. Even in the world of the twentieth century, where the importance of machines was still not discovered properly by the human beings, no one could imagine their lives without the presence of machines. It is the city life which is identified with machines (Vertov, Kaufman & Svilova, 1998). The film director is trying to send a strong message through this film. He is trying to reveal how the melancholic situation in a city is due to the very presence of the machines (Vaughan, 1979). Man has lost their happiness ever since the use of machines were discovered. They more production they do with the help of machines, the higher revenue they earn and this feeds into the greed of humankind; they feel the urge to earn more profit and as a result, they work harder without any breaks. This signifies that these human beings work in such a patterned way and constantly as if they themselves are the machines (Aitken, 2001).

To conclude, it is observed that the main focus of the Soviet montage theory is to portray the striking differences that exists between the working class and the people with resources and wealth. Such a system mainly occurred due to the existence of the capitalistic nature of society. Soviet Union was the prime country where the foundation of socialism was expected to be laid following the theory of Marxism and his Communism. However, after the revolution by the working class, the condition which was needed to bring the society to the brink of a classless and stateless society, was failed to achieve and this distorted the desired framework of communism. The social structure of the Soviet Union was caught in a dilemma where there was no capitalist class of people, but the working class also did not know how to proceed after the dismantling the capitalists. Thus the Soviet Union in the early years of the twentieth century was facing a lot of challenges internally as well as eternally which was brought about by the occurrence of the First World War. Both of the internal and the external factors contributed to the miserable conditions of the people of the Soviet Union. This was clearly portrayed by the various forms of arts which existed within the social structure of the Soviet Union. With the help of films and dramas, the directors tried to show the real ground level situation. Their main intention was to appeal to the common masses to bring about a change in the society and this was done by portraying the prevailing societal situations. The Soviet Montage Theory played a significant role in revolutionizing the way the theatre functioned. The film directors were no longer interested in showing utopian movies with a fairy tale like story line. They realized the important and vital position occupied by them in the society and hence, they decided to utilize this position to the optimum level by making significant contributions to the society in the way of directing movies that showed the real life situation of the people.

References:

Aitken, I. (2001). European film theory and cinema: a critical introduction. Indiana University Press.

Dziga Vetrov Life Caught Unawares. (n.d.).

Feldman, S. (1998). »› Peace between Man and Machine‹. Dziga Vertov’s The Man with a Movie Camera «. Documenting the Documentary.

Petric, V. (1996). Vertov’s Cinematic Transposition of Reality’. Beyond Document: Essays on Nonfiction Film, 271-94.

Vaughan, D. (1979). Man with the Movie Camera.

Vertov, D., Kaufman, M., & Svilova, E. (1998). Man with a movie camera. British Film Institute.

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