March 2012, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour – Montage


Montage is one of cinema's most important causal instruments of style and so elementary that its significance is easily forgotten. Montage gives structure to space and time, creates continuities and breaks and can have a dynamic and rhythmic effect. The Soviet avant-garde filmmakers were quick to recognize and explore the value of montage. However, the film language that was so seminal and continues to shape our watching habits today was developed in Hollywood - découpage classique, which evokes a flowing continuity of movement. The editing is as unobtrusive as possible and gives the impression of a light and effortless, seamless narrative. Russian avant-garde cinema of the 1920s places far less importance on organic assembly than on contradictions and contrasts. Dialectical montage, comprised of opposing and associative shots, has a jolting effect on the viewer. The juxtaposition of two shots creates a completely new coherent unity. Later, the various new waves of the 1960s set out to shake up the rules of classical montage. The now famous jump cuts of Godard's first feature A bout de souffle come to mind…

BRONENOSEZ POTEMKIN (Battleship Potemkin, Sergei Eisenstein, USSR 1925, 4. & 9.3., with Eunice Martins on the piano) is a revolutionary drama about the sailors' mutiny in Odessa in 1905 and the Tsarist troops' attempts to suppress it, in which Eisenstein applied the "montage of attractions" he had developed that saw the relationship between two takes more as a collision than as a bond. "A symphony of the masses, in which all kinds of movement, of calm, of tumult and of clash are offset by Sergei Eisenstein's ecstasy of montage." (Harry Tomicek)

BERLIN. DIE SINFONIE DER GROSSSTADT(Berlin, Symphony of a Great City, Walter Ruttmann, Germany 1927, 22. & 25.3., with Eunice Martins on the piano) is an experimental documentary about one day in Berlin. The energy and movement in the city are brought alive by filmic methods, with dynamic montage, whose rhythm is hypnotic and which gives the viewer a modern experience of speed.

"Film montage is the only new art form that the 20th century has produced," Hitchcock once said to François Truffaut. Following the principles of classical narrative cinema, he placed montage at the service of the plot, yet his pictorial language revealed incredible inventiveness. There is a famous match cut in NORTH BY NORTHWEST (Alfred Hitchcock, USA 1959, March 19 & 21), in which a cut is made in a movement and continued in the next take.

VIVRE SA VIE(My Life to Live, Jean-Luc Godard, F 1962, 29. & 31.3.) Godard' film essay in twelve chapters made a radical break with classic narrative cinema in 1962. The story about Nana (Anna Karina) who wants to become an actress but ends up as a prostitute, and collapses under the pressure of the dichotomy between marketing her body and trying to preserve her soul, was staged by Godard with a variety of contrasting stylistic methods, such as discrepancies between sound and image, alternating sequence shots and montage sequences, fade-outs and cuts.

THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN (Karel Reisz, UK 1981, based on a screenplay by Harold Pinter, 1. & 7.3.) is a film within a film in which match cuts create sophisticated connections and allow two narrative levels to nest within each other. Anna (Meryl Streep) und Mike (Jeremy Irons) are actors shooting an eponymous period novel by John Fowles that takes place in the Victorian era. Their characters are connected by a tragic love affair, and Anna and Mike also become a couple in the present.

SANS SOLEIL (Chris Marker, F 1982, 21. & 28.3.) "The work that filled the term 'film essay' with meaning more than any other: Marker's reflections in the form of letters (He wrote to me…) form less a classical travel film (mainly from Japan and Africa) than a bold attempt regarding the way memory functions in a cinematographic form. Produced with comparatively simple means (shot on 30-meter film reels, without synchronous sound, without a film crew), SANS SOLEIL amazes until today on account of its virtuoso changes in perspective and temporal layering – it is a film that in the end "remembers itself". (Constantin Wulff) We will screen the film in the German version authorized by the director.

Found footage films use pre-existing material and appropriate it to give it new meaning. LYRISCH NITRAAT (Lyrical Nitrate, Peter Delpeut, the Netherlands 1991, 17. & 26.3.) is a compilation of scenes from films made between 1905 and 1915 that evokes the history of film as a sensation. The film is not driven by nostalgia but by curiosity about the old material, which despite chemical decay still gleams in the light. The beauty of the material is astonishing, as is the seductive power of the stories of love and death that have that have been staged with so much passion. It will be preceded by PHOENIX TAPES (Christoph Girardet, Matthias Müller, Germany 1999, 17. & 26.3.), in which scenes from Alfred Hitchcock's 40 films are assembled anew, and a subjective selection of leitmotivs from his work is concentrated into six chapters.

In his elliptic and non-linear film LAST DAYS (USA 2005, 2. & 6.3.), Gus Van Sant depicts the last days of a rock musician, who is inspired by Kurt Cobain. Blake half-consciously stumbles through the wood, driven by an inner unrest, mumbling incomprehensibly, staring into space – a painful emptiness runs through the film. Blake has withdrawn to an isolated house with some companions but there is not communication. The camera follows him hypnotically but cannot solve the puzzle that surrounds him.

There is not a single cut in RUSSIAN ARK (Alexander Sokurov, Russia/Germany 2002, 10. & 18.3.). In a single, 90-minute sequence shot the camera traverses various rooms of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. In front of a nameless narrator, 300 years of Russian history unfold, people, epochs, stories, and life seamlessly merge, while on the audio track fragments of conversations and music are woven together to form an atmospheric sound carpet.

In RAGING BULL (USA 19801, 5. & 19.3.), Martin Scorsese narrates the biography of the former boxing world champion Jake La Motta. In episodes set between 1914 and 1964, the film gradually reveals the personality of a self-destructive man and his violent surroundings in New York's Little Italy. Cutter Thelma Schoonmaker employs numerous stylistic means and influences that are condensed to create a flowing and hallucinatory overall picture.

MATERIAL (Thomas Heise, Germany 2009, 3. & 11.3.) is a montage of film material that was either shot by Thomas Heise himself or was shot for his films but never released, that dates back to late 1980s GDR and stretches to the present. In the editing room, new connections and relationships emerged from the heterogeneous abundance of historic documents. Heise did not assemble his material to create a historic panorama however but literally opened up a time-space, a sound box in which sentences, images, stories and memories could reverberate. "What remains, besieges my head. And these images keep coming together as something new, something other than they were originally intended to be." (Thomas Heise)