Form and Theme: Soviet Montage and the Revolt Against Hollywood Cinema (excerpt)

Form and Theme: Soviet Montage and the Revolt against Hollywood Cinema (excerpt)

In his article, “The Film Text and Film Form,” Kolker makes the argument that even though Hollywood has dominated filmmaking, “there have been periods when some filmmakers consciously worked against its structures, rethinking its structural and semantic codes” (21). he most obvious contrast between American and foreign films is that while Hollywood cinema tries to hide its editing, Soviet Montage uses edited for a purpose. The filmmakers who worked against Hollywood cinema believed that form creates content, which means that stories don’t exist without the telling of them. More importantly, it is the method through which these stories are told that creates meaning. Soviet Montage set itself apart from Hollywood cinema by experimenting with films in an effort to make audiences think. As best stated by Vincendeau, European Art cinema must be considered “as fundamentally different from the industrially basic and generically coded Hollywood” (440). In this essay, I will evaluate Kolker’s argument using a scene from Eistentein’s film, “The Battleship Potemkin.” Following a brief summary and shot-by-shot analysis of the scene, I will compare how the form, themes and movements in European Art Cinema such as Soviet Montage differ from their counterparts in Hollywood films. After a thorough examination of both genres, I explain why and how “The Battleship Potemkin” creates meaning through its use of montage and the dialectic, and how this meaning is different from the “meaning” created in Hollywood films.

The relevant scene takes place within the first few minutes of the “Drama in the Harbor” sequence. Captain Golikov has called his men to the deck, sorting out which deckhands refused to eat their soup and calls out a guard to shoot these insubordinates. We see a shot of the guards waiting in queue, followed by a head-on shot of the guns on the ship’s turret ship, which is then followed by an aerial shot of the ship. Next, we are presented with a shot of an old man holding a cross with open arms, which is followed by the inter-title, “Bring the unruly to reason, O Lord.” We are then shown the crewmen covered with tarps and awaiting their execution. The next shot is once again a close-up of the old man holding his cross impatiently, with eyebrows raised as if he were waiting for judgment; is this shot alluding to the judgment of the crewmen who refused to eat their soup or to the judgment of the officers of the Potemkin themselves? We are then shown an officer instructing the guards. This is followed with a medium-shot of the guards raising their guns and the next few shots are of the guards on the left side of the screen with guns pointing to the right; however, the next shot is of the guards on the right side of the screen with guns pointing to the left. These shots break the well-known 180 degree rule, leading audiences to question the purpose of the juxtaposition of these two shots. Are the guards “shooting” themselves in some way? After a few more shots, we are shown one of the crewmen who has decided to act, calling out “brothers!” at the same time the officer calls for the guards to fire. The crewman proceeds to ask, “Who are you shooting at?” It’s apparent that the inquiry was one that they guards have yet to even ask themselves, as the next shot shows the guards with confused looks and wavering rifles. The next sequence alternates between shots of the guards on the left side and shots of the guards on the right side of the screen, which once again breaks the 180-degree rule. This editing creates the illusion that the men are really shooting at themselves, and this idea is reinforced by Vakulinchuk’s calling them brothers and then asking if they knew who they were shooting. He is making them question what it is they are about to do, since they are all brothers and therefore they should not shoot one of their own.