Excerpts from Film Form: by Sergei Eisenstein

March 3, 2010

 In “Beyond the Shot,” Eisenstein writes about the cinema of Japan, a country that has no cinematography. He argues that although Japanese cinema has no montage, the idea of montage is in fact ingrained in the culture, such as in their writing, hieroglyph. Eisenstein gives a fascinating example of how the Japanese script is composed of different representations put together, which is really what happens in cinema.

The Japanese use various methods in their cinema that are unknown in European cinema. One is called ‘transitionless acting,” where the actors make a change seamlessly. For example, an actor can be on stage and suddenly stops. He becomes concealed and in a few minutes appears as someone different with new make-up and a new emotional state.

Another idea of the Kabuki theatre is called “decomposed acting.” In the films The Mask Maker, actress Shocho depicted her dying character in fragmented ways. First, she used only her right arm, then one leg, then the neck and last the head, to portray the stages and agony of death. With this principle, the actor is able to grab the audience’s attention.

A third principle is the idea of slow tempo to a degree. This is about “the decomposition of the process of movement” (23). One example is the hara-kiri scene in The Forty-Seven Samurai.

From all these three methods, one can see that “the reduction of visual and aural sensations to a single physiological denominator” is what makes Japanese cinema different from European ones. Eisenstein argues that these three methods are worthwhile to learn cross-culturally. Unfortunately, Eisenstein points out that the opposite is happening; the Japanese are adapting some of the Western principles into their cinemas.

In the next section of his article, Eisenstein writes how “art is always conflict” (24). First, the task of art to deliver a social mission. Second, it is within the nature of art to stir up conflicts. Third, it is because of its methodology, since shot and montage are part of film.

Eisenstein emphasizes that montage is not made up of continuous shots put together but rather is composed of the “collision between two shots that are independent of one another” (27).

One needs to assume that the “shot is not a montage element—the shot is a montage cell” (29). He also sees a relationship among title, conflict and the conflict montage between the shots.

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