Introduction: Montage Reloaded

Creator's Statement

This special issue examines the legacy of the Russian avant-garde and the pioneering masters of the Russian montage school, among whom Sergei Eisenstein provides the main focus of analysis. The issue comprises four audio-visual works presented at the Symposium “Eisenstein for the Twenty First Century”, which took place in Prato in June 2018 and was supported by Monash University and the Australian Research Council. The symposium situated Eisenstein’s legacy in a broad historical and theoretical context, as reflected in the audio-visual essays featured here. The contributors engaged with many other important figures of the time in addition to Eisenstein, such as Vsevolod Meyerhold and Sergei Tretyakov, Esfir Shub and Chen Si Lan. In this respect, the issue reflects the recent explosion of interest in the theory and practice of the Russian avant-garde in cinema stimulated, on one hand, by new translations and publications of key historical texts and, on the other hand, by the application of new theoretical perspectives — such as media archaeology, research on intermediality, and new media theories — to our appreciation of avant-garde cinema. [1] Another factor in the recent reinvigoration of interest in the Russian montage school has been the emergence of audio-visual criticism itself, which has placed montage back in the spotlight of film scholarship.

What unites the works in this issue, then, is their self-reflexive exploration of montage methods, effects, and implications, illustrating how montage has emerged as one of the key factors in the production of the audiovisual essay. Regardless of the taxonomies used to differentiate types of audiovisual essays — taxonomies ranging from Christian Keathley’s (2011) simple binary division of the field into ‘explanatory’ and ‘poetic’ audiovisual  essays to the more complex classifications suggested by Thomas van den Berg and Miklos Kiss (2016) — audiovisual essays in each and every category rely on the radical, resolute and challenging use of montage procedures. As Tony Zhou puts it in his audiovisual essay ‘F for fake’ (1973): How to structure a video essay (2015): ‘It’s not what you get, it’s how you cut it’. 

The works presented in this issue both reflect upon and put into practice distinctive forms of montage practice, ranging from Helen Grace’s super-fast cutting that blends film excerpts, photographs, posters, documents, and animated sequence and is motivated by sweeping historical associations, to the much more measured, weighted montage sequences of Zoe Beloff’s exploration of “The Glass House” project, which follows Eisenstein’s own logic. For Martin and Álvarez López, as well as for Pearlman, the task of theorising specific aspects of montage provides a thematic focus for their pieces. Martin and Álvarez López explicate a phenomenon of seriality (radically different, as they point out, from the popular seriality of quality TV) as an overlooked aspect of Einsteinian practice and they insert it in a new genealogy of montage that stretches from Eisenstein to Ulrike Ottinger, Leos Carax, Marcel Hanoun and Carmelo Bene. Pearlman makes an argument that we need to rethink the authorship of one of the cornerstones of classic montage theory — the so-called Kuleshov effect — which she, paying tribute to numerous unnamed editors of early cinema, mainly women, terms “The editor’s effect”.

These pieces also explore cultural, historical and political issues that the theory and practice of the Russian avant-garde raised. For Pearlman, the key issue is one of gender politics in cinema, an issue to which the Russian avant-garde seemed to offer at least the promise of a utopian solution, before annihilating that promise in its day-to-day practice. For Beloff, it is an issue of the omnipresence of the film camera, the universe of total transparency — prophetically explored by Eisenstein in his project “The Glass House” — and its darker underside that ushers in surveillance, control, and manipulation. For Grace, it is the precious idea of revolution, as an interruption and break, as a promise of the New coming into the world; and the issue of historical memory and amnesia.

In these diverse ways the audio-graphic works presented in this issue can be compared to Alexander Kluge’s Eisenstein-inspired magisterial project Nachrichten aus der ideologischen Antike Marx/Eisenstein/Das Kapital (News from Ideological Antiquity: Marx /Eisenstein/Capital) (2008). [2] Analysing Kluge’s nine-and-a-half-hour-long essay film, Fredric Jameson (2009, 116-117) stressed the productive gesture of describing the legacy of both Marx and Eisenstein as antiquity:

"For the concept of antiquity may have the function of placing us in some new relationship with the Marxian tradition and with Marx himself — as well as Eisenstein. Marx is neither actual nor outmoded: he is classical, and the whole Marxist and Communist tradition, more or less equal in duration to Athens’s golden age, is precisely that golden age of the European left, to be returned to again and again with the most bewildering and fanatical, productive and contradictory results."

Indeed, if Kluge succeeded in rethinking the Marxist heritage by positioning it as antiquity, he has achieved just as much in rethinking the heritage of early cinema.  This is the trajectory that is arguably continued by the essays in this issue: their authors demonstrate how we can draw on the legacy of the Russian avant-garde in cinema to achieve “the most bewildering and fanatical, productive and contradictory results.”


[1] Recent publications of Eisenstein’s writings: Sergei Eisenstein, Montage (edited by Naum Kleiman, Moscow: Musei Kino, 2000; in Russian); Sergei Eisenstein, Metod (edited by Naum Kleiman, Moscow: Musei Kino, 2002; in Russian); Sergei Eisenstein, Method (edited by Oksana Bulgakowa, Berlin: Potemkin Press, 2004/2016; in Russian, English, German and French); Sergei Eisenstein, Non-indifferent Nature (edited by Naum Kleiman, Moscow: Musei Kino, 2006; in Russian); Sergei Eisenstein, Notes for a General History of Cinema (Edited by Antonio Somaini and Naum Kleiman; Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016; in English); Sergei Eisenstein, The Primal Phenomenon: Art (Edited by Oksana Bulgakowa, translated by Dustin Condren; Berlin: Potemkin Press, 2017; in English), Sergei Eisenstein, Yo: Memoirs by Sergei Eisenstein (edited by Naum Kleiman; Moscow: Garage, 2019; in Russian). Recent publications about Eisenstein: Naum Kleiman, Eisenstein on Paper: Graphic Works by the Master of Film (Thames & Hudson, 2017); Luka Arsenjuk, MOVEMENT, ACTION, IMAGE, MONTAGE: Sergei Eisenstein and the Cinema in Crisis (University of Minnesota Press, 2018; in English); Elena Vogman,  Sinnliches Denken – Eisensteins Exzentrische Methode (Zürich: Diaphanes, 2018; in German); Joan Neuberger, This Thing of Darkness: Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible in Stalin's Russia (Cornell University Press, 2019; in English); Vera Rumyantseva, In the Master's Home: The World of Sergei Eisenstein (translated by Natalie Ryabchikova; Moscow: Bely Gorod, 2019; in Russian and in English).

[2] See also Julia Vassilieva, “Capital and Co: Kluge, Eisenstein, Marx”, Screening the Past, Issue 31, 2011,

Julia Vassilieva, “Montage Eisenstein: Mind the gap.” In B. Herzogenrath (Ed.), Film as Philosophy (University of Minnesota Press, 2017, pp. 111-131).

Works cited

Thomas van der Berg and Miklos Kiss, From Audiovisual Essay to Academic Research Video (University of Groningen, 2016).

Fredric Jameson, “Marx and Montage”, New Left Review, no. 58 (July-August 2009).

Christian Keathley, “La Caméra-stylo: Notes on video criticism and cinephilia”, in The Language and Style of Film Criticism, eds. Andrew Klevan and Alex Clayton (London and New York: Routledge, 2011).

Bio Julia Vassilieva is Australian Research Council Fellow working on the project “Cinema and the Brain: Eisenstein–Vygotsky–Luria’s collaboration”. She is based in Film and Screen Studies, Monash University. Her research interests include film and philosophy, cinema and neuroscience and film narrative. She has published in Camera Obscura, Film-Philosophy, Senses of Cinema, Rouge, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, Screening the Past, Film Criticism, Critical Arts, History of Psychology and Kinovedcheskie Zapiski as well as edited collections, including Film/Philosophy (Minnesota UP, 2017). She is an author of  “Narrative psychology” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) and a co-editor of “After Taste: Cultural Value and the Moving Image” (Routledge, 2013).