What is montage
A montage is an incredibly efficient way of giving a bunch of information to an audience. It’s a series of film clips, edited together in quick succession. Often taking around a minute, a montage in movies portrays a change that would otherwise take up hours of filming - a passage of time, an improvement or decline, a physical or mental journey. They can also be used to showcase lots of different viewpoints of a single event, among other things - but we’ll get into more specific examples later!
What does montage mean?
At its core, a montage means what the filmmakers needed it for. It’s a tool in an editor’s toolbox to showcase a variety of clips in quick succession. The two most common are to show a passage of time, and to show a change of a character’s experience. Both are tied together into a very meta song (and montage) in Team America World Police, which we recommend you check out:
What is another name for montage?
Sequence is the word most associated with montage. They can be combined into ‘Montage Sequence.’ You can add a different noun before the word ‘sequence’ to be more specific, too, like with ‘training montage’ or ‘training sequence,’ ‘travel montage’ or ‘travel sequence’, etc.
The term ‘supercut’ is also sometimes used if a montage is themed around a specific idea or trope. Read more about what is a supercut.
Who invented the montage?
There’s no single person attributed to the term - for as long as editors have been stitching clips of film together, fast sequences have existed. Slavko Vorkapich and Don Siegal are notorious for popularizing the technique in 1930s and 40s Hollywood, but Sergei Eisenstein’s (even earlier) silent films should also be considered. Montage definition film discussions can argue about this for hours.
Why is montage used in film?
Usually, films are edited realistically so that the audience doesn’t really think about editing at all. Scenes seamlessly follow on from each other, providing a viewing experience that doesn’t distract from the story and/or visuals.
Montages, however, are super obvious - repeated cuts, noticeable soundtracks, maybe even an explicit passage of time. The audience knows a montage has been specifically chosen for this moment, so aren’t distracted or confused. Filmmakers can therefore deliver a ton of information at once - like shortening a huge journey down to a minute - without making things unclear.
Due to montage being a noticeable editing technique, it can also be used in other ways. More experimental camera angles or cuts, for example, often appear in montages, even if the rest of the movie is shot more realistically.
What is an example of montage?
Arguably the origin of montage, Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin is a good one to check out. That’s a very ‘film student-y’ answer, but it still checks out. Released almost 100 years ago, Battleship Potemkin depicts a massacre that’s rapidly edited down to a few minutes. The sequence is also edited around specific themes, like grief, fear, and authoritarianism:
For some more contemporary examples, make sure to check out our list later in this article!
Montage is important, because sometimes you just have to be very clear and on-the-nose when editing. A film would be tedious and boring if it depicted every single moment of an uneventful journey or slow growth of skill. A narrative could become unclear and cloudy if filled with edgy thematic shots to imply abstract ideas. By consolidating these things into a short space of clear imagery, you can make your movie way more enjoyable and efficient.
If you want to get your film school brain tingling, many analysts have broken Montage down into 5 types:
What are the 5 types of montage?
- Metric Montage - a sequence of clips edited specifically to the beat of some music. It’s commonly used in trailers, where action is paced to a popular song and/or SFX. Learn how to edit on the beat.
- Rhythmic Montage - a sequence of clips that match various actions and shot composition. Here’s a great example from Mindhunter. Many of the shots have similar framing, so by editing them into a montage you get a clear idea of a routine over time:
- Tonal Montage - tonal montages take a specific tone, emotion or feeling, then combine them into a sequence to amplify said theme. Disney’s Up has a great one at the beginning of the movie, portraying a couple’s love over time.
- Ideological Montage - sometimes also called Soviet Montage, Intellectual Montage or the Kuleshov Effect. Hitchcock explains it well in this clip. This is when a montage chooses specific scenes to infer a greater meaning or theme.
- Overtonal Montage - combines all of the above. To be honest, most montages will have traces of all of these things, so it’s not super useful to categorize them. Here’s one from Rocky IV - it has similar shot compositions, overarching themes, musical cues, emotions - you can see traces of all of the above:
A montage sequence usually refers to a passage of time. The term became popular in British and American cinema from the 1930s on, where this technique was used a lot (and still is!).
What is the difference between a montage sequence and Soviet montage?
Soviet Montage refers to a specific practice of creating montage around ideology. Take the above mentions of Battleship Potemkin, for example - the Odessa Steps edits a ton of action scenes into a montage that enforces the evil and brutality of the Tsarist troops. It was made in a way that reinforces Soviet ideology, by making the sailors and their supporters sympathetic.
Pretty much all of them. Even if it’s subtle, any film is likely to have a sequence of quickly-cut shots that are tied together in some way.
How is montage used in Battleship Potemkin?
As mentioned throughout the article, it’s used in a bunch of different ways. It reinforces the film’s Soviet ideology by making the crowd on the Steps sympathetic, and the Tsarist troops relentlessly brutal. Certain versions have musical beats on the cuts. Similar shot compositions are repeated. And so on! There’s a reason it’s so studied and revered.
- City of God - a display of how to show a place’s history via a well-edited sequence.
- Battleship Potemkin - if you’re not sick of how much it’s mentioned in this article already.
- WWE Sports Montage - Sport content is full of montage to get viewers up to speed with past events. maybe mute the video if you don’t want to listen to Imagine Dragons, though.
- Mindhunter - just a really snappy, aesthetically pleasing bit of editing that’s perfect if you’re looking for inspiration.
- True Detective - with some quick scenes, you can really amplify the emotion of some dialogue via montage if you want to.
- The Karate Kid - an infamous example that forever made the song associated with montage.
- Watchmen - a highly effective way to get an audience up-to-speed with the events preceding the main narrative.
- Scarface - another montage that cemented Push it to the Limit as a montage song.
- Team America World Police - this scene really is the best way to remember exactly how fun montages can be, and how to define montage in film.