Montage mon beau souci.

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‘If direction is a look, montage is a heartbeat’. 

(…) le montage est avant tout le fin mot de la mise en scène. On ne sépare pas l’un de l’autre sans danger. Autant vouloir séparer le rythme de la mélodie.  »

When it was invented cinema fostered, or impressed, a different way of seeing called editing, which is to put something in relation to someone in a different way than novels or paintings. This is why it was successful, enormously successful, because it opened people’s eyes in a certain way. With painting there was a single relationship to the painting, with literature there was a single relationship to the novel, but when people saw a film there was something that was at least double, and when someone watched it became triple. There was something different which in its technical form gradually came to be called editing, meaning there was a connection. It was something that filmed not things, but the connection between things.

. . . montage is above all an integral part of mise-en-scene. Only at peril can one be separated from the other. One might as well try to separate the rhythm from the melody. ‘Elena et les hommes’1 and ‘Mr Arkadin’2 are both models of montage because each is a model of mise-en-scene. ‘We’ll save it in the cutting room’: a typical producer’s axiom, therefore. The most that efficient editing will give a film, otherwise without interest, is precisely the initial impression of having been directed. Editing can restore to actuality that ephemeral grace neglected by both snob and film-lover or can transform chance into destiny. Can there be any higher praise of what the general pub- lic confuses with script construction? If direction is a look, montage is a heartbeat. To foresee is the char- acteristic of both: but what one seeks to foresee in space, the other seeks in time. Suppose you notice a young girl in the street who attracts you. You hesitate to follow her. A quarter of a second. How to convey this hesitation? Mise-en-scene will answer the question ‘How shall I approach her?’ But in order to render explicit the other question, ‘Am I going to love her?’ you are forced to bestow importance on the quarter of a second during which the two questions are born. It may be, therefore, that it will be for the montage rather than the mise-en-scene to express both exactly and clearly the life of an idea or its sudden emergence in the course of a story. When? Without playing on words, each time the situation requires it, each time within a shot when a shock effect demands to take the place of an arabesque, each time between one scene and another when the inner continuity of the film enjoins with a change of shot the superimposition of the description of a character on that of the plot. This example shows that talking of mise-en-scene automatically implies montage. When montage effects surpass those of mise-en- scene in efficacity, the beauty of the latter is doubled, the unfore- seen unveiling secrets by its charm is an operation analogous to using unknown quantities in mathematics. Anyone who yields to the temptation of montage yields also to the temptation of the brief shot. How? By making the look a key piece in his game. Cutting on a look is almost the definition of montage, its supreme ambition as well as its submission to mise-en-scene. It is, in effect, to bring out the soul under the spirit, the passion behind the intrigue, to make the heart prevail over the intelligence by destroying the notion of space in favour of that of time. The famous sequence of the cymbals in the remake of ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’3 is the best proof. Knowing just how long one can make a scene last is already montage, just as thinking about transitions is part of the problem of shooting. Certainly a brilliantly directed film gives the impression of having simply been placed end to end, but a film brilliantly edited gives the impression of having suppressed all direction. Cinematographically speaking, granted the different subjects, the battle in ‘Alexander Nevsky’4 is in no way inferior to ‘The Navigator’.5 In other words to give the impression of duration through movement, of a close shot through a long shot, is one of the aims of mise-en-scene and the opposite of one of those of montage. Invention and improvisation take place in front of the Moviola just as much as it does on the set. Cutting a camera movement in four may prove more effective than keeping it as one shot. An exchange of glances, to revert to our previous example, can only be expressed with sufficient force – when necessary – by editing. . . . . . . . The montage, consequently, both denies and prepares the way for the mise-en-scene: the two are interdependent. To direct means to scheme, and one says of a scheme that it is well or badly mounted. That is why saying that a director should closely supervise the edit- ing of his film comes to the same thing as saying that the editor should also forsake the smell of glue and celluloid for the heat of the arc lamps. Wandering on the set he will discover exactly where the interest of a scene lies, which are its strong and weak moments, what demands a change of shot, and will therefore not yield to the temptation of cutting simply on movement – the a b c of montage, I admit, provided it is not used too mechanically in the manner of, say, Marguerite Renoir,6 who often gives the impression of cutting a scene just as it was going to become interesting. In so doing, the editor would be taking his first steps in direction.

1. Elena et les hommes – Jean Renoir (1956) with Ingrid Bergman. 2. MrArkadin–OrsonWelles,1955. 3. TheManWhoKnewTooMuch–AlfredHitchcock,1955. 4. AlexanderNevsky–SergeiEisenstein,1938.
5. TheNavigator–BusterKeaton,1924. 6. MargueriteRenoir(bornHoulle)–ShewasJeanRenoir’swifeandedited
all his films in the 1930s from ‘La Chienne’ in 1931 to ‘La Regle du jeu’ in 1939. I think this remark is a little harsh on the person who, for instance, cut ‘Une partie de campagne’ (1936).

Jean-Luc Godard

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