Sunday, April 22, 2007


Critical Themes was fun, and I heard some very intriguing papers. I would do it again, though anyone who knows me understands I'm afraid of public speaking even if I can do it when necessary -- so probably not soon.

I did want to go on record about the keynote address by Alexander R. Galloway, though. He gave an excellent presentation, and brought out some ideas I found very useful and illuminating. I'll make a point of reading his books and papers this summer (I'm hoping to have some reading time then). Still, being a betting man, in one sense, I wanted to place my wager on the table.

Montage is not in decline.

Galloway's thesis -- that it is in decline -- may be perfectly understandable: correctly, he points out that "First-Person-Shooter" games are unblinking subjective shots, with no cutting, and one could even take a quick trip around YouTube and notice that the uncut video clip is now common language. Lev Manovich made a similar assertion, placing the tactic of compositing as ascendent and montage in decline, back in 2001 in "The Language of New Media." I disagreed then, and disagree now.

I would place against the evidence provided by video games and the television show "24" (where multiple screens float about at transition points, clearly based in compositing technique) the fact that the most significant works I've seen lately bring editing / montage techniques to new and more sophisticated levels. Iraq in Fragments has incredible editing, as does Wide Awake. And both films use them in a way completely at the service of the other elements of the film.

While techniques / strategies / tactics in media production do naturally rise and fall, I think we are only now getting to the point where virtuoso use of montage is arising. While I am an admirer of Eisenstein et al., I don't think we're at the end of a golden age of montage (and the expectation Galloway and Manovich set up is that we're 'naturally" moving on to visual effects / compositing / virtual cinematography as central techniques) but at a transition to a more advanced period. I've gone through Eisenstein set pieces frame-by-frame a lot of times, in the way a music student might go through a piano composition note-by-note, and I can fairly compare that to the editing that is happening today. And today montage is still on the ascent.

I think the parallel is found in music history. At a certain point, various factors -- especially an improvement in instruments and a growing sophistication in the audience as piano lessons became common in middle class families -- "set free" new generations of piano composers, and the type of music written became increasingly sophisticated. I think that's where we are moving, and I think montage is at the center of it.

No comments: