Definition of Montage

Montage is a technique used in films showing images in sequence to tell a partial or complete story. The French term “monter” is the root of the word “montage,” which is used to describe a specific technique. It means “to mount” or associate things with each other. It is mostly used in film making while in literature, it means a collection of images assembled narrates a story or part of a story. Generally, a montage has five elements; quick cuts, absence of conversation or dialogue, narrative, music or background music, and supers.

In terms of quick cuts, they are connected to form a coherent storyline. The audience continues enjoying the storyline while the story also continues. The storyline progresses with the characters’ active participation, but there is a clear lack of dialogue or interaction between them. Despite the fact that the characters do not engage in dialogue, the story is narrated by a voiceover accompanied by background music, and supers are employed to convey information to the audience. Montage is a postmodern term in literary theory and is mostly used in movies, documentaries, and postmodern novels.

Examples of Montage in Literature

Example #1

Ulysses by James Joyce

Young shouts of moneyed voices in Clive Kempthorpe’s rooms. Palefaces: they hold their ribs with laughter, one clasping another. O, I shall expire! Break the news to her gently, Aubrey! I shall die! With slit ribbons of his shirt whipping the air he hops and hobbles round the table, with trousers down at heels, chased by Ades of Magdalen with the tailor’s shears. A scared calf’s face gilded with marmalade. I don’t want to be debagged! Don’t you play the giddy ox with me!

This passage occurs in Ulysses, a tour de force of James Joyce. Yet, this is not a postmodern novel as it appeared at the end of the modernist age. Despite this, the passage shows the good use of literary montage with conversation interspersed in it. The image of Young, Clive Kempthorpe, and Ades of Magdalen happens in quick succession in a storyline by the end when Young puts an end to the play.

Example #2

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolfe

Quickly, as if she were recalled by something over there, she turned to her canvas. There it was–her picture. Yes, with all its greens and blues, its lines running up and across, its attempt at something. It would be hung in the attics, she thought; it would be destroyed. But what did that matter? she asked herself, taking up her brush again. She looked at the steps; they were empty; she looked at her canvas; it was blurred. With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.

This passage occurs at the end of the novel where Lily Briscoe talks in the presence of Mr. Carmichael. The passage gives the impression that the images have been seamlessly combined to form a cohesive picture. This is a process also called assemblage as she recalls and turns to canvas, sees her image, sees colors and then thinks about it. This shows that images run through her mind in a storyline.

Example #3

The Wasteland by T. S. Eliot

The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed, and their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;
Departed, have left no addresses.

These verses borrowed from “The Wasteland” are a postmodern poem by T. S. Eliot. The poem presents a river, fingers with a leaf in them, nymphs, the Thames, bottles and so many things in these few lines that it becomes a complete storyline when these images are assembled. This shows how T. S. Eliot has successfully used this film’s editing technique in literary writing.

Example #4

Citizen Kane by Orson Welles

All around this is an almost totally black screen. Now, as the camera moves slowly towards the window which is almost a postage stamp in the frame, other forms appear; barbed wire, cyclone fencing, and now, looming up against an early morning sky, enormous iron grille work. Camera travels up what is now shown to be a gateway of gigantic proportions and holds on the top of it – a huge initial “K” showing darker and darker against the dawn sky.  Through this and beyond we see the fairy-tale mountaintop of Xanadu, the great castle a sillhouette as its summit, the little window a distant accent in the darkness.

This passage occurs in Citizen Kane’s script, written by Orson Welles. The instructions for the director show how he is going to use the camera to take several shots so that they could be added to create a montage of the movie. However, the interesting thing is that there are so many images that the camera will have great difficulty when taking a correct shot. Yet, this is what the director and the scriptwriter want to create a montage of.

Functions of Montage

Even though montage primarily involves still shots, their arrangement creates a narrative when assembled together. Postmodernism embraces the practice of combining disparate montages to construct a compelling plot or exert a form of coercion on readers, compelling them to construct their own narrative, with the underlying assumption that readers possess a positive disposition and will deduce the author’s intended meanings. Montage also provides good clues to the readers about the colors, characters, physical features of the characters, and even their movements. Through their support, they enable readers to explore their imaginative capabilities and harness them in the creation of captivating narratives.

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