Definition of Montage

Montage is a technique used in films showing images in sequence to tell a partial or complete story. The term, montage, has originated from a French term, monter, which means montage. 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 narrate 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.

As far as quick cuts are concerned, they are joined together to create a storyline. The audience continues enjoying the storyline while the story also continues. The characters take part in the storyline yet there is absence of dialogues or there is no conversation. Although characters do not talk, a voiceover narrates the story with background music, and supers are used to provide 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

From 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 happen in quick succession in a storyline by the end when Young puts an end to the play.

Example #2

From 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 by the end of the novel where Lily Briscoe talks in the presence of Mr. Carmichael. This entire passage shows as if the images have been joined together to make a 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

From “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 occur in “The Wasteland” 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 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

Although montage means still shots, they create a storyline when put together. In postmodernism, even disparate montages are put together to create an interesting storyline or put pressure on the readers to create their own storyline, assuming that the readers are sanguine and that they would deduce the same meanings as the author intends to convey. Montage also provides good clues to the readers about the colors, characters, physical features of the characters, and even their movements. In a way, they assist the imaginations of the readers and exploit their imaginative capability for creating stories.

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