Eisenstein’s Thought-Provoking and Unconventional Take on Film Form (reader)

Sergei Eisenstein’s essay, “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form,” explores the dynamic principles that underlie not only art but, more specifically, film and film form. His philosophy centers around the concept of contradiction and conflict, which he views as essential to both the creation and comprehension of film.

The most fundamental aspect of Eisenstein’s thinking is his belief in the dialectical nature of the world. He sees existence as an ever-evolving process that is produced by the interaction of two opposing forces: the thesis and the antithesis (resulting in synthesis). This dialectical framework serves as the basis of his understanding and idea of art. Eisenstein suggests that art’s purpose is to make something of the contradictions inherent in everyday human lives, because by doing so, it naturally engages the audience’s mind by stirring up these contradictions and forging new intellectual ideas formed by the clash between the two.

From a cinematic perspective, Eisenstein defines conflict as the main principle that is present in every film work and art form. He says that conflict exists on multiple levels. The first of which is social, as filmmakers often grapple with societal conflicts and issues, next is natural, as nature itself provides a source of conflict, and lastly, conflict also exists according to its methodology.

In the realm of film technique, Eisenstein delves into the concept of montage, which he refers to as the “nerve of cinema.” He challenges the conventional understanding of montage as a linear, descriptive tool, and instead argues for a more dynamic approach. He believes that montage arises from the collision of independent shots that are often opposite to each other. This perspective encourages filmmakers to consider the conflict between shots, rather than a mere sequence of images.

Eisenstein’s insights lead to questions that are highly relevant to the practice of filmmaking. How can filmmakers harness the power of conflict and contradiction in storytelling? How can montage be used to create meaningful tension that is thought-provoking for the audience? How can filmmakers use irregularity/conflict/opposition in framing, composition, and color to convey more meaning in their films? 

Eisenstein’s essay serves as an unconventional guide for filmmakers, encouraging them to approach their craft with a deeper understanding of dialectical nature, as well as film viewers/students, allowing them to better recognize and understand these ideas. 

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