We are in a theater and before us hangs an enormous, pristine white screen. When the house lights dim, we are shown several shots: a shark fin moving from screen left to screen right, a girl treading water quickly turns her head, then a cut to red, murky water.
We conclude that a shark attack has taken place, but why? The fin could have been anywhere, the girl wasn't necessarily swimming with the shark, and the red water may as well have been cherry Kool-Aid.
However, the human brain tries to make sense of the images shown together; we try to come to some conclusion about what the information, layered "on top" of one another, means. Separately, the images mean nothing.
A shark swimming...so what? A girl treading water. Who cares? Red liquid of some kind. Maybe an interesting visual but beyond that it may as well be blue liquid.
Together, however, and almost in any order, the images mean something. This is the basic principle behind Eisenstein's theory of montage. The theory, that ideas are derived from images that are layered on top of one another (and by "on top of one another" I do not mean that the images are super imposed on one another, rather that images/shots are pieced together, one image following the other on a cinematic timeline, for the purpose of forcing the audience to derive a specific meaning) seems so obvious that it need not even be discussed. It is logical to assume that when two or more images are shown within the context of a single film, purposely edited together, some specific meaning should be derived from the whole.
Today, there is an exciting genre of films that rely almost entirely on montage. The music video seeks to use montage to create specific ideas about the music artists who star in them, or to illustrate the point of the lyrics in a song.
In 1979, the first video to air in North America was "Video Killed the Radio Star", by a group called the Buggles. It aired on a channel that (at one point) was completely dedicated to music, Music Television or MTV. The channel opened up a world of marketing possibilities for record companies that were desperate to push their artists even more into the public's eye then had been possible before. It made it possible for people to see their favorite musicians without buying concert tickets. Thus, Eisenstein's theory of montage would witness a revival within a new type of film.
The music group the Buggles created a video for their popular 1979 song, "Video Killed the Radio Star" in which the point if is to illustrate the end of an era and the usherance of new technology. This is done by juxtaposing shots of radios exploding and shots of the musicians in what is meant to be some sort of high-tech studio. There are also shots of televisions emerging from piles of old radios. Again, separately the shots mean nothing, and even layered on top of one another the point is not necessarily obvious. It is the non-diegetic sound, the music, that completes the montage. This is an interesting phenomenon; where the non-diegetic sound completes the montage and actually becomes diegetic because the musicians are clipped together as if the song is actually being played and sung within the same time and space as the shots.
The same type of phenomenon occurs in Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin, in the scene on the ship when the crew must face the squadron and the ship is being prepared for battle. The montage is meant to illustrate the mounting intesity and this effect is achieved in several ways: 1) by using shots that are shorter and shorter in length, 2) by cutting the various actions necessary to prepare the ship for battle together, giving the illusion that all of these preparations are taking place at the same time, and 3) by using symphonic music in such a way that specific sounds in the music might nearly be mistaken as diegetic.
The difference between Battleship Potempkin and the
Now, with the sound to complete the puzzle we can derive a story about someone who's career has ended with the usherance of a new technology.