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English 11-12

Film Techniques: Montage | How to Analyse Film

Struggling with analysing film? Here, we'll show you the different types of montages and their effects, how to analyse montage and go through an example together!

You’ve most likely come across a montage before! You know, the scene where the protagonist has an extreme makeover or is training to win a karate tournament with some banging music playing. But do you know how to analyse a montage? Well, don’t worry. We’re going to help you!

 

Table of contents:

 

What is a montage?

Do you recall that famous sequence where Rocky Balboa starts training like crazy for his one opportunity to become a well-known boxer?

Here is the video if you are unsure:

 

This is an example of a montage!

You see, a montage refers to the selection of individual, contrasting film clips that are connected to make a whole sequence.

It is usually a sequence of compressed events that occur over a longer period of time presented in a concise and dramatic way.

In the above example, we see Rocky running on train tracks, running through a small town, punching a punching bag, doing push-ups, punching carcasses etc.

These are all individual clips representing different times, places, and actions that are connected together. In the space of a few minutes, we see weeks of training.

 

 

Types of montage

When we think of montages, we automatically think of montages like the famous Rocky montage. However, there are many types of montages that we often see in films, but never notice!

  1. Metric montages
  2. Rhythmic montages
  3. Tonal montages
  4. Intellectual/Ideological montages
  5. Overtonal montage

 

Metric montage

Metric montages cut different clips to the beat of the music.

Continuity is not usually maintained between the clips. However, the essence and storyline are maintained.

 

Effect:

This creates a suspenseful or dramatic atmosphere. The tempo of the montage can be heightened or lowered to create different emotional effects.

Metric montages are usually used to create an aesthetic appeal whilst showcasing important events that occurred over a long period of time within a short sequence.

 

Example:

We’ve already identified a metric montage in this article… Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa. Here’s another example:

Notice how each shot cuts according to the music? This creates an aesthetically pleasing montage sequence, and it compresses time. Events that occur over a long period of time can be shown in a shorter and more engaging manner, than simply showing everything that happens over the time period.

 

Rhythmic montage

Rhythmic montages cut the clips based on the action or image (eg. matching images or actions) within the shot with consideration of the musical pacing.

Unlike metric montages, rhythmic montage maintains continuity.

 

Effect:

Rhythmic montages are the most commonly used montage sequence in films.

This is because they reduce the abruptness between contrasting images, and they draw emotional responses by increasing or decreasing the tempo of the shots.

Rhythmic montages also emphasise important images by highlighting them as the focus.

 

Example:

Here is a scene from Whiplash. This is an example of rhythmic montage because we see that the images all correspond with each other.

For example, from 0:20, Andrew’s drumstick hitting the drums. In the next shot, we see Terrence jump at the sound of the drumbeat. These are two matching visual images that also follows the tempo of the drumbeats.

Furthermore, we multiple shots of Andrew playing the drums in a medium-long shot, to a medium shot, to a closer medium shot, instead of a simple zoom. These shots are all cut according to the tempo of the drumbeats.

As such, the shots are cut based on matching visual images and the musical tempo.

 

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Tonal montage

Tonal montages cut the clips based on the emotional tone of the clips and the scene.

This means that the directors aren’t cutting simply the clips based on the visual image or tempo of the music, but instead, based on emotions that can be drawn by placing two particular images together. (Opposite to intellectual montages)

Note: Directors can still rely on these visual and aural aspects to achieve their desired emotional effect (eg. lighting, shadows, shape, music, etc.)

Effect:

Tonal montages are used to create different emotional effects on the viewers. This can be sadness, fear, or happiness.

Let’s take a look at an example below to see how this is done.

Example:

This is a scene from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Let’s jump to 1:21 and analyse it from there.

We see a high angle shot of Harry Potter through the metal panes, which cuts to a low angle shot of Dumbledore through these panes and back to Harry. This creates a sense of secrecy and fear; fear for Dumbledore’s life and Harry getting exposed.

Also, when Dumbledore is killed, we cut to Harry’s facial expressions for a few seconds, then Snape’s, before revealing a slow-motion shot of Dumbledore’s fall. The director then returns to Harry and Draco’s expressions.

By framing the other character’s expressions around Dumbledore’s, the director amplifies the tragedy of Dumbledore’s death, as we see the horror, pain, and regret in the other character’s faces.

Intellectual/ideological montage

Similar to tonal montages, intellectual montages place different clips together that allows the audience to infer meaning and emotions about the clips. In other words, it creates a metaphor by drawing a relationship between the first image and the second.

Effect:

Intellectual montages create the Kuleshov effect.

The Kuleshov effect refers to the connection of time and space between different images, which causes the audience to infer meaning.

Often, intellectual montages can disrupt expectations and create surprise.

Let’s take a look at an example to clarify this.

Example:

Here, Hitchcock explains the Kuleshov effect created by intellectual montages, and provides two examples.

In the first example (from 0:19 – 0:36) we see 3 shots:

  1. Man looking into the distance
  2. Mother carrying a baby
  3. Man smiles

This is innocent and friendly.

However, in the second example (from 0:57 – 1:03), Hitchcock changes this meaning by swapping the middle clip:

  1. Man looking into the distance
  2. Girl in bikini
  3. Man smiles

Now, the man is no longer innocent and gentleman-like. Instead, he now seems dirty and perverted.

 

 

Overtonal montage

Overtonal montages are a combination of all of the above.

The different types of montages are used to create conflict and emphasise the themes of the overall larger sequence.

Directors can choose the pace of the music tempo, match the visual images, or cut to create an intellectual or emotional response.

Effect:

Over tonal montages evoke emotions from the audience AND compel intellectual thoughts from the audience.

Example:

Here is an example of an overtonal montage in The Untouchables.

We see metric montages being used as the cuts jump at the sound of the gunshots, and the music.

Rhythmic montage is used as some visual images match with one another. For example, at 0:06, we see alternating shots of two men staring down at each other before they begin shooting.

Tonal montage is also used as the editing of the different shots create dramatic tension and fear.

Intellectual montage is the baby’s carriage. The director jumps between a shot of the baby’s stroller rolling down the stairs and shots of the men shooting or being shot. This image of the rolling stroller adds dramatic tension and evokes fear for the baby and the men.

 

 

 

Analyse film like a pro (without a training montage!)

 

 

How to analyse a montage – step-by-step

Now that we know the different types of montages, it is time to analyse them! Let’s see how we can do this.

  1. Identify the type of montage
  2. Recall their general effect
    1. Identify the atmosphere of the scene
    2. Recall the above general effects
    3. Combine your findings
  3. Ground the general effect in the context of the scene
    1. Identify the film’s themes
    2. Figure out exactly what is happening in the film
    3. Adapt the general effect with the context
  4. Discuss in a TEEL paragraph

 

1. Identify the type of montage

Before you begin to learn how to analyse montage, you need to identify the montage and what type it is!

To do this, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does the shots cut in accordance with the tempo of the sound/music?
  2. Is there visual harmony between the shots? (eg. matching images or actions)
  3. Are the shots sequenced based on their emotional tone?
  4. Do the shots create an intellectual meaning (like a metaphor)?
  5. Does the montage involve more than one of the above?

These questions will help you identify what type of montage is used in the sequence.

 

2. Recall their general effect

Now it is time to recall the general effect of the montage you identified!

Each type of montage is used for different purposes. This step is all about identifying why the montage is used.

a. Identify the atmosphere of the scene

You should pay attention to the mood and atmosphere of the scene to figure out the effect of the montage.

To do this, focus on your emotions and your organic reactions to the scene. Do you feel tense, happy, or sad?

b. Recall the above general effect

Now, you need to recall the general effect of the montage from above. It is best if you can memorise these effect off by heart so you can easily recall them in exams.

c. Combine your findings

After you identified the two findings, you need to combine them to figure out the general effect of the technique.

To do this, you need to adapt your understanding of the montage’s general effect to the atmosphere of the scene. This makes your general effect a bit more specific.

 

3. Ground the general effect in the context of the scene

Simply analysing the general effect of the montage is not enough to get your analysis in the Band 6 range.

You need to be able to ground it in the context of the scene and find it’s significance.

a. Identify the film’s themes

To do this, figure out the film’s main message and identify their main ideas. Think about the film’s major complication and issues that they commonly discuss.

b. Figure out exactly what is happening in the film 

Know what is happening in the scene and where it is placed in accordance with the whole film.

c. Adapt the general effect with the context

Now, you need to combine the above findings to figure out the significance of the montage. This includes the general effect, what’s happening in the film and the film’s themes.

Think about its meaning and figure it’s purpose in the whole film.

 

4. Discuss in a TEEL paragraph

Now, we have all the necessary ingredients to put together a T.E.E.L paragraph.

T.E.E.L stands for:

  • Technique: The technique used in the example
  • Example: The example
  • Effect: Your explanation of the effect of this technique and how it develops meaning
  • Link: An explanation of how this example supports your argument.

You can find a more detailed explanation of using T.E.E.L in our post on paragraph structure (this post is part of our series on Essay Writing and shows you the methods Matrix English Students learn to write Band 6 essays in the Matrix Holiday and Term courses).

 

 

Example of a montage

Let’s take a look at an example from Michael Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. 

 

To help you better understand the scene, you need to know that Joel and Clementine were previous lovers. However, they became unhappy with each other, so Clementine goes to the doctors to erase her memory of Joel. Similarly, Joel is in the process of erasing his memory of Clementine until he realises part-way that he doesn’t want to forget her.

This montage is a dream sequence that is occurring in Joel’s brain as his memory is getting erased. Here, he is attempting to hold onto his memories of Clementine.

 

1. Identify the type of montage

Let’s answer the following questions to figure out the type of montage that is played in this sequence.

a. Do the shots cut in accordance with the tempo of the sound/music?

The shots aren’t clearly cut to the tempo of the sound or music. However, sometimes, the cuts do match Joel’s dialogue; it jumps after every line.

 

b. Is there visual harmony between the shots? (eg. matching images or actions)

There is a visual harmony in that the shots are all focussed on Joel’s face and actions.

 

c. Are the shots sequenced based on their emotional tone?

Extending on the previous observation, we don’t really see Clementine. We only hear her, which allows us to focus more on Joel and his emotions and thoughts.

Also, the different consecutive shots of Joel from different perspectives (eg. his feet in the rising waters, his nervous posture from the front and back perspectives, and his face etc.) creates a sense of nervousness because it’s always jumping around.

We also begin to feel his nervousness and regret because we see these feelings exude off of him from different angles.

 

d. Do the shots create an intellectual meaning, like metaphor? 

At the beginning of the sequence, the shots continually jump between Joel’s feet and his face/upper body. The walking feet creates a pacing tempo throughout the scene, emphasising the tense atmosphere. The shots of his face and upper body reveals his emotions.

By doing this, we draw a link between his feelings and what is happening around him.

For example, there was one particular moment where the shots jumped between water rushing up Joel’s feet and his stressed-out face. This rushing of water now becomes a metaphor for his slowly fading mind, and desperation to cling onto his memories of Clementine.

 

e. Does the montage involve more than one of the above?

Yes. The montage relies on all elements.

Therefore, it is an overtonal montage.

 

 

2. Recall its general effect

Now, we need to recall its general effect. This is your ‘explanation’ of the overtonal montage.

a. Identify the atmosphere of the scene

The scene is full of regret and wistfulness, but it is also tense.

 

b. Recall the above general effects

Overtonal montages aim to evoke emotions and compel intellectual thought.

 

c. Combine your findings

Therefore, the overtonal montage is used to create a regretful and wistful atmosphere tho highlight Joel’s desperation to cling onto the memory of Clementine.

 

 

3. Ground the general effect in the context of the scene

Now, we are extending on our finding to add depth to our analysis. This means linking it to the themes, and exploring the overtonal montage’s significance within the film.

a. Identify the film’s themes

The themes are regret, memories, and love.

 

b. Figure out exactly what is happening in the film

Joel is running through his sub-conscious mind (his memories) as they are being erased. Here, he finds a memory of the night where he first meets Clementine.

He has a conversation with his subconscious version of Clementine and shares his regret about leaving her at the house alone. After all this, he begins to leave again, except this time, Clementine asks him to stay to change the memory.

He stays.

 

c. Adapt the general effect with the context

So, now, we will need to come to a conclusion based on our findings in Step 1, 2 and 3.

A tense tempo is created throughout the scene through the cutting shots between Joel’s feet in the rushing water, his face, and his nervous posture from the front and the back.

This tempo heightens the audience’s nervousness for Joel as they know his memory is fading despite his desperate attempts to cling onto it. It also emphasises Joel’s regret as there is no time left to fix his situation.

Additionally, the rushing water acts as a metaphor for Joel’s fading memory, which heightens the tense atmosphere.

As such, this scene is not simply about Joel’s regret of leaving Clementine at the house alone, it is a metaphor for him regretting giving up on his relationship. Through this, Michael Gondry compels audiences to do more for their loves ones so that they don’t live with regret.

 

4. Discuss in a TEEL paragraph

Now, let’s put our analysis above into a TEEL paragraph:

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind highlights the importance of not taking love for granted as it is very easily lost. Gondry does this by exploring Joel’s regret in the scene where Joel revisits the memory of the night he first meets Clementine. Here, Joel converses with his sub-concious version of Clementine and expresses his regret for leaving her alone in the house that night. An overtonal montage is used to create a tense and regretful atmosphere that becomes metaphorical of Joel’s fading mind and his desperation to cling onto memories of Clementine. This is especially demonstrated through the jump cuts between Joel’s face, Joel’s feet in rising water, and Joel’s nervous pacing from the front and back angles which creates a tense tempo. Here, the rising water becomes a metaphor of Joel’s fading mind, which further adds to the tense atmosphere. Also, by having Clementine speak off-screen and solely focusing on Joel’s actions from different perspectives, Gondry compels the audience to empathise with Joel’s feelings of regret and nervousness. As such, this scene isn’t simply about Joel regretting leaving Clementine at the house alone, it is a metaphor of his regret for giving up on his relationship with Clementine. Through Gondry emphasises the need for people to continue fighting for their loved ones, or they will live in regret once it’s gone.

 

Need help analysing film to ace English?

Make good use of your school holidays and refine your English skills! With Matrix Holiday Courses, you will learn your content in 5 days, so you can revise English and balance your other subjects during the term.
Learn more about our Matrix+ Online English course now.

Written by Tammy Dang

Tammy is a former student of Matrix and is now studying Law / Media (Screen and Sound Production) at UNSW. She is a Digital Content Writer for the Matrix Education blog. Tammy aspires to become a Young Offenders Lawyer in the future while continuing to create art.

 

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