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October: Savage Division, Metric Montage

by Michael Frierson

Eisenstein wrote two typologies of montage methods in 1929. In one, he drew upon a musical analogy. With metric montage, the content of the shots is subordinated to the duration of the shots, thereby making duration the dominant. Notice that “metric montage” does not mean “all the shots are the same length,” it simply means the cutting rhythm dominates in the sequence over the shot content,

Eisenstein describes the power of metric montage as “rude motive force,” and it is clear that metric montage functions from the bottom up at the lowest level of perception. Metric montage has a direct, stimulus-response relationship with the audience that can bring the viewer’s “pulse” in to perfect accord with the film.

The example of metric montage Eisenstein gives is from October when the Savage Division, a cavalry division from the Caucasus region is persuaded by Bolsheviks to put away their weapons and stop the return of General Kornilov to Petrograd. Kornilov, a loyal tsarist, who tolerated the Provisional, coalition government that ruled before the Bolsheviks took power, is not shown in the sequence but leaflets distributed by the Bosheviks persuade the Savage Division not to fight with Kornilov. After they sheathe their knives, they celebrate by dancing the Lezginka, a folk dance commonly performed by peoples in the Caucasus region.

In typical Eisenstein fashion, it’s not that simple: the sequence is metric, but hardly metric alone. Besides accelerated editing, it also exhibits moments of intellectual montage by cutting in non-diegetic inserts of a wind-up sculpture and shots that return to motif of Kerensky in his boots, lying on a couch surrounded by fluffy, brocade pillows. The motif of Kerensky in boots, “pouting” on the couch is meant to contrast with the energy and dynamism of the Savage division dancers.

Notice that the cutting towards the end of the sequence is accelerated, and the effect is rousing.

October: Savage Division, Metric Montage, Replay End at 25%

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Eisenstein identified this sequence as Metric montage

from October: Ten Days that Shook the World (1928)
Creator: Sergei Eisenstein
Distributor: Corinth
Posted by Michael Frierson
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