In one of his earliest and best-known essays, Sergei Eisenstein described five types of montage, illustrating each with scenes from his own films. The first four types (metric, rhythmic, tonal, and overtonal), deeply influenced by Ivan Pavlov’s study of reflexology, were conceived to trigger distinct physiological effects in the viewer.
Now imagine if you will Eisenstein’s realization that inherent within this methodology was a collusion with the forces making life miserable for himself and his fellow countrymen. The development of his fifth type—intellectual montage—seems a natural conclusion for a troubled conscience such as his.
While intellectual montage generates humor in the hands of experts (Dusan Makavejev, Craig Baldwin), it’s best suited for works of high-minded intent (Eisenstein’s unrealized Das Kapital, Pasolini’s La Rabbia.) So what about other modes of construction, more aligned with the mischievous humor evident in Eisenstein’s drawings and familiar to his friends, but seldom on display in the films themselves? We would have to find the “lost” notebook in which he was seeking just that, formulating a sixth type of montage that deployed physiological means, but with entirely other ends in mind. Call it malapropic montage, the intentional violation of narrative continuity by inserting or assembling shots containing mismatched actors and actions into a cinematic sequence.
If Margaret Thatcher’s face launched a thousand punk bands, Vicki Bennett has for nearly twenty years been part of England’s defiant rear guard or, to use her preferred term, the “avant-retard”. Under the moniker of People Like Us, Bennett has shaken laughter loose from the most tightly-wound of listeners and, in more recent years, viewers. Putting things where they just don’t belong, her prodigious audiovisual output and stateside radio show on WFMU infuse the plunderphonia of John Oswald and The Tape-beatles with the British comic tradition in all its coarse and bawdy glory. Staying true to the principle of “share and share alike”, most of her musical and moving-image output is now available for free download through Ubuweb.
Her new video, Genre Collage, is currently touring the world as a live audiovisual performance. Produced with assistance from Tim Maloney, it relies less on the layered compositing of much of her previous video work and embraces hard cuts and classical editing syntax. Earlier videos such as Discovering Electronic Music (99) and The Remote Controller (03) drew extensively from Prelinger Archive material and other orphan ingredients, and yet achieved something far beyond the easy camp effects so common among the works of others that tap these sources.
The dark undercurrents and self-referentiality that course through the earlier videos are as strong as ever. But unlike those earlier pieces (or Bruce Conner’s A MOVIE, with which it otherwise shares strong ancestral ties), Genre Collage draws instead on narrative feature films for its source material––nearly 100 in all. Enter the Dragon commingles with the climactic shootout of The Lady From Shanghai; also appearing are Tobor the Great, The Poseidon Adventure, and plenty of Hitchcock. Peter O’Toole, O.J. Simpson, and Donald Duck are just a few of the many “guest stars”; Mary Poppins pops in as a harbinger of disaster.
Malapropic montage stands unwittingly as a testament to the power of Kuleshov’s experiments and, in turn, to the film grammar adopted by, if not invented, in Hollywood. The eyeline match especially is revealed as a nearly foolproof adhesive, and malapropic success might be measured by the degree to which adjacent elements that don’t belong anywhere near each other nevertheless stick.
Eisenstein had initially sought collision in the joining of two shots to complete a circuit and send a shock through the viewer’s emotions; later, his lost notebook seeks in malapropic montage a way of “of effectively circumventing the higher nerve systems of the thought apparatus.” Bennett, in turn, has taken Eisenstein’s montage collisions and refashioned them as bumper cars at a seaside carnival.
—excerpt from “In search of Eisenstein’s lost montage with Vicki Bennett” by Jim Supanick
See more at www.peoplelikeus.org