Soviet montage cinema as propaganda and political rhetoric
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Most previous studies of Soviet montage cinema have concentrated on its aesthetic and technical aspects; however, montage cinema was essentially a rhetoric rather than an aesthetic of cinema. This thesis presents a comparative study of the leading montage film-makers – Kuleshov, Pudovkin, Eisenstein and Vertov – comparing and contrasting the differing methods by which they used cinema to exert a rhetorical effect on the spectator for the purposes of political propaganda. The definitions of propaganda in general use in the study of Soviet montage cinema are too narrowly restrictive and a more nuanced definition is clearly needed. Furthermore, the role of the spectator in constituting the rhetorical effectivity of a montage film has been neglected; a psychoanalytic model of the way in which the filmic text can trigger a change in the spectator’s psyche is required. Moreover, the ideology of the Soviet montage films is generally assumed to exist only in their content, whereas in classical cinema ideology also operates at the level of the enunciation of the filmic text itself. The extent to which this is also true for Soviet montage cinema should be investigated. I have analysed the interaction between montage films and their spectators from multiple perspectives, using several distinct but complementary theoretical approaches, including recent theories of propaganda, a psychoanalytic model of rhetoric, Lacanian psychoanalysis and the theory of the system of the suture, and Peircean semiotics. These different theoretical approaches, while having distinct conceptual bases, work together to build a new and consistent picture of montage cinema as a propaganda medium and as a form of political rhetoric. I have been able to classify the films of Kuleshov, Eisenstein and Pudovkin as transactive, vertical agitation propaganda and the films of Vertov as transactive, horizontal agitation propaganda. Furthermore, I show that montage cinema embeds ideology in the enunciation of its filmic text, but differs from classical cinema in trying to subvert the suturing process. I conclude that Vertov at least partly created a non-representational cinematography and that he could be regarded as being at least as much a Suprematist film-maker as a Constructivist one.