10 Lessons We Learned From Filmmaking in the 1920s

How to Montage
Filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein developed the montage as a way to create more powerful scenes. Bettmann/Corbis

One hundred fifty-five shots in five minutes. It's hard to exaggerate the impact of the famed "Odessa Steps" sequence in Sergei Eisenstein's groundbreaking 1925 work, "Battleship Potemkin." Conceived as a Soviet propaganda film based on a historical event, the story begins with the mutiny of the crew of the eponymous Russian Navy warship. Sailing into the port of Odessa, the crew goes ashore where local citizens gather to support them. Tzarist soldiers massacre the assembly on the Odessa steps. Among the most famous images in the scene, Eisenstein intercuts a shot of a baby carriage careening down the steps (baby on board) with harrowing footage of the carnage taking place all around it.

The "Odessa Steps" sequence is considered Eisenstein's most successful illustration of his theory of montage, which amounts to this: The sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Two or more images closely juxtaposed through editing could, Eisenstein theorized, create an impression beyond that which the images themselves represented. He was right. When it comes right down to it, everything from "Citizen Kane" to "Gangnam Style" is unthinkable without montage. Thanks, Sergei [source: Johnson].