By definition, a montage is “a single pictorial composition made by juxtaposing or superimposing many pictures or designs.” In filmmaking, a montage is an editing technique in which shots are juxtaposed, often in a fast-paced fashion that compresses time and conveys a lot of information.
Here’s when montages are a good idea:
- Condensing long periods of time. For example, the Rocky training montage. Several days are reduced to a few minutes of screen time.
- Scenes without conflict that simply escalate or intensify the current situation, often used to cement firmly a story point. For example, this montage from Love Story (1970)
It is said, however, that montages shouldn’t be used to show a couple falling in love. The reasoning is: the audience needs to know how the romance happened. Who asked who out? Who gave the first kiss? And to be certain, in the montage above you don’t see the characters falling in love. The montage starts after they are already in love.The montage exists to emphasize how in love they really and that time has past.
Two Contrasting Examples
The two clips below are examples of what a montage consists of. I chose these particular examples because they are from major motion pictures, and both illustrate the same topic – a trip – but in two extremely contrasting ways.
The montage from 1969 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid shows a trip from New York City to Bolivia that occurred in the beginning of the century. The second montage is from the 2002 The Rules of Attraction, which narrates a journey across many countries in Europe.
The 33-year time gap between both movies is evidence of how styles change over time, especially as they tell stories that took place a hundred years apart (Butch Cassidy traveled to South American in 1901).
- Still pictures
- Sepia tone
- Slow-paced editing
- Orchestral music
- No dialogue
- Video footage (digital)
- Fast-paced editing (quick shots, many cuts)
- House music
Montages are a powerful filmic device. Use them sparingly and know when to use them, and it will definitely improve your film.