After the Russian Revolution the new Soviet government sought to develop film as one of it’s major art forms. Lenin considered it the greatest art form, recognizing it as an art for the people. He and other Soviet leaders hoped to develop it into an effective propaganda tool to promote their interests both domestically and abroad.
They turned to filmmaker and film theorist Lev Kuleshov to head a new film school to train the next generation of Soviet filmmakers. Kuleshov is perhaps best known for his experiments with what is now called the Kuleshov effect, in which a single shot of an expressionless actor was juxtaposed with food, a child and a corpse, and different emotions appear to be projected onto the neutral faced actor.
The idea behind these experiments, that editing itself should be an expressive part of the filmmaking process, was one of the central tenants of the Soviet Montage movement. Sergei Eisenstein with his Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera (1929) took these theories further.
While D.W. Griffith and other Americans were focused on continuity editing, the Soviets went the other way focusing on montage, or the joining of non continuous shots. Eisenstein and others believed that these compositions could become greater than the sum of their parts, that the juxtaposition of shots would convey meaning that would be absent from each individually. Even when cutting sequential shots within a single scene, Eisenstein and his contemporaries would cut based on emotion rather than continuity, often repeating the same action, or leaving the audience unaware of things like spatial relationships.
Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera took the thread even further getting rid of narrative completely and relying instead on non contiguous, non narrative shots.
Eventually, however, the Soviet government came to see these experiments in avant guard cinema too elites and the Soviet Montage movement ended. Though the rest of the world was initially unable to see many Soviet films due to the countries isolationist policies as well as international tension, many of the ideas pioneered by the Soviet montage filmmakers would eventually percolated over and became integrated with the fundamentals of international filmmaking. Most if not all major movies made in the US today employ some element of montage technique.