Since the beginnings of film there have been two major directions in terms of production: realism andformalism. In 1895 the Lumiere brothers established revolutionary moving images with their primitivedocumentary of “The Arrival of a Train”(1895), only seven years later George Melies changed the oral andwritten tradition into a visual narrative with “A Trip to the Moon” (1902) that would establish film into thecomplex and highly cohesive medium that it is today. Therefore, “In many respects, the Lumieres can beregarded as the founders of the realist tradition of cinema, and Melies of the formalist tradition”(Giannetti,2005:2). Over the past hundred years of film the term “realism” has remained relatively true to what wasestablished in 1895 by the Lumiere brothers, it is however the development of the formalist approach thathas captured the imagination of the filmmakers and theorists. Giannetti describes formalism as follows:“Film art doesn’t consist of a reproduction of reality, but a translation of observed characteristics into formsof the medium…Formalists are always concerned with patterns, methods of reconstructing reality intoaesthetically appealing designs.”(Giannetti, 2005: 483, 487)From Italian neo-realism to German expressionism, filmmakers of the world have shaped and manipulatedthe form and function of film in order to satisfy the demand on the medium at that time. With theintroduction of editing to film art, a new dimension to the creation and compilation of narrative was born.Sergei Eisenstein was part of the Soviet cinema era and was a true formalist with his theories of art and filmform, and of collision montage in particular. This essay will discuss the above quotation (from Giannetti)regarding formalism and support the outlined elements of formalism with Eisenstein’s theories and filmform in general. In addition to this, Eisenstein’s “Odessa Steps” sequence from Battleship Potemkin (SovietUnion, 1925) will be used in support of his formalist theories of collision montage.
The term “formalism” is often used in the same breath as expressionism, but as Fourie (2001: 197) explainsthe important difference between the two can be found in that although both are…“Capable of interpreting reality or an aspect thereof in specific ways…Formalism is more exact and pronounced in its description(s)…it gives a more concrete and “scientific” description of film’s codes(techniques) enabling film to be a unique form of expression.”(Fourie, 2001:197).The formalist approach adopts the view that the form of a film is in symbiosis with the medium, hencedeliberate stylising and distortion is considered tools of the trade. With an accurate reproduction of realityleft to the realists, formalist like Sergie Eisenstein are more concerned with how through the use of