Plus: animation news.
The whole criticism of Eisenstein’s montage theory leaves me very conflicted! However - I make my peace by taking from the aims that each of these esteemed filmmakers was pursuing: for Sergei I believe it was about finding how to distil meaning in the choice of the cut - audiences can and will populate editing choices with associations and there is huge satisfaction to be found in master editing.
For the Ghibli lads I adore that they wanted to root the work in something that is centred in some form of reality that we can be invested in.
I take peace in agreeing with both traditions because both are interested in finding vitality and truth that we can instinctively trust and therefore lean into it.
Taiji Yabushita -> Yugo Serikawa -> Isao Takahata -> Hayao Miyazaki
Amazing to see Screecher's Reach getting its due for that glorious world design.
Excellent and informative as always
I will give my thoughts but also state that I have not watched any Eisenstein films. I really enjoyed hearing more about Takahata and Miyazaki's thoughts on film making in this article because something I am drawn to more as I grow older are well constructed long takes. Scorsese and Kubrick both use long takes in their films to amazing effects and it draws me in to the sense of reality of the film. It seems like a good long take involves real thought, planning and work to construct well. I enjoy good montages and it was something that American films of the 1980's used in powerful ways for either comical or dramatic effect. Montage feels like a skill that if used poorly is a cheaper effect that takes me out of a film quicker than a poor long take. Poor long takes are boring but poor montages feel jarring. As a kid I think I enjoyed montage more and as an adult I enjoy long takes more. I see a similarity to this and what Miyazaki is getting at with some of the quotes in this article since he uses long takes in his films as part of that sense of time and space continuity.
A wonderful look at what makes these films special. It was so relaxing to watch The Boy and the Heron and immerse myself into a world without montage or other visual shortcuts to speed up the story.
I'm surprised Osamu Dezaki wasn't brought up, because I feel like Miyazaki's critique of elasticity of time was against how popular and revered Dezaki was in the anime industry for its complex storyboard blocking above all else approach to directing anime.
Very interesting article, thanks for writing! Miyazaki is undeniably a brilliant filmmaker, but whenever he goes off like this it's so funny, like what are you talking about my man? I don't really see how the Horus fight scene is a repudiation of montage theory...
Like if we break this down into a shot list, you've got...
1. panning establishing shot across the cliffs. Horus enters, fighting the wolves; we get a closeup of his axe. He makes a spatially very dubious drop from the cliff to the foreground and exits to the left.
2. panning shot. Horus is being chased by wolves and swinging his little axe around.
3. a brief closeup of Horus's feet as a wolf snaps at them and Horus jumps.
4. low-angle shot of Horus in midair.
5. the wolves running up the cliff. The high angle suggests this is a reverse shot.
6. static shot of Horus landing on a rock.
7. reverse over-the-shoulder shot of the wolves running up towards him, one jumps.
8. reverse medium shot of Horus deflecting the attack.
9. wolf getting slashed and falling off camera.
10. Horus intercepting the next few wolves. Horus seems to be winning this fight.
11. really cool perspective shot with two grey wolves in the foreground looming over Horus in the background. maybe he's not winning after all...
12. closeup of Horus with his eyes moving between the targets.
13. closeup of the two wolves. after a moment of anticipation they jump.
14. long shot of Horus fending off the wolves. one of the wolves comes up behind him and knocks him off his rock. all the other wolves come right after.
15. long tracking shot. Horus disappears under a pile of wolves but escapes. He runs into the background where there is higher ground available.
16. reverse shot from that higher ground (represented by a 'book' layer).
17. reverse low angle shot of a wolf catching up and getting knocked away by Horus.
18. long shot. the action continues to move right to left. I'm running out of ways to describe 'Horus hits a wolf with his axe'
19. low angle. Horus climbs up a hill. There are three large rocks, two of them drawn on cel layers. Horus pushes one down, and moves to another, starting to push just before the cut.
20. reverse shot. the rocks come down, hitting the wolves. more wolves run past
21. very brief reverse shot of Horus throwing his axe
22. reverse shot again. the axe comes right through the camera (animation magic!) and hits a wolf. slightly confusingly, while the other shots of the wolves have been high angles, this one has the sky in the bg.
23. extreme long shot. Horus is in a follow-through pose having thrown his axe, and the wolves retreat a bit. Horus tugs on the line attaching him to his axe.
24. medium shot. Horus catches the axe and flings it again.
25. the axe flies through the air.
26. high angle. the axe goes into the crowd of wolves, stopping them in their tracks.
That's probably enough to make my point. Let's have a look at some of these edits in light of the Kuleshov effect/Soviet montage theory. Shots 3 and 4 for example combine to say: Horus narrowly dodged this attack. The midair shot of Horus only make sense in light of the preceding shot. The cut from shot 10 to 11 functions to add tension to the fight (mixing up the rhythm) and suggest Horus is not out of the woods yet, despite his successes so far. And generally the editing is full of shot/reverse shot cuts: we see an attack, and we see the result of the attack.
I'm not exactly sure where the line between basic 'continuity editing' and 'montage theory' lies exactly. It's definitely not making any particularly extreme juxtapositions of shots. But it is also, like nearly all film since the early 20th century, it's relying constantly on our ability to create meaning by seeing two subsequent shots as two parts of an ongoing story. When we cut to Horus's expression as the wolves snap at him, we are led to read it as defiant. When we cut to closeups of the wolves, we see it as menacing, but also we are put into the point of view of Horus anticipating an attack. When the axe flies through the air, we have been given context to know: the axe was thrown by Horus, it's a gambit to try and hold back the wolves. Without that it would be meaningless.
Anyway, contra Miyazaki, I think the elasticity of time in anime is one of the medium's real strengths. Drawing out a crucial moment, whether by editing tricks or (these days) using flashbacks and voiceovers, is such an effective device. But the old man does really love to be a contrarian...
Also: here’s hoping that when Xitter finally implodes you might consider Threads.
Thank you for introducing me to the Nigerian film! And I’ve been a longtime fan of Miyazaki so it’s wonderful to understand what his work is rooted in