The Power of Montage

Google Dictional defines narrative as “a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.” A narrative is primarily a story that involves many events and people that all seem to have the same event or person in common. The most important aspect of telling of a certain event or person and how different stories relate to that event or person. But how does one make a narrative with realistic, relatable characters? One cannot learn what makes a person or relationship between multiple people just by one or two occurrences or scenes. You can’t show how someone develops as a character just by talking or interview people who are close to them. How would you show how something changes or develops with time as characterization realistically can’t be fully explored with just one scene or event? People are dynamic, but it takes time; usually large amounts of it. Because of this Orson Wells takes advantage of the use of Montage to show gradual changes over what is perceived to be large periods of time.
In this week’s feature, “Citizen Kane,” Orson Wells, montage is used repeatedly to show how a person, a relationship, or a situation grows and develops over large periods of time. A good example of this is scene of Charles Kane and Emily Norton seated at the dinner table having “snippets” of conversation regarding her husband’s work at his newspaper. Using montage, Orson wells shows the snippets of conversation getting progressively negative and Emily growing more uncomfortable and angered at her husband’s newspaper. In addition, we also get to see Charles grow more ambitious and obsessed with the success of his newspaper. In each little scene of the montage we see the couple grow older just a little indicating the passage of months, possibly years between conversations. Small details about their snippets of conversations show that they have a son who has been exposed to Charles newspaper at his nursery, which Emily does not approve off but is immediately silenced by her husband at the notion of removing it from the nursery. In the final scene not a word is said. The two even refuse to make eye contact, indicating that their marriage has all but come to a cold close.

For this reason, montage is one of my favorite effects in film. I really appreciated it when montage is used to forward plot in such a manner. I modern movies, especially action movies, montage is usually only used once in the beginning or towards the end of the movie, depicted small snippets of the main character growing up to what he is today, or the preparation they must do prepare for a showdown. Super-hero movies do this a lot, but they are no where near as powerful as some of the scenes in “Citizen Kane.” The only other movies where montage is used is old 80’s movies that would always play stereotypical synthwave music while getting a large amount of work done. Like in this clip from a totally 80s (not really) movie “Kung Fury.”

My questions to the class is how else, other than the passage of long periods of time, is montage used to tell major points of the story. Are there other, more recent movies that still use montage the way “Citizen Kane” does. In the scene from “Citizen Kane” above, is this a true montage despite the fact that is uses the “sliding windows” effect to imply the passage of time?
(Is “Kung Fury” the greatest movie of all time?)

1 comment
  1. I do agree that montages are utilized well in Citizen Kane and my favorite was with his wife Emily. I’m glad you included that one because it seems to be able to show the subtle changes in their relationship through an interesting and dynamic viewpoint. The audience is able see the evolution of Charles Kane as a character and his evolving relationship with his wife. It is an even more interesting dynamic because we saw previously that he was very excited about his new marriage (with giving the newspaper article) and then he tells his wife that he loves her so much. However, this evolves into them growing in distance apart on their table placement, and thus their relationship being strained also. Also, he becomes more curt with his responses to Emily, and she response in a similar manner making many blunt remarks. The banter between the two as the years go by act almost as a continuous dialogue, making the conversation even more telling about their struggle. It is these subtle changes that are key to the success of the montage and great in this sequence.

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