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What is a Montage?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Feb 04, 2024
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The term montage is used in three different ways. A photomontage is a composite image produced by blending multiple images to create a fully realized whole. A film or television montage involves a sequence of shots which have been edited to follow each other in rapid succession. A radio montage is similar to the film type, except that it uses sounds rather than images.

The art of making a photomontage is almost as old as the medium itself. Early photographers combined multiple images to achieve desired artistic effects or looks, and artists picked up the idea, creating a variety of scenes. One advantage of photomontage is that it can be used to juxtapose or overlay images which could not be seen together in real life, adding a note of surreality to the finished image. For example, a simple photomontage might be made by placing an image of Isaac Newton inside the International Space Station, making a commentary on advances in the sciences.

The advertising industry relies heavily on this art to produce images for campaigns. Editing together multiple images, an advertiser can evoke a specific mood or feel with an advertisement which might not be possible with a single straight image.

Film montage appears to have emerged in the work of Sergei Eisenstein, a talented Russian filmmaker. He often used this technique to create a symbolic effect which was meant to trigger a specific response in the user, while Hollywood picked up the concept and used it to illustrate the passage of time. For example, a filmmaker might film the pages of a calendar next to a window flipping over in quick succession, with the scene outside the window changing to reflect the change of the seasons. Film montage might also be used to express a sense of movement and travel, as in the case of many noir films featuring train montages.

Radio montage is used for much the same reason that the technique is utilized in film: to move the story along, suggest the passage of time, and possibly to evoke specific emotions in the user. Creating montages for radio can be tricky, as the editor needs to find evocative sounds which will be interpreted by listeners without any visual cues. An adaptation of a train sequence for radio, for example, might intercut sounds of wheels clacking on rails, a train whistle, release of steam, and train bells.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By cloudel — On Aug 31, 2012

I studied graphic design in college, and in my first computer graphics class, one of the big projects was to create several photo montages and make them look realistic. We had to take something that obviously did not belong in a certain background and place it there in such a way that made it look natural.

This took many hours of hard work, because I was a beginner at using photo editing software. I put an Eskimo in the desert, a tiger in a field of flowers, and an elephant in someone's front yard.

It involved a lot of copying different pieces of sand, leaves, and flowers and pasting them around the feet of the creatures to make them blend into their new surroundings. I also had to cut the original background out from around the creatures so that their edges didn't appear jagged.

By clippers — On Aug 27, 2012

For me the best montage of all time will always be the one in Rocky 3

That is the movie where Rockie fights the Russian guy. Most of the middle third of the movie is given over to a ridiculously long training montage that contrasts Rockie with the Russian.

The Russian is training is very technical ways with new machines and doctors and steroids while Rockie uses rocks and logs as his weights and trains in the wilderness. It is all ridiculous of course and way way too long but for me that defines the montage.

By anon244066 — On Jan 30, 2012

I think some of the video montages are really cool and funny. However, I've never seen a photo one. It's really useful.

By ReallyWillie — On Apr 27, 2011

I think that montages are overused in some types of films, it has to be really well down to not be cheesy. Sometimes of course cheesy is the actual goal of the montage, like in many comedies.

By NightOwl44 — On Apr 26, 2011

Montage is a really useful way to show your characters making progress towards overcoming the main obstacle in a movie. It speeds up the narrative and keeps your viewers interested.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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