collage film history

From: David Tetzlaff (email suppressed)
Date: Tue Jun 30 2009 - 09:59:59 PDT

Words don't have precise meanings. Different groups of people use the
same term different ways, and different terms to refer to the same
thing. Attempts to police this with prescriptive lexicography are
useless practically, and intellectually questionable besides (snip
diatribe about the Vienna circle...) At the same time, we do need to
communicate, there are limits to all this flexibility and individuals
can use terms in ways that may be considered flat out wrong. 'Best
practices' might include identifying the context of discursive
tradition in which one engages, or, when searching for the 'right'
term, looking at the historical patterns of usage in the community
within which one is attempting to speak (i.e. a critical descriptive
lexicography). Herewith then, my understanding about how the meanings
of 'collage' 'montage' and 'found footage' differ in terms of the
dominant threads of their use in describing creative work

Americans of my age most likely know what a collage is because we
grew up in an era when public elementary schools had Art teachers,
and a standard art assignment was to make a 'collage.' A collage was
an assembly of stuff we did not create, the creativity coming in how
we selected elements from our pile, trimmed them and shaped them,
assembled them onto a larger blank sheet, and maybe added
embellishing elements of our own design. Also, when the work was
completed, while it hopefully had some new unity of purpose or
effect, the traces of the original forms of the elements were
apparent - that is, one could tell the parts came from somewhere
else, and usually what sort of place they came from... Now, note that
I have not made this definition medium specific really, because I
don't think that was the point of the concept, and also because the
dominant use of the word 'collage' in the arts is not medium specific.

Thus when Myron suggests a 'collage film' must consist of individual
frames created in the manner of a 2D 'non-time-based' grpahic art
work, I think he misses the point of how the term has been most often
used. Cornell's boxes are 3D collages, and Rose Hobart is a time-
based collage.

In cinema then, montage is a wider term, referring as Jeanne notes to
the labor of putting things together in a way that completes
something that then has some degree of unity and function not present
in the individual pieces. So, Cornell used the art of montage to
create his collage, but Eisenstein's montage is not collage because
he created all the elements himself according to a pre-existing
master plan.

'Found footage' refers to a (usually exclusive) source of material,
not how it is put together. On one hand found footage films are not
necessarily collages (Perfect Film, Color of Love) because they do
not necessarily involve cutting and pasting. On the other hand, a
found footage collage is also a specific type of collage because the
term implies a kind of limitation in the selection of materials to be
collaged. Just like I got to choose the color of paper on which to
paste up my grade school collage and then had the option to do some
finger painting on top of it, a collage film might include found
footage, but also other stuff.

For an academic reference, I would recommend the work of Rudolph
Kuenzli, an expert in the use of collage in the early 20th century
avant garde.

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.