Assembly Makes the Difference Between Editing and Cutting

Editing Montage Film Video
A board in front of the forehead protects the brain | © Pixabay

Editing and montage also have their past. This can be shown. In fact, it goes miles beyond the history of digital imaging, computers, edit files and software for editing.

Indeed, the remarkably rapid artistic development of film has its roots in the 19th century, and not only for storytelling and dramaturgy. But also in the principle of assembly.

You need to know

  • The concept of assembly can be understood in different ways. Either as a process that condenses a content (German usage) or as the actual content creation process of a video or film. The two interpretations are not mutually exclusive.
  • The world-famous editor Walter Murch has defined five cornerstones as orientation variables as the meaning and purpose of montage: Emotion, Storytelling, Rhythm, Point of View and Sense of Space – weighted in the order in which they are listed.
  • If editing is understood as a creative design process, it also follows from this importance that a reasonable time budget is required for film editing.

Literary realism and Beethoven as the basis for the montage

Like many other arts of the modern era, montage drew its early constitutive power from the nineteenth century. The literary realism of Flaubert, whose words wrested metaphorical meaning from inconspicuous detail, finds its reference in the film montage. This as well as the musical work of Beethoven, who opened up new emotional spaces by energetically expanding, shortening and transforming the rhythmic and orchestral structure.

Montage and film editing still benefit from this today. Not only for fictional formats in cinema and TV and for video. Also everywhere where the communication and editing of video has to be done precisely under time pressure and cost constraints: in marketing for commissioned films, image films, product films, and last but not least in commercials.

Editing: assemble or cut?

The term ” montage ” is usually used and defined differently in German than it is in English or French. To edit a film or video in this country means first and foremost to condense the content.

Conversely, editing and cutting ( Schnitt ) usually refers only to the technical aspect of film editing. This term stands for the actual shortening of a film scene and thus only for a part of what montage encompasses and artistically constitutes.

For the condensation of a film to succeed, it is advisable to have a plan and follow a principle. The basis for this is the story, or in the commissioned film, the statement request.

Origin of the assembly

The actual, original purpose of montage, however, is still to present the theme, the subject, actions, deeds, dynamics (…) within a film in a coherent and logical way (Sergei Eisenstein).

This also makes it clear why film and video editing, in contrast to so-called cutting (or editing) as the mere linking and “cleaning up” of film material, should be far superior to film editing in terms of value.

Montage statt Editing im Videoschnitt: Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948), Regisseur und Cutter
Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948), director and editor

In 1888, Eastman introduced the first roll film to the market.

The impression of movement of a multitude of individual images that this made possible is what perceptual psychology calls the phi-phenomenon: it is the archetype of montage. Individual images strung together merge into more than the sum of their parts.

The aforementioned Eisenstein created a monument to this phenomenon in combination with the so-called after-image effect in his legendary film “Battleship Potemkin” (German, original Russian title: Bronenossez Potjomkin) in 1925.

If you want to approach the subject not only from a historical but also from a holistic point of view, you can use the checklist for montage and editing, for example, which has been refined over fifty years (!) by Oscar winner(Apocalypso Now, The English Patient), film editor and sound designer Walter Murch.

For more on this topic, see the article Good Movie Books.

The 5-point checklist according to Walter Murch for film editing

Murch explicitly understands his checklist (shown below in simplified form under point 4) as a list of priorities. If you are faced with the decision of having to choose between emotion and rhythm, you should go for the overriding criterion of emotion. If you’re unsure whether storytelling or rhythm is more important, go for storytelling, and so on.

Murch’s five points can of course be applied to all pruning work. This is independent of whether one is talking about editing, montage or video editing.

In a perfect world for an ideal film or video, the montage can weight and consider all of the following points in the order listed, in the sense of a recommended approach:


In editing and montage, the question always arises as to whether the intended change in shot length strengthens or weakens the viewer’s emotions. Why?

If the emotions are intensified, the editing of the montage helps. In the opposite case, it weakens them.

The viewer doesn’t care about what happened during the filming, not about what took place in the edit suite or what happened behind the scenes. The viewer is only touched by the feelings he experiences while watching the film.


What applies to screenwriters also applies to editing and software-assisted editing during editing: Kill Your Darlings!

What doesn’t move the plot forward in the film, or worse, confuses it, slows down the viewing experience and threatens to bore the audience.

Where it’s unclear what the editing in a scene does for the narrative, the editing has to step in…. – and help.


Much like a piece of music, every film and video has its beat and rhythm. If the rhythm doesn’t match the emotion or storytelling, the film falls apart in the montage.

Rhythm, emotion and action are therefore closely linked, and are the three top priorities of the montage and the editor.

A boring, sloppy edit in editing is usually due to a faulty, misunderstood alignment of these three essential elements (rhythm, emotion, and action) in film editing.


In order to be able to grasp and process the amount of visual information contained in a film or video at all, the human eye sets radical priorities, just as it does in real life. On the one hand, in the Western world we read pictures and writings from left to right and from top to bottom. On the other hand, we react more strongly to movements than to static objects, for example.

The montage has the task of guiding and setting our points of view in a film. The montage determines what our eye has to look at and when in a scene, it thus determines our perception.

It is not only where symbols and metaphors are used that the focus of editing is crucial. But always also in the interplay of scenes, in transitions. If the viewpoints do not match there, we perceive the cut transition as strange.

5Feeling of space

Montage is also responsible for the viewer’s sense of space in films or a video.

The montage decides whether the point of view allows us to locate an action, or deliberately not.

It enables us to orient ourselves in space in three dimensions. The handling of space in assembly also includes the avoidance of so-called axis jumps. In doing so, the camera jumps over the imaginary image axis, so that two people are no longer on the right and left, but suddenly face each other on the left and right of the image without moving).

What does editing mean for video and film?

Editing (literally = editing, preparing, cutting) of films and videos is in itself a creative act. Creativity takes time.

Anyone who works as an editor in film and video communications, for example in the news business of a TV station, will neither have this time nor be given it by their scheduler. Whoever speaks of editing here may do so with pride and respect, but as an editor he is more committed to editing than to montage.

It’s no mean feat to edit broadcast-ready TV reports every day under time pressure, with the editor or journalist responsible for the report signing his or her name, editing the text and manuscript while editing the images, and with the inevitable deadline looming not only in the mind’s eye. On the contrary.

Whoever contributes artistically to a cinematic work with higher standards than just the editor or cutter to the final form, whoever draws from himself, his knowledge and his life experience, whoever contributes his life time during long and lonely days and nights in editing to the resulting film or the editing of a video on the computer, grows beyond technical editing. He or she is not only an editor in most cases, but he or she cuts and assembles.

Conclusion about the editing of a film

In the film industry, unlike in video editing, a strict distinction has long been made between editing and “film cutting”. Film editing usually meant the physical process of analogue film editing: the shortening and effective cutting together of different parts of the film (shots) into one big whole.

Film montage, conversely, was used to describe the artistic aspect of film editing. In other words, the combination of different, individual film parts into a work that (at least in the creator’s intention) represents more than the sum of its individual parts.

In today’s linguistic usage, the terms are often used synonymously, just as the distinction between editor and cutter is limited and increasingly rare. Nevertheless, here and there the term “cut” is considered less valuable than that of “montage”. As a rule and for the future, however, in the digital age: Film editing is dead. Long live the montage!

The condensation of image information is as characteristic for montage and film cutting and editing as the design of film and video in the edit.

Whether editing a video on the computer turns out to be editing or montage at the end of the day depends not only on the purpose of the film or video and the film or video material to be edited, but always also on the expertise, experience and talent of the editor who presses the buttons in the Editing Suite.

This applies to video cutting and editing as well as to the professional handling of the phenomenon of invisible cuts or the use of slow motion and fast motion in editing.

Books on the subject of editing / film editing (selection)

  • The Art of Film Editing, Michael Ondaatje, 1996
  • Handbuch der Filmmontage: Praxis und Prinzipien des Filmschnitts, edited by Hans Beller, TR-Verlagsunion
  • One blink, one cut. The Art of Film Montage, by Walter Scott Murch, Alexander Verlag Berlin
  • History of narrative film montage: theoretical foundations and selected examples, by Michaela S. Ast, Tectum Verlag

This article was automatically translated into English using AI. If you would like to help us improve the quality, we would be happy to hear from you.

Pavel Sokolov
About Pavel Sokolov 49 Articles
Pavel studiert Film Editing. Er mag François Truffaut, Terrence Malick, Dr Pepper, seinen Thermaltake View 71 TG, Musik von Seeed und alle Dinge, die mit der Farbe Rot zusammenhängen, aber keinem Lebewesen Schmerzen bereiten.

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