Each film has a distinct purpose associated with it. Whether this purpose is as simple as teaching children a valuable lesson or as complex as criticizing a society's barriers, there are explicit goals which must be discerningly conveyed. There are specific elements to filmmaking which are designed to contribute to the goals set forth when making a film. Such elements include what would be considered "aesthetics of astonishment," or striking images, editing conflict and other techniques associated with montage filmmaking.
Each of these techniques imprint a thought or logic on a film - a kind of "watermark" - that pushes the film itself towards the accomplishment of the original goals. Regardless of the need for the completion of these "higher goals", a director's ability to keep a viewer's undivided attention is crucial to the success of a film. Each viewer must remain fascinated from start to finish by the plot and characters, or he will lose interest in the film. So, when a film relies on a strong narrative base to keep its audience captivated, there is little room for variation from the elements which depict the story best. Striking montage images or techniques, if not carefully placed, can have a tendency to take the viewer's eye from the progression of the narrative and turn their thought to something else. Quite often, montage aspects of a film are deliberately placed to invoke specific thoughts or feelings.
Such techniques can be employed to even go so far as to provide an alternate connotation to an event than what the average viewer would normally formulate. Parallelism is a method designed to do just that. This technique allows directors to have his audience associate a single action or event with a secondary action or event. The Strike parallels the slaughter of a cow and the execution of factory workers to generate a deeper emotion than one would normally associate with murder.
The audience does not view the execution as merely mass murder, but instead they compare the soldiers to a butcher and connect the murder itself to something heartless and revolting - a slaughter. The Strike seems to tastefully use this method to strengthen the purpose of the film itself: a criticism of murder and execution. There is, however a fine line between what is tasteful and what is not. If this technique is used either too often or for too long in a single segment, the viewer no longer associates the two with each other. Rather, the viewer then sees two separate events taking place, and may even wonder why the secondary event is even a part of the scene. If this occurs, the montage element no longer strengthens the film's essence, and the narrative element deteriorates.
Eisenstein notes that "This method may decay pathologically if the essential viewpoint - the emotional dynamisation of the material - gets lost. Then it ossifies into lifeless literary symbolism and stylistic mannerism" (FTC 37). Many other directors agree, and parallelism is a technique seldom used in films today. One alternative to parallelism is conflict. Despite the opposing contexts of the words themselves, conflict has just as much potential to be a major contributor to the accomplishment of the goals associated with any given film. Conflict in lighting, for example can depict a clash of thought or emotion within a scene.
Since the amount of light in a specific frame unconsciously sets a tempo on a physiological level (FTC 28), a clash between a dark frame and a bright frame will startle a viewer subconsciously. Darker frames tend to convey a more mellow and somber mood, whereas a bright frame seems to have more "hustle and bustle" going on in it. In Casablanca, during the flashback of Paris, viewers see a calm, peaceful interaction between the two main characters. The frame is dimly lit to create a very relaxed atmosphere. Then without any warning whatsoever, the scene quickly dissolves into war footage of the Nazi's invasion of France. The footage is quite brightly lit, sending a very upbeat and urgent tone to the audience.
On a physical level, viewers are being subjected to more rapid frequencies of light than they had been prior to the transition. Concomitantly, the audience members are slightly startled by such an absurd transition from dim to bright, slow to fast, and mellow to frenzied. Because it is a less distracting aesthetic of astonishment, lighting conflict appears in films more often than parallelism. Nevertheless, lighting conflict is not free from the constraints of tastefulness. If the transition were much more extreme, or if the scene flipped from bright to dark, and then back again in rapid succession, the viewer would lose focus of the image itself. He or she would probably be more annoyed than astonished, not to mention the obvious health risks that such rapid flashes pose to epileptic viewers.
Audience members would most likely shield their eyes and lose interest in the scene if not the entire film - provided they aren't convulsing in the aisles due to optic-induced seizures. Such a horrific event occurred in December of 1997, when the well-known Japanese anime Pokemon aired an episode containing flashes of red and blue in rapid succession. Less than 45 minutes after the flashing lights filled the screens, more than 600 children were rushed to emergency rooms with symptoms similar to that of a seizure (csic op. com, various news publications). Some figures estimate that somewhere near 12, 000 children were sickened by the excessive visual conflict. Needless to say, these flashes took a significant amount of attention away from the narrative itself, and one can safely assume that such an event would tend to make a film rather unpopular.
If the aesthetics of astonishment are not employed whatsoever, the film loses its purpose and becomes an empty recital of the actions of its characters. This deems the striking montage elements necessary. If these elements are overdone, then the audience can and will lose sight of the narrative element. Should this cause the audience to lose interest in the film altogether, then the film is a failure and the director loses credibility.
The most important aspect of creating a film is finding a healthy medium between completing the objective of the film and presenting the narrative. Directors are responsible for depicting the necessary montage elements in a film while avoiding creating what Gunning describes as "an excess of mimesis" (FTC). One could argue that this very conflict is what distinguishes films that find this medium as "great films." Books used to support this paper: Film Theory and Criticism Film Art.