56580 atomic montage


The English word “atom” is from Greek and elicits the idea of “uncuttable,” implying the end point of reducibility. Since this treatise deals with montage, the word choice is quite deliberate. Further, I no longer refer to “film,” which for me, has a specialized meaning. I refer instead to the “motion picture” which includes film, video, digital video, animated gifs, and all similar contrivances.

Even a still image could be considered to be a special case of a motion picture consisting of a single frame. But, like the number 1, it has special properties and must be discussed using specialized language.

Fundamental to the motion picture is the frame, the atom beyond which a motion picture cannot be divided. Each frame has an identity and is a potential artwork in itself. (To speak of what is within a frame, we must use different language and talk about pictures, but then we are no longer talking only about motion pictures.)

Frames relate one to another as a progressive continuum. Frames are generally dealt with as collections, not individually. It is the collective effect of a group of frames that is the essence of the motion picture as an esthetic moment. However, an individual frame may have a decisive effect on the whole.

Motion is not the primary truth represented in a collection of frames, but rather change. Motion is only a subset of all forms of visible change.

A frame by itself can either break continuity or reinforce it. It cannot be neutral.

Continuity may be intermittently broken, yet remain continuous (Griffith). Continuity may be sustained across a series of ruptures.

The juncture where any two different frames meet produces an effect that cannot be ascribed to either frame considered singly (Eisenstein).

A frame continues to have an effect, sometimes even long after its disappearance from the screen (Pelechian). The very illusion of motion or change in the motion picture depends on this, as do the evolved conventions of film syntax.

We could assert, therefore:

Griffith + Eisenstein = Pelechian

This effect can be manipulated in sub-second time on a frame-to-frame basis, allowing us to uncover otherwise hidden properties of the time, motion, and change captured in the recording.

I deliberately used the word frame rather than shot in the preceding axioms, because the juncture at which one motion sequence of frames (a “shot”) meets another is merely a slightly special occurrence of two frames appearing in sequence. From a technical point of view, there is no difference.


Darkness, light, and color, along with change, are fundamental attributes of the motion picture. Color is an attribute even in black and white pictures, since pure white light cannot be produced by available technology. Sound is a fundamental attribute of the motion picture, even when it is not used, as in silent pictures.

Rhythm is an emergent fundamental of the motion picture. Rhythm serves the syntactic form of the work, and it also inflects meaning with implication, exposition, and emotional color. Rhythm, when used well, reinforces or otherwise modulates the resonances inherent in montage; distance, atomic, or otherwise.

The horizontally oriented rectangle is also fundamental (if we want something different, the rectangle must be subverted), though vertically oriented rectangles have been appearing due to increased usage of mobile phones as capturing devices.

Collections of frames are subject to numerical, regular, or syntactic processes in their arrangement. The linearity of their arrangement is echoed in the linearity of human language, and so we presume that analogous imperatives are at work in each.

Just as one creates anagrams by rearranging a fixed set of letters, frames, too, can be reordered to produce novel motion picture effects.


Although above I have taken the frame as the decisive minimum point for a motion picture, it must be said the minimum motion picture must have at least 2 differing frames to be considered a representation of motion or change.

Further, just as in contemporary physics, we can speak of the “subatomic” particles of motion pictures, further dividing and analyzing the perceived components that make up individual frames, allowing for sub-frame manipulations.

Except in classical achromatic photography (“black and white”), and taking as my model digital imaging, typical frames commonly contain three color channels. Breaking it down even further, each color (or gray) channel consists of pixels, typically arranged in rows and columns on a flat screen.

In the case of achromatic digital the three channels may not be explicitly present, but instead are implicit, and each is identical to the image as a whole. In color images the channels differ from one another in a continuously variable manner as a way of representing color.

(It might be useful to discuss traditional gelatin-emulsion film under this model, even though its color channels are not so directly manipulable.)

Color channels can also be manipulated. Further, they are interesting because each of them independently can be made to behave as an entire achromatic frame.

4 (addenda).

It must be stipulated that the human perceptual apparatus is ill equipped to discern significance from an individual frame, not to mention channels or pixels, in the flow of time. Each frame appears and disappears too quickly. It is the temporal conitinuity among a series of frames that allows for the intelligibility of a sequence. In this regard, a sequence of individual arbitrary frames lasting long enough to be perceived as such, unfolds on the screen as a „special effect“ and not (necessarily) as an intelligible image contributing meaning to the overall work. Therefore intelligible images in movies will overwhelmingly (in general) consist of a series of spatio-temporally related frames, unless some imaginative leap allows otherwise. (No existing examples at present come to mind).

This essay is a work in progress.

The following filecasts make use of some of these concepts:

56307 impulse, manipulating subframes, mp4, 10 min.
56000 ostinato, manipulating channels. mp4, 5 min.
55792 crossing, invention for three sources. mp4, 10 min.
55749 recognition, perception of single frames. mp4, 3 min.
55270 suddenly, frame anagrams from “potemkin”. mp4, 4 min.
55354 odessa steps, interleaved video. mp4, 7 min.