The Russian Revolution of 1917, when the Tsarist rulers of Russia were deposed, must have seemed like the beginning of a new world. It is unsurprising that the thinkers behind this revolution immediately hit upon what was then a new form, film, to spread the word and reflect the revolution's radical, democratising nature. (The same would happen in China a few decades later when they had their own revolution in 1949, sending travelling cinemas around the country to educate and enthuse a largely illiterate population.)
So, this era of Russian film was born in radical, revolutionary thought. They very much did not want to imitate the style already being developed in America by directors such as DW Griffith; already, in these early American films, we see the roots of the 'invisible editing' style and the 'closed worlds' which would later be termed the Institutional mode of representation.
That style of filmmaking, still dominant in Hollywood and other powerful commercial cinemas, seeks primarily to entertain an audience and thus to capture large audiences and profits. The Russisan in 1917 (and many filmmakers now) have completely different objectives, however. They wanted to spread the revolution, to jolt people out of their complaceny, to make them alive to the fact that everything had changed. At no level did they want to 'lull' the audience into the soporific, pleasurable forgetfulness of the 'closed world' associated with the American style.
The aspect of filmmaking which particularly appealed to them was editing. They seized upon the idea that the defining feature of film was the ability to rearrange reality, to create ideas and impressions in the audience by juxtaposing differnet shots and effects. They referred to this arrangement of shots as the montage, and it the foundation of their approach to filmmaking. The basic principle - that individual shots ar eless important in terms of creating meaning htan the order in which we put them, was demonstrated in Lev Kuleshov's work; the 'Kuleshov effect' is demonstrated here by Alfred Hitchcock.
So, we have a group of radical filmmakers with a clearly revolutionary purpose, convinced that thi snew form is the way to express and spread their thoughts. The result is truly remarkable film, perhaps most clearly shown in Dziga Vertov's astoundingly modern Man with a Movie Camera; a documentary about a day in the life of a Russian city. Watch it below, and read more about it here. It is a masterclass in editing, and despite being nearly 90 years old, it contains more innovation and creativity than almost anything made since.
Possibly the most famous of these filmmakers was Sergei Eisenstein. His Battleship Potemkin displays much of what we have been talking about in terms of revolutionary intent and editing practise. Read about it here. He was also one of the primary theorists of the movement; he saw editing as a bringing together of often contradictory or 'clashing' elements which would produce strong (revoutionary!) emotions and thoughts in the viewer. See some of his ideas explained here:
The most obvious influences in contemporary cinema occur when a director or editor decide to let the editing be visible. (So, the absolute opposite of normal practice!) Here, we see Mike Figgis' Timecode; he shows four stories, all shot in one take, simultaneously. The purpose is (I think) to emphasise how these peoples' lives interact and diverge, and without the juxtaposiiton of the four stories, this would not have been so powerful; so, the meaning of the film resides largely in the editing, and it is here we see the influence of the Russians.
Here we have an extract from Bruce McDonald's The Tracey Fragments. The film shows the complete breakdown of a teenage girl, and the editing style reflects this; the image is frequently broken (the 'fragments' of the title) into many images, both creating a reflection of confused reality and showing the utter chaos inside Tracey's head. Again, the meaning resides in the editing more than anywhere else.
What does it look like when students experiment with these ideas, with letting the editing come to the front? It looks fantastic, if they do it well!