The Red Screen: Politics, Society, Art in Soviet Cinema

By Anna Lawton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6

Mr Kuleshov in the Land of the Modernists

VANCE KEPLEY, Jr

It is an invigorating paradox of film history that advances in research typically produce uncertainty rather than clarity, argument rather than consensus. As our received wisdoms fall prey to revisionist probings, as tidy linear models of film history give way to accounts which stress nuance and contradiction, we are reminded of the overdetermined historical causation.

There was a time, for example, when Western film historians could confidently encapsulate the Soviet montage cinema of the 1920s. The major Soviet theorist-directors-Eisenstein, Vertov, Pudovkin and Kuleshov-were pressed together into a monolithic model of Soviet montage, their individual contributions reduced to a uniform obsession with editing to the exclusion of all else. And it was not necessary to search long or hard for the source of Soviet montage cinema; look no further than D.W. Griffith. 1

These handy generalizations passed from currency, and more complex, though hardly sacred, versions emerged. We currently acknowledge a variety of both cinematic and extracinematic influences on Soviet montage cinema, noting that preexisting styles of Western film as well as indigenous movements in Russian arts and letters fed into the montage tradition. 2 And, although we can still feel secure in speaking of a community of montage director-theorists, we now recognize vital differences among them; we might even find the debates between, say, Eisenstein and Vertov as edifying as their common claims. 3 Yet another measure of nuance, and perhaps contradiction, can be added to this revised account

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