Eisenstein Rediscovered

By Ian Christie; Richard Taylor | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Arguments and ancestors

Naum Kleiman

I am quite sure that all Eisenstein enthusiasts could contribute to the subject that I address today. If this introduction is rather pointilliste in character, this is because my basic aim is to provoke thought. There has been a new impetus in Eisenstein studies and this is not only due to the anniversary of his 'ninetieth birthday'. There have been many changes in our world, many changes in our cinema and in the relationship between cinema and the other mass media as well.

Paradoxically, our image of Eisenstein is also changing all the time. The most positive aspect of this whole process is that he has not yet been canonised. We can still argue about him. Indeed he does not allow himself to be canonised. I would draw your attention to the ending of one of the chapters in his unfinished book of essays, People from One Film, which has as yet been translated into very few other languages. 1 Here he describes the group working on Ivan the Terrible and there is a passage about Esfir Tobak, who was helping him with the montage. It is called 'The Ant and the Grasshopper'. At the very end of this chapter Eisenstein makes a very curious remark. He recalls his theories, the declarations which had resounded over the years, and at the end he says that it never occurred to anyone to check whether the author of these statements actually followed his own theories.

Unfortunately we sometimes try to illustrate his theories too directly with examples from his films, or to understand his films as a direct realisation of his theories. But, as I am now beginning to understand, his practical work is on the one hand richer than his theory, while his theory is on the other hand so much richer than his body of work. They do not merely correspond: indeed sometimes they conflict with one another. Some of the ideas that he expressed as hypotheses are substantiated in his work, while others are not substantiated at all.

We should not lose sight of the fact that he worked over a span of twenty-five years and many changes occurred during that time. There were not only political and social changes in the Soviet Union. The first thing we must do is to dispose of the notion that Eisenstein followed closely these

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