Eisenstein Rediscovered

By Ian Christie; Richard Taylor | Go to book overview

Chapter 12

Eisenstein and the theory of 'models'; or, How to distract the spectator's attention

Myriam Tsikounas

Eisenstein's silent films have often been described as 'mass films' or 'films without heroes'. In each narrative, however, a protagonist-played by a carefully selected non-professional actor-assumes more or less definitive individuality. 1

Even in 1947, Eisenstein was still recalling the time lost in searching for 'types', in wearisome rehearsals and in make-up sessions required to 'hide the little mole-eyes of a Sebastopol boiler-man and transform him into the ship's doctor on the Potemkin'. 2 So why did he spend over seven years recruiting non-professionals, or parading members of his production crew like Maxim Strauch, Eduard Tisse and Grigori Alexandrov in front of the camera? What function was served by these novices who made only one appearance to illustrate the transition from the 'old' to the 'new'? Was their role identical in the films of commemoration and those of collectivisation, or was it subject to a dual evolution, both chronological and political?

In order to answer such questions, I shall attempt, after defining the features common to all these newcomers, to trace the itinerary that stretches from the dawn of the century (The Strike) to 1929 (The General Line/The Old and The New) and is signposted by two dates: 1905 (Potemkin) and 1917 (October). 3

All four epics do in fact follow a similar pattern. In each, the first act sets the scene and even invites a charge of archaism. The 'model' naturshchik does not really put in an appearance until the second part. Then the action lingers upon him, immediately establishing him as both a semiotic and agential subject. 4 As a victim of injustice, the individual rebels and leaves his station to confront the old world. He may be mocked or killed, but none the less triggers a general mobilisation which reprogrammes the narrative. These emblematic figures-respectively a worker, sailor, a Bolshevik militant and a poor peasant woman-also share the characteristic of evolving alongside a counterpart who opposes, takes over, or aids in the fulfilment of their civilising mission.

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