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In short, one of the landmark films in the development of avant garde cinema, ostensibly in the same Surrealist vein as Clair's "Entr'Acte," Cocteau's "Blood of a Poet" and Bunuel's "Un Chien Andalou" though with touches uniquely Eisenstein's. "Romance Sentimentale" set the stage for further experimentalist efforts, including the formal use of nature and contrapuntal sound. Interestingly, it was Eisenstein's only privately commissioned work, produced for the husband of the woman it features.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A lot of contemporary scholarship into film history creates debates as
to where the first "music video" came from. These would be considered
separate from musicals in that it exists to create imagery for the
music, while musicals use the music to create drama or spectacle for
imagery. Possibly we could then argue that Eisenstein's and
Alexandrov's "Romance Sentimentale", an attempt to create a narrative
for an Opera that they call "that old Russian song", is one of the
first music videos? Eisenstein in particular is good for this approach
because one thing that ties music and imagery together well is rhythmic
editing, something he is famous for in the first place and also
something that he had previously successfully used to create sound-like
impressions in completely silent films (like, for instance, quick
cutting between a machine gun and its firer to represent the sound of
the machine gun unloading).
This movie also ties in the similarities between music and statue (some theorists consider music "sound sculpture"), nature, domestic life, art, and emotions, which of course all all present in this film. In fact, the use of Rodin's pieces with fire-works is down right epic and I would hedge a fare money-sum was the inspiration behind some of the images in Disney's later "Fantasia," especially the animation with Mickey Mouse.
There are some experiments into the sound itself, like for instance during the beginning when the sound of the musical instruments tuning is intercut with sounds of nature to play with the idea of the potential rhythmic qualities inherent in nature.
It doesn't need saying that Sergei Eisenstein was one of cinema's most
significant innovators, and his mastering of the montage was forever to
alter how films were made and perceived by audiences. I can't confess
to being Eisenstein's greatest admirer not through any aversion to
his work, but simply due to inexperience. Aside from the 'The
Battleship Potemkin (1925),' a prerequisite for any budding film buff,
I'd previously only seen his debut effort 'Glumov's Diary (1923),' a
brief and plot-less short that is rather difficult to come by.
'Sentimental Romance (1930)' was co-directed by Eisenstein and Grigori
Aleksandrov, who worked together on several occasions. This was the
pair's first venture into "talkies," and I must admit to being
impressed by the film's complex mastery of this new medium. Dialogue is
absent, with the exception of the lone female protagonist's melancholy
opera performance, and rhythmic editing is used to synchronise the
music with the accompanying images. IMDb inexplicably lists
'Sentimental Romance' as a comedy short, which is odd since there isn't
a trace of humour in sight.
Instead, this is one of the saddest films I've seen in weeks, a mournful and bittersweet ode to inescapable loneliness. I don't know what the singer (played by Mara Griy) was singing about, but her solitary plight really broke my heart. There are really two sides to Eisenstein and Aleksandrov's film. The first, comprising the opening five minutes or so, is a frenetic and zany montage of trees falling down, intercut with crashing ocean waves, which are spliced so ingeniously into place that I could swear I saw a shot of water actually engulfing a forest. Then everything slows down a bit, and Eisenstein briefly steps back from the editing console. The singer is introduced as a silent silhouette against a brightly-lit window, and the camera catches her movements smoothly and gracefully. Though likely inspired by the ever-more-popular Surrealist works of the late 1920s and 1930s namely 'Un chien andalou (1929),' 'H2O (1929)' and 'The Blood of a Poet (1930)' I like this effort much better. It lacks the pretensions of its contemporaries, and has considerably more heart than I imagined possible for a work of surrealism.
At 20 minutes this is short enough to be seen by everyone. It
illustrates neatly that cinema by 1930 had already acquired a status as
art and entertainment combined.
This is very accessible art - and very Russian - the quick cut montage of sea and trees at the opening and its themes of existential loneliness and sentimentality that run throughout are quintessential characteristics of the Russian psyche, yet remain very easily accessible.
The key feature of the film though is the excellent soundtrack - it really is outstanding. The music by Alexis Arkhangelsky, who was himself an outstanding classical composer (His most performed piece is "Praise Ye The Name Of The Lord") is obviously Chopin and Prokofiev inspired with the alto, Mara Griy (The wife of the backer, so I understand), doing a wonderful job
Both Grigori Aleksandrov and of course Sergei Eisenstein would remain the two most influential Soviet directors right up to the 1950s.
It is interesting to note that this film was made just as Eisenstein was moving to Hollywood (He never made - the Hollywood powers under Pease simply wouldn't countenance a Soviet director - the plan was that he make Shaw's Arms & The Man).
Romance Sentimentale is grouped as avent-guarde with L'Age D'or (Which is still pretty disturbing nearly a century later) and Blood of the Poet but this is really avent-guadre poetry, a move from Dadaism and it's desire to shock into surrealism and a more introverted internal viewpoint. The ending a wonderful elegiac surprise and even though the film is experimental it remains truly mainstream in its vision overall.
If you get a chance to see it it is well worth the effort.
This film comes to us from director Sergei Eisenstein, best known for
his film "Battleship Potemkin". I am a bit unclear about why this film
was made in France when Eisenstein's previous work had been in Russia,
but I am sure there is a simple answer if I just looked into it.
This film is not nearly as polished as "Potemkin", and is very experimental. In fact, it is so experimental that I am unclear what the goal was. The only thing I really recall about it (and I only watched it two days ago) is plenty of footage of a dog and some wind.
I have seen the film classified as a comedy, which further confuses me, because I did not see anything really funny about it. Maybe I missed the point? This could be, because I am still trying to figure out what "sentimental romance" means in the context of this film... and I just do not get it.
Well, if one has to foreground an experience, that is when a work I
suppose is not terribly important, can have another medium illuminate
it for him. What I mean is that, while watching this short, I could
relate to it via Frank O'Hara's poetry, which owes a lot to and is
inspired by Rachmaninoff's music, which is akin to the film's
Perhaps words, as in poetry, can delineate better the import of camp one wants to give: O'Hara certainly could, but I am not certain how much was voluntary camp in this film. Lacking any knowledge of Russian, I could not appreciate the lyrics, and obviously a big part is lost for me.
Yet the impression of kitsch remains. Eizenstein's notebooks show us that his sketches were equally imbibed by a homosexual (camp) sensitivity, and an epic, mischievous scale of revolutionary, ahem, comradeship: that is what makes it for me a sly pleasure. But if I were to look for a film that combines high camp and artistic achievement, I would try elsewhere, say in "Lot in Sodom".
Well, here is a first. I just watched an "art film" and I didn't
totally hate it. In fact, in a very odd way, it was rather
compelling--though certainly NOT the type film I'd like to see very
often (if I did, I'd have to change my name to "Dieter" and move to
someplace chic, like Paris or Prague). This film by Grigori Aleksandrov
and Sergei M. Eisenstein was apparently commissioned by the husband of
the lady featured in this film.
To describe the film would be very hard, as it has no apparent plot or dialog, but here goes. In many ways, the film is like a combination of the Cocteau film BLOOD OF A POET, the paintings of Ansel Adams and a Russian music video. I know this all sounds strange and confusing, but this is pretty accurate. Until nearly the sixth minute, the film just shows bits of scenery here and there set to music. Then, scenes of a lovely Russian lady singing are inter-spiced into the film--along with some pointless images (such as the Cocteau inspired scene where the camera is run backwards as well as some star-bursts that an animator added in grand fashion towards the end). Aside from the pointless images, the film actually worked very well--a deft blending of moody music, images and camera-work--like something you might see in a modern art gallery. Not annoying and somewhat interesting (unlike BLOOD OF A POET).
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