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... For me anyway. I obviously haven't been doing my reading.
I had always assumed Eisenstein was a working-class Russian Jew. And a heterosexual obviously. With Einstein hair.
Now he turns out to be a professional class German from Riga, and a homosexual. Sheesh. But he did know Einstein, as well as every other famous early 20th century name.
Time to reassess that body of work.
Eisenstein directed Wagner's Die Walküre on stage. The video doesn't mention it, but Riga being an old Hanseatic city, Wagner had resided there amongst the Germans at one time.
If there's any deficiency in the documentary, it's an absence of politics. Purges? What purges? We don't need no stinkin' ...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While far from perfect, this documentary is of considerable value on
its own merits. The historical-political context of Eisenstein's work
is readily available, but his internal take on his evolution as an
artist is not. It is worth noticing the provenance of the documentary:
Italian director, Swiss producer -- i.e. a European take, outside the
bipolar US_USSR relations of the time (the Soviet war in Afghanistan).
It purports to be a visual "Cliff Notes" to his memoirs - so the source
material predates the Cold War. Written shortly before the director's
death, it could scarcely include commentary on the Stalin era, and by
now the mere mention of homosexuality attached to one of Russia's
cultural icons is "politically incorrect," to say the least.
I teach a course on "Foreign Film" and am most concerned with getting my students to look at visual matter through the eyes of others. I can provide a historical perspective, but this is one of the best supplements I have found so far.
How much value you find in this will depend on two things: the degree
to which you're interested in an artist's personal life, and the degree
to which you have a personal interest in Sergei Eisenstein. I'm not
much of an Eisensteinian myself, even though I will gladly watch his
major works -- "Battleship Potemkin," "Strike," "October," "Alexander
Nevsky," "Ivan the Terrible" parts one and two -- to get a good sense
of what it is he was after, and how he did it. He's a film pioneer
whose films still thrill -- think of how amazing that is. Consider the
person who created English grammar -- would you still want to read
that? Well, Eisenstein, if we move past Chaplin, Griffith, Edison, the
Lumieres, and Melies, essentially created modern film grammar, and film
is a language like any other. (Your views on how to use that grammar
may differ from Eisenstein, as mine do, but that doesn't change the
fact that he set a solid foundation for others to work on -- or away
The film is essentially a narration of Eisenstein's journals, and what's disappointing is that there's nothing very revealing about it. It's basically Eisenstein giving a brief summary of his childhood, how he got into films, what famous people he met, etc. (It's great to finally put to rest the common confusion of Einstein and Eisenstein -- he met the scientist, who gave him an autograph signed "from Einstein to Eisenstein.") And none of it is really very "secret," either: some remembrances of his films, and the briefest mention of "latent" homosexuality. (Funny that we learn Jean Cocteau was a fan, but the gay slant isn't touched upon.)
Knowing Eisenstein's satirical cartoonist past (and we get to see some of his cartoons, which are wonderfully grotesque) it's easy to see why he so revered Walt Disney; and it's not a claim that exists to be "shocking," this "propagandist" who likes animated features: he may well have been a propagandist, but he was foremost a stylist of spectacle -- the morality of what his films did or did not influence is really beside the point; he himself was reportedly surprised that in France his work was appreciated almost solely due to the socialist content; in America he was referred to as a "bandit." (And anyone who harbors notions of Eisenstein-the-evil will be glad to see a public announcement he makes against racial inequality.) For all the criticism Eisenstein gets for being too intellectual, too mechanical and technical (and it's a criticism I share), it's important to note that it was always tied to the art of the films. Perhaps the most interesting bit of information in the film is that he met James Joyce, who played him a recording of "Finnegans Wake," and how Eisenstein felt the "interior monologues" would have great use in cinema. 6/10
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