Eisenstein: Revolutionary and International Modernist

Morris, Nigel (2020) Eisenstein: Revolutionary and International Modernist. Modern Humanities Research Association Yearbook of English Studies: “Back to the Twenties: Modernism Then and Now”, 50 . ISSN 0306-2473

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Abstract

Early Soviet filmmakers’ relationship with modernism, like that of film generally, is problematic. Yet Sergei Eisenstein’s challenging productions utilised Constructivist and Eccentrist principles evolved from pre-revolutionary Futurism and Symbolism. Core to the project of the Moscow State Film School, they were lauded internationally as avant-garde before distribution and exhibition difficulties, matters of taste, and politics compromised their accessibility, reputation and broader appeal. Piecemeal publication of Eisenstein’s translated writings have continued to maintain his centrality as a theorist whose insights, particularly into montage as a structuring principle, extend beyond cinema. This chapter argues for recognition of Eisenstein’s centrality to modernism, even though the term is imprecise, does not necessarily embrace most films, and is complicated by the political context, mass address, and status as propaganda of his output. It identifies affinities in his work with modernist Western literature, about which Eisenstein was highly knowledgeable, such as his attempt to realise interior monologue audio-visually. Having already completed his most formally experimental projects, he worked and travelled extensively in the West, and met leading writers, artists, and other intellectuals. This was during the height of modernist creativity, a period that nevertheless also saw consolidation of Stalinist dogma in the USSR as well as frustration of serious artistic ambitions for cinema everywhere with commercial imposition of expensive and unimaginatively conceived sound techniques. In particular, the proto-modernist influence of Walt Whitman on Eisenstein’s vision is traced through the American ‘city symphony’ short film Manhatta by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler.

Keywords:Soviet film, Constructivism, Futurism, Symbolism, Eccentrism, Moscow State Film School, avant garde, montage, theory, propaganda, interior monologue, Stalin, city symphony, Manhatta, Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler, Walt Whitman
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P303 Film studies
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q200 Comparative Literary studies
W Creative Arts and Design > W631 History of Cinematics
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V225 Russian History
T Eastern, Asiatic, African, American and Australasian Languages, Literature and related subjects > T720 American Literature studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V146 Modern History 1920-1949
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q321 English Literature by period
Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q320 English Literature
T Eastern, Asiatic, African, American and Australasian Languages, Literature and related subjects > T700 American studies
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Film)
ID Code:38394
Deposited On:06 Nov 2019 16:13

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