Dwight Macdonald on film; Eisenstein and 1920s Soviet cinema
One of the curious things about the sentiment is the rabbit thing of the time span in which things happen and if it is here you'll have a school which really only began in 1925 and was suddenly chopped off by style and 1929. Formalism was the great sin. And in the movies montage which was the one main aesthetic quality of the Soviet silent cinema was singled out as being the worst kind of family as if it was strictly forbidden. And the model which all these great brilliant directors were obliged to adapt themselves to rise Hollywood and not the Hollywood of the Chaplin petang Griffith style Hahn. But the Hollywood out of beta male and much wiser than he and the Hollywood in fact of the early primitive talking films. You are listening to Dwight McDonald on film. During the past
decade Mr. McDonald has been perhaps the senior critic among American film critics and during this past year he was distinguished visiting professor of film history and criticism at the University of Texas. These programs were drawn from that lecture series the topic for this program is so gay Eisenstein and the Soviet cinema of the 20s and now once again here is white MacDonald. Now. Tend either the product of the one brief period and history when arts and that is where a lot of the leafy. And therefore they flourished in a relative sense anyway. Now this period which lasted from 21 to 29. It was the golden age of cell culture which is what ironical because it was a one period when I really wanted so. Damned consistent about that so called communism and so on. It was a period of great avant garde experimentation and all the arts and
you had painters and sculptors like Gaby and I should have it convinced me that they were all that there. Actually they had all gone abroad by the middle twenties because even in this relatively free period the political control was too much for them. But anyway they were working at that time. You had poets like Maya KOSKY Yes and then Mandelstam Pasternak all of these are still the big names and so we have the theatre was extremely lively. Maya how to. Catch a cough. There was a montage of an expressionist theatre in which any means are used for the utmost expression of the mood of the emotion regardless of classical traditions forms and so on. Now Eisenstein was a young man at the beginning of this period. He was trained as an engineer. Odd enough he took part in the 1979 revolution himself and he observed himself more important in the Eyrie 20s
he decided that he was more interested in the theater and went into the theater as a designer and then later as a director. And he immediately became famous because he was a genius at this kind of thing. He designed sets for production of hot brick houses and then he began to plan his own what he called the acrobatic theater which was based on the aesthetics of the circus. He was always fascinated by the circus. And he also clowned a great deal too. He loved to put on bizarre costumes and. Clown around as we send out tramp around in 1924 he directed and designed a play called gas masks and staged it in an actual gas factory to make it more realistic and also to make it more abstract. And this was a very famous production. But this experience led him to the cinema as an art where you could have a freedom and scope of staging and of expressionism that's impossible in the theatre and also
where I had come closer to actuality these two contradictory things come all the time in his films and indeed in the how Soviet silent cinema and the one hand you have extreme stylization and formalization on the other hand you have this pressing towards the most extreme kind of actuality realism and time out later. The COT collapsed and I fell into the movies in 1924 the same year he made his first film called strike which is brilliant but it's an apprentice work it's. Like some of his earlier films. But the next year he made Potemkin which was the first and still one of the greatest masterpieces of the Soviet cinema. And now after Potemkin a great number of other masterpieces were made in this period which is very brief. One of the curious things about the cinema is the gravity of the time span in which things happened. Here you have a school which
really only began in 1925 and was suddenly chopped off by its style and 1929. So that's five years not very long and yet what i series of things will produce not only Eisenstein's film but adoptions of Asia and of St. Petersburg. Because it is the new Babylon. Yes and of cause and richness of production then the whole thing ended abruptly and 29 as I said when Stalin achieved complete power. He then instituted the doctrine of what he calls socialist realism and such as really doesn't doesn't mean realism it means realism which is used in the service of what I call the ideals of socialism which we really met in the saviors of the politics of the bureaucrats who had taken prowl the Soviet Union. That is of the Stalin quick eye really realistic picture which fighters show how life really was like in the 30s
under Stalin would have been absolutely forbidden. On the other hand what was called formalism was also forbidden. That is you have to really put sort of sugary way while civic positive mottos into movies and literature. You have to illustrate them by a technique which cannot have any traces of originality or experiment or freshness or anything except the flattest kind of thinking crowds to realize them in this formal sense. And so therefore what this amounted to was that the Russian writer artist movie magic a musician. That he was prohibited by social them from doing the only two things that you're going to do and do anything of any interest and one of them is to shower the reality of the life of your time to try to get under the surface show how things really are that's one. And the other thing that you can do is to create a work of art and its own times and according to some
new or original ideas bent as they call development of English literature. Joyce would have been brought of it had to repeat dickens you know he had to do something of his own and so does every creator have to do it. But this was forbidden to formalism was the great sin and in the movies montage which was the one main aesthetic quality of the Soviet silent cinema was singled out as the worst kind of formalism. It was strictly forbidden. And the model which all these great brilliant directors were obliged to adapt themselves to was Hollywood and not the Hollywood of Chaplin. But the Hollywood Beda Mel and much worse than he and the Hollywood in fact of the early primitive talking films none of them that he did much with it they kept making movies but they went very good. So anyway this as you might imagine this doctrine did not ever
produce anything except a lot of. Pain and suffering to the oddest and writers and movie magazine florist in the. 20s and a very different atmosphere. Well actually I just I was the only one that survived a little bit. He suffered the most also because he was most prominent target because his movies were formal indeed. But he had it he behaved quite badly badly in a way. Actually the profile of it he was a very believed in in all this and he really believed in Stalin and in a wry I suppose he wasn't being dishonest but he certainly crawl on his belly a number of time. He was finally reinstated and allowed the Magen 39 Alexander Nevsky. This is just before they packed it in. Found Hitler packed but it was just one time when the Popular Front when Stalin found policy was directed against Nazi Germany. And I was on the evil of the musk of a prince who had
organized his nation to withstand the invasion of the Teutonic Knights from Germany so it was a very apropos theme and he produced ours and then we would think it would be hopeless. He gave up completely montage. He knew we had to do that but he substituted for it the most elaborate kind of staging cost Amine and the most strange kind of photography he saw that it really is a very interesting film to watch is not anywhere near as good as any of them but it is an interesting film and then of course I have on the tower part one to come along write it which are also quite fascinating from this point of view. Well after Stalin death the kind of thought of as you know it still continues. But cinema has not gained the level of the 20s. Now for instance there was a marvelous thing the wonderful thing that happened I mean a revealing thing a couple years ago when they have these international film festivals in Moscow and this was the second one I think it was about two years ago and
a half was one of the candidates for the grand prize. So they have this film festival there's an international film festival so they naturally have to have Western films John and also they have to have Western Joris. So what happened was this follows the six people from the West to join us from the west and this by the West I just mean politically because one of the most from Japan another one's from India but anyway from the so-called West all voted for the half. But they were in a minority. And I would have normally been I voted and then all of the Eastern Bloc jurors who were in a majority you know one of them after another got up and made these asinine speeches you know this is corrupt decadent and so forth and so on and the Western journalist finally said but you're judging this on political grounds not artistic grounds. And we are going to walk out. Well they didn't have to walk out because what happened then was that one of the other jurors the 9:00 Eastern Joe was a Czech delegate got up and said
privately I'm for eight and a half. But they said we can't rope for it so I'll have to vote against it. So he said this right out loud right now after this year now. What could I do. I mean I mean there was nothing to be done except let them give the prize to. Now cause I've often wondered about that check. He couldn't have been as naive and innocent as that. He must have known what he was doing out of talking to do this to him to expose the whole thing. In fact you're not a good soul just like that in war this is a kind of US Crikey and just you know he's that well I'd like to vote for it but I would let me do it. Well anyway so they had to give a day and a half but then who is the official party any ologist. You said denounce the I don't have as mayor but full of bitterness and hopelessness and reaffirmed the Leninist principle of closeness between Autum people. Which remains for us the Holy of
Holies. There cannot be any question of any departure from this principle to continue our creative intelligentsia including movie makers stand on this correct position of the party and you still have to struggle against those right here are you not must be prosecuted. I'm sleeping product area and vigilant. So there's a case that you may have even penetrated to the Austin pipe as it must be very well known. These send you ask me down you case these two riders that last summer rested on the charge that I had been disseminating novels and short stories abroad which were hostile to the Soviet Union and had been using pseudonyms. I had been using pseudonyms but the rest of it doesn't seem. Doesn't seem true. Anyway they were convicted and they were given savage sentences of seven and five years respectively at hard labor and labor kept Now this is this is almost a death sentence. And this appalled the world as I played some part.
You know not only just a critic of LBJ and great democracy over here I'm also a critic of the there of LBJ is over there. I mean I was the one in this country that got together a protest of 18 American writers of some eminence and sent even wrote him a letter in fact about that didn't do any good. Unfortunate but anyway I felt very strongly about this case and. Interesting enough one of the leaders of the public demonstration in Moscow are mostly students but one of them one of the open leaders who took part in it and marched and so on in favor of these two writers who were then just under arrest. Anyway one of them was the son of this yes and the power of the 20s that I mentioned before. But anyway I guess I one of the things about human life is that it does keep on it. It continues and the fact that yes a son should now be involved in this is
encouraging it shows a certain continuity here and shows you also how that you can't stamp out the human spirit no matter what you do. Of course they post on regimes are more civilized of course than Stalin that wouldn't be hot he was a gang gets caught Red Queen off with your head and so on. But anyway I get one of the things that devises an interesting throwback to the practice of the most reactionary 19th century Nicholas the first in the first part of the century. Who used to sentence writers who expressed her radical views. He used to send them not to jail but to the insane asylum. And in fact to die after about a very famous. Early political protest in the 1830 a south side I have spent five or six years in the booby hatch because it was assumed they must be crazy if he objects to this. The government design it was a farce and they're doing exactly the same thing now in fact it is yes and then
it has just come out of a few weeks in the insane asylum and some of us followers were put into it. This is a value. Well I suppose it's better to non-scientists on him than in a prison but that's about all you can say but now getting down to the movies or getting back to the movie. Ten days that shook the wild. It's called October and in Russia. After this historical excursion. Since this is kind of a basic film I mean this is a film which is more a movie unless anything else and probably any film that you'll see in this course or almost anywhere else. Let's sort of begin at the beginning. Every movie is a succession of still photographs printed on a continuous reel of film that runs through the projector and a light behind the film projects the images on the screen. Now each image are sometimes called frame or shot. Is obviously
slightly different than the one before I show as the action in a more advanced stage and as they go along. That's the way you get the illusion of motion. Now is there a photography in my opinion is not an OTT but a craft craft because I'm contrasted not with the cinema which I think is an art. For two reasons first of all it's not complicated enough there are enough possibilities of variation in it. And secondly the artist doesn't have enough control over it. The machine is too prominent. And this is why the best exhibition of photographs to my eye anyway is never as interesting as a rather mediocre exhibition of drawings and paintings. There's something very tiresome about seeing and photographed in an art museum at least there is for me. Does it because the tendency is for the photographer a still photographer to make up for this lack of control and of complexity by exaggerated camera angle dramatic kind of developing all kinds of tricks with the subject matter
framing it in a certain way that well you get the point right away in the face second and you can't go back to it you see one of those about a work of art and you got to be able to go back again and again and you can't go back then. It's not a successful interaction as a work of rut. Now made a very interesting statement having to do with this difference between this essential difference between still photography and the movies. You said I claimed that every object is a dead object even though it has moved before the comma for movement before the comma is not movement before the screen. There is no more than raw material for the future building up of the real movement. Which is out of time by the assemblage of the various types of film by montage. Only if the object be related to other objects. Only if it be presented as part of a synthesis of different separate visual images. Is it endowed with life. Every object must by at the Montage be brought upon a screen so that it shall
have not photographic but Cinemark the graphic meaning editing of the basic creative force by power. Which to solve last photographs are engineered into living forms. And this is the difference between an exhibition of still photographs and a movie. If I do that otherwise I just have one material for a movie. Now the movie director in one sense has less control than a still photographer in a sense that the movies are collective and he's naturally dependent on all kinds of actors and technicians whose behavior can't be complete you can try out. But he shares with a pint or other composer a writer I medium which allows for enough variety and subtlety and flexibility to make it possible for him to realize not just the narrow and impressionable statement of a craftsman but the broader question of the expression of the artist. He
has three advantages with a still photographer. All connected with motion Feist is movement in front of the camera before the camera. And most obvious kind and it's impossible to avoid even a Hollywood film can have a certain amount of movement in front of the camera. Now the second kind is movement. All of the cameras throughout and good times perhaps the most interesting kind which is arranged in a scene so that they interact and build up a rhythm or structure that's constantly in motion constantly developing the way a musical composition develops. In fact. This is a film that carries montage to its outermost it really is Money Time. As a historical spec to go into the literature only by war and peace I don't mean to compare it with war and peace actually one piece. Is a much greater achievement I think than this is but this is in a cinematic times comparable to it. Eisenstein has had a very special view of montages which is he sat on his right to elliptical style and you
must read it rather slowly when you read it. I shot a single piece of cellulite a small rectangular frame was somehow organized into what a bit of an event. Sticking to each other these shots for months and then it says. A most pernicious method of analysis. The How to a special idea of month times as coming out clearly. One in which the understanding of a process as a whole is derived merely from the external characteristics of a piece is stuck to a piece. The shot is not an element among the shot as a montage sell. By what then is cock devised montage and consequently its sell by collision. By conflict of two pieces stand in opposition to each other by conflict by collision. This was where his kind of montage differs from that of the other Russians. And from a sheet of notepaper on a mysterious linkage shock. This is the material price of a hot
engagement on a subject between myself and people going about a year ago. This is established order at regular intervals he comes to me late at night and we argue behind closed doors on subjects of principle. Here as before heading from a cooler shop schoolie heatedly defended the conception of montage as a linkage of pieces into a chain. Bricks. Bricks by means of their rows now rank in a concept I confront him with my point of view a montage as collision of you point out from the collision of two given factors arise as a concept. That last sentence is a very profound one. The difference is that a concept among what he called dialectical two contradictory shocks. Are clashing with each other in and out of this clash comes I synthesis than otherwise the dialectic is the thesis the antithesis. From the conflict of which comes sentences which is not just a sum of the two parts but something quite
different a new kind of thing. In other words he thought that by he thought that the succeeding shot can interact on each other and that out of this is thought of dialectical out of this collision centers as are I different a third thing which is not the sum of the two shots at all if they are in proper conflict with each other whereas But the concept was the more ordinary kind which I designed called a linkage montage in which as I put the clash of the two shots degenerate into one of them following after the other. I think he compares it to the big when you have a shop impact of the cueball on the other ball this is across a. Primitive illustration of the dialectics because these two come together in and out of that comes the third thing where the one of the balls goes. Whereas in put options. It's just following each other in a way
the bases of every odd is always conflict I think you live by complex drama. This got the attention and a lot for it to be of interest. If it goes one way. If the collision is the graded into simply going on as I might like a very poor ball that doesn't really smack into the other one I broke the same way. Then you don't have drama as. The principle of optical counterpoint. Now there are other characteristics of the school of film. When I was cross composition within this shot or within the frame. Put African is very good on this. To distribute the material shot and its movements in the rectangle of the picture in such a way that everything is clearly and choppy apprehensible to construct every composition and such a right at the right angled boundaries of the screen do not disturb the composition found but perfectly contain it. That is the achievement towards which film directors strive now all great directors from Griffith
to Fellini and Kurosawa. Have been sensitive to this through photographic value camera angles lighting and composition. The Sensuous element in the cinema you might call it whereas montage might be called the intellectual element. The structural element. Another activist because of this cinema of the late 20s was craving a last crackly for reality. I didn't use that. I took most of the things out there was and when I took them in as they tried to thank them and things or in this case and powers and so on. No professional actors were generally use the masses and acted up their own drama. Eisenstein's I was away from realism to reality from the studio with that in the professional actor to the original price and price and a 30 year old actor may be called upon to plan a man of sixty. You may have a few days or a few hours of rehearsal
but an old man of 50 will have had 60 years of rehearsal. Doubt in fact intend to put a class in logic I mean sound logical is not in fact a good act of 20 can certainly impersonate an old man of sixty much better than a man of sixty can. And a bad actor 60. Another characteristic was that you'll see all the way through this was the symbol of the visual matter for. The use of the quotes up to emphasize the meaning and the rhythm of the drama. Everything is reduced to comedy in these movies including the actors production says the man photographed as only raw material for the future composition of his image in the form of an editing as I don't believe in stock as my main characters in a movie made after this call are old and new about the collectivization of Agriculture and what you actually managed to get a certain amount of drama into such a you would think a hopeless subject
milk separator. Not about the milkmaid was an actual note made. Not a pretty one either but in this case she did act beautifully and she went back to being a milkman in fact as he was also supposed to get pregnant in the film and she did get pregnant in real life as Avatar rather she should get pregnant in the room but I was really pregnant. So then you have this combination of extreme out to out the real actors and out of her salad. And note that the way DOD official you are now if you divide it it's come some ot of fact as opposed to FAS and it has the root OT in it and so to be artificial is not necessarily to be bad. Anyway you have this peculiar combination of reality and the artificial. I thought I was and I would call it the
dialectical unity of opposites. At the mocks his face would anyway. Adoption sums it all up he says the material of the film director consists not a real process is happening in real space in real time but of those pieces of satellite on which these processes have been recorded when others are obvious and quite obvious but it's amazing how the people can forget these things. Between a natural event and it's apparent on a screen there was a mock defense. It is exactly this that makes the film an OT. You have been listening to Dwight McDonald on film. In this programme Mr McDonald has discussed Sergei Eisenstein and the Soviet cinema of the 20s. These programmes were drawn from Mr. MacDonald's lecture series during his recent tenure as distinguished visiting professor of film history and criticism at the University of Texas. This series was produced by a communications center the University of Texas for national educational radio producer for the
series. Bill Jordan Bill Miller speaking. This is NPR National Educational Radio Network.
- Dwight Macdonald on film
- Producing Organization
- University of Texas
- KUT (Radio station : Austin, Tex.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- Sergei Eisenstein and the Soviet Cinema of the 1920s.
- Series Description
- Series of lectures by Dwight Macdonald on film: its makers, its history, its future.
- Film and Television
- Media type
Announcer: Miller, Phil
Producer: Jordan, Bill
Producing Organization: University of Texas
Producing Organization: KUT (Radio station : Austin, Tex.)
Speaker: Macdonald, Dwight
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-16-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Dwight Macdonald on film; Eisenstein and 1920s Soviet cinema.” 1967-03-27. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-cf9j7t1t>.
- APA: Dwight Macdonald on film; Eisenstein and 1920s Soviet cinema. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-cf9j7t1t