Release date Spring 2021
Eisenstein and the Russian Avant-garde - Eisenstein, Ivan the Terrible and overtones of the Renaissance
The main thesis of the film is the connection and influence of the Russian avant-garde on Eisenstein and his work. I believe this is a much neglected theme of Eisenstein's work. It has been dealt with by Vacheslav Ivanov in his book The Aesthetics of Eisenstein and to some extent by Dassia N. Posner in her book The Directors Prism. The film will explore the idea that Eisenstein was influenced by the experiments of the avant-garde both visually and in and those in literature and that these influences show up in his work over and over again. They are almost inescapable once you begin to think along these lines.
I am working on a sequence which will illustrate this point. Below are two photographs, A still from Ivan the Terrible and a photograph of one of Alexander Rodchenko's constructivist sculpture with Rodchenko standing in the background. At first glance It may seem an implausible and superficial connection i.e. that Eisenstein may have used such an image or had it mind when he shot this scene. However Eisenstein's own theories and practice make supports such an idea. Eisenstein in his texts often discusses how art progresses. In his view there is a process where an image in a second painting for example of a given artist might leap out of a previous painting in a ecstatic sequence of movement where paintings and objects stretch out of one image on a given canvas into another in the painters next canvas giving the impression of movement and dynamism if ones attention is focused on this process. He illustrates this in his famous article about Piranesi and his two drawings the Dark Dungeon and the Dungeon.
As I began working on the film it struck me that this idea can be applied in many different ways in reference to Eisenstein and the Russian Avant-garde. That is that this process not just appeared as a process within his films but we can perceive this process of Eisenstein borrowing from many sources including the avant-garde. It is not inconceivable that we ourselves can make such connections in a process of reverse engineering.
In this image Eisenstein draws us into his own contemporary world and Ivan's world as well. Here are examples of Eisenstein's methods coalesced into one image. Here he draws us into Ivan's dreams for Russia, contemplating Russia's place in the the world and the Cosmos , world history and the universe. It is both an image of humanism and science as well as an image of power though the chess image. The shadowy forms of Ivan and the armillary are mirrored and doubled to draw attention to these ideas which could not be expressed directly or openly. I do not used the word "openly" as if Eisenstein had to hide something from censors although he did but it is more that these ideas are not easily expressed however open and free the limits of expression. Eisenstein was expressing not just forbidden ideas but difficult ideas, ephemeral and intangible, ideas which are not easily grasped or defined. Even when we read Machiavelli today we are unsure of his meaning and what he is asking us to believe. Much like Shakespeare in the Tempest, he is dealing with intangible thoughts and ideas, Eisenstein is linking his audience to the past. He is inviting us to make an intellectual judgement about a specific idea and to analyse it through his art.
In what does this apparent "hiddenness" consist? This is what occupied Eisenstein in his theories about cinema and aesthetics. It is the path from irrationalism to rationalism and the intimate relationship between the two states. This path or journey will be explored in a further blogpost.