The Russian / soviet cinema made a huge contribution to cinema language with its theories, developed in the 1920’s. Universal cinema learned a lot with the edition of the experimental documentary films of Dziga Vertov, specially with The Man with a Movie Camera, with the montage theories of Vsevolod Pudovkin, the Kuleshov Effect created by Lev Kuleshov and with the cinema of Sergei Eisenstein.
Despite the fact that I don’t agree with their political position and their speeches, I’d have to say that they were dreamers. They believed in a better world, and that change was necessary to construct this perfect world and the revolution was the way to it. They believed that they could help to turn this into reality using cinema as a tool of teaching, of knowledge. But as Malevich thought, it was necessary create a new art, not the old bourgeois one, and since “there is no revolutionary art without revolutionary form” they searched for a new visual language using the power of the metaphor and analogy in their film montages.
The most important for us today is the Eisenstein’s Intellectual montage.
Eisenstein’s montage theories are based on the idea that montage originates in the “collision” between different shots in an illustration of the idea of thesis and antithesis. This basis allowed him to argue that montage is inherently dialectical, thus it should be considered a demonstration of Marxism and Hegelian philosophy. His collisions of shots were based on conflicts of scale, volume, rhythm, motion (speed, as well as direction of movement within the frame), as well as more conceptual values such as class.
If someone asked me what is his theory about I would say “it’s the junction of classic Hollywood narrative style developed by D. W. Griffith, with his knowledge of logic, his experience with theatre and the pictorial writing of Oriental languages, unleashing conflicts.” For him, the principle of edition had to be the contradiction, that is, the shock of opposite plastic values, both among successive planes and inside the shot.
Eisenstein deeply believed in the soviet government and its ideology, but his dream started to crumble a few years after Stalin took power. He tried to escape by creating a mission to spread communist ideas through Europe. He finished his travel in Mexico, getting a little rest, and making the excellent Que Viva Mexico!, but that wouldn’t be for long. He had to return to USSR and to a not so happy reality.
His utopic years, the twenties, were very fruitful. He made two visually exuberant masterpieces: The Battleship Potemkin (1925) and October (1927). The greatest propaganda films you are likely to find. October was one of two films commissioned by the Soviet government to honour the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution (the other was Vsevolod Pudovkin’s “The End of St. Petersburg“). Potemkin “has been called one of the most influential films of all time”, and it definitely is. TThe Odessa Steps sequence has been homage in innumerable films, including the Brian de Palma’s The Untouchables. Both silent films had the soundtrack added afterwards, brilliantly composed by Dmitri Shostakovich.
I could suggest some of Einsenstein’s books, and I am actually going to suggest two great books: Film Form: Essays in Film Theory and The Film Sense. However, cinema is a visual art: you must watch films to learn about film’s language, and to understand the theories. And I’m pointing to links where you can watch his films, and read a little more about them while you don’t buy the DVDs. I hope you enjoy.
– Dnevnik Glumova (Glumov’s Diary) (1923): video video.
– Stachka (Strike) (1925): article; video
– Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin) (1925): article; video; download
– Oktyabr (Ten Days That Shook the World) (1928): article; video
– Staroye i novoye (Old and New) (The General Line) (1929): video
– Romance sentimentale (Sentimental Romance) (1930): video
– Bezhin lug (Bezhin Meadow) (1937): video
– Aleksandr Nevskiy (Alexander Nevsky) (1938): article; video
– Ivan Groznyy (Ivan the Terrible) Part I (1944) and Part II (1946 / 1958): article; video Part 1 and Part 2
Read also: Rashomon and Fritz Lang’s M, more two great films available at Archive.
Obs.: caso alguns dos meus leitores se interesse, há um texto escrito em grupo, na época da faculdade, três ou quatro anos atrás, sobre Eisenstein em PDF: Eisenstein: arte e política.