Sergei M. Eisenstein: A Film Editing As Aesthetic Category

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Sergei M. Eisenstein: A Film Editing As Aesthetic Category

1. A short biography:

Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstain (1897-Rig, 1948-Moskva), comes from a family with a father-architect and a mother-ballerina. Since his early childhood he shows interest in art and science. He spends the most of his time in his father’s library – one of the largest in USSR in that time. After he abandons the Engineering Institute in Petrograd, he applies and successfully signs on the State Film Institute. In that time he participates in the organizing of so called Agitpoezda, the agitation trains through USSR. After that, Eisenstein begins with the intensive scientific work on the subjects of theatre and film theory. In 1935 he begins his first sound film Bjelinski lug.
The fundamental identity of his life, art and revolution is the deepest essence of his artistic and theoretical appearance. That essence makes the synthesis that determines the direction of his philosophical, ideological and aesthetic horizons of his theories.
The very distinctive characteristics of his, are the subject of interests by many biographers, and every one of them comes up with the different view on his life and work. But in essence, they all incline on a romantic/idealistic understanding of this great individual. Here are just some of them: Mary Seaton, Dominique Fernandez, John Barnam, Victor Shklovski and others. But, the most relevant are his own views for himself and his work that he published in his Memoirs. His idea to write his biography in a form that is typical with the fragmentary essence, came to him in 1942 – when the whole Soviet cinematography is evacuated on Alma-Ata.
His Memoirs has a great deal of a rhetorical aspect, especially in his attitude on his term of film editing and fragment. It’s obvious that he wanted this deed to unite (in a quite sinewy form) a few themes through the narrative character, with the “alloys” of a subtle analyses on the psychology of the art creation: the author and his themes, the true suffering of the creation, etc.
In 1946 he’s very ill, immobile in a Kremlin Hospital, and at the same time overflowed with a great honors – he works on his Memoirs, which will never be finished entirely. According an unpublished letter of Kulieshov, we can find out that the great artist dedicated his last hours of his life – not to his memoirs, but to the numerous theoretical projects on the issues of directing, the method and such. And also, that he lived – then – in the virtual space of his unwritten postscriptum.
Prokofiev will present to the public Eisenstein’s last words: “My life is over; there’s time only – a postscriptum to be written”.
The last fragment of his Memoirs is titled – PS.PS.PS

2. The film editing as an aesthetic category

The film editing is a term to signify an art procedure in the cinematography. Its first appearance is in the 20’s of this century. Since then, the principles of the film editing are the subject of many researches and rethinking by many theoreticians – as a result of the film art dynamic development. After the appearance of the American director Griffith, the Russian director Lev Kulieshov starts to use the advantages of the film editing, applying them onto the Soviet cinematography. To be exact: in 1916 he inaugurates this phenomenon as a – basic cinematography mean. He’s followed by Pudovkin and Eisenstein, individuals who will – later – rethink this phenomenon theoretically. Sergei Eisenstein especially.
The idea of the film editing as a system of emotional effects upon the recipient is first developed by Eisenstein, in his article A film editing attraction, in 1923. Here, he gives the theoretical explanation on the theatre line of the Proletcult, the theater in which he used to work at that time. At the same year, he has his first independent directing in the theater Wiseman, on the A.N.Ostrovski’s comedy A car of the wisdom, the two inanities. He replaces the acting with acrobatic exhibitions, and he uses the program of attractions. The short-meter film Dnevnik glumova has its projection during the show, with the specific pass-over from one to another way of expression. The same art-procedure is used in his drama Moscow, do you hear? Theoretically, Eisenstein explains the editing attraction as a free editing composed by randomly chosen and independent attractivities that are functioning even out of that composition, but with the precise orientation to one final thematic effect.
After this article, Eisenstein continually works on deepening and processing of his own understanding of film editing. His novelty in this is that he doesn’t understands the editing only as a technical and constructive art-procedure, but – as prime – as a fundamental aesthetic category. In his researches he analyses and processes (into a system) the principles and the laws of film editing. His goal is to develop the culture of editing, by the creative involvement of the recipient. He comes to this definite and concrete aesthetic category formulation through his own, rich film experience. He – theoretically – formulates it in his book Film editing in 1938:
The Part A, which is taken from the elements of the developing theme, and the Part B, also taken from the same developing theme, in opposition one to another – they make a picture that clearly gives the theme’s contents. In the form of imperative: the Picture A and the Picture B should be found and selected among all of the possible developing-theme characteristics. So their confronting (and not the confronting of any other elements) will provoke the recipient for the full and thorough image of the theme.
This Eisenstein’s definition, understood as dialectic opposition, is present in any dramaturgy. According to him, the editing presents organic part of any art. He uses this term in doubled meaning: in architectonic context (most direct) as a constructing of a building, and in wider sense as a revaluation of the life and the thinking both. So, it becomes obvious that his inclination is towards an achieving the coherence and homogeneity. Observed in a wider social context, this idea seems realized in his so-called revolution trilogy: Strike – 1924, The Armory Potemkin – 1925, October – 1927, and then in his film Old and New – 1927; on a patriotic level in Alexander Nevski, and as a political problem in Ivan Grozni.
The film October presents a quite good marker for an intellectual film. In a wider sense of the word it would comprehend the mean of the philosophical thinking that integrates the concrete documentarism as a fact with the historical and theoretical generalizing. The intellectual and philosophy film grows from the editing attraction. To show the idea that will present the social-psychological orientation of the artist upon the emotional influence basis of distant rhythmical parts, Eisenstein – through this film – discovered new possibilities of the film art. The new possibility is shown through the fact that the intellectual editing becomes an expression of that law of thinking among which the thought logic briefly repeats the logic of history. Accordingly, the intellectual editing becomes the expression, both of the logical and the historical experience. Namely, in October, the documentary material makes the basic path; the events are shown in a condensed manner, and by the editing – those events are always metaphorically emphasized. The rapidly evolving dynamic of the Revolution is accented and semantically enlarged by the constant acceleration of scene replacement and changes, in a dialectical manner, starting with the both antagonistic extremes, and finishing with the catharsis of the triumph of the proletariat as the story reconciliation.
Eisenstein belongs with the group of those artists who stand with the attitude that in the Marxist’s state – the art is the primary factor that will enrich the culture, in accordance with the mind and nature. So, he emphasizes the discovering of the dialectic philosophy-logic relation as a meaningful particularity in the creating of the art character. According to him, the thought isn’t built by deduction, but by the presenting of scene/composition art-figures. And also, he thinks that this is the only way for editing to become the specific expression of art and philosophy thinking, walking the way of dialectical laws. According to this, here emerges the statement that Eisenstein is interested in the natural phenomena and the nature of human action – on a higher philosophical level.
In his theoretical researches he developed some kind of a particular philosophy of the film art: that by the means of the screen can be expressed the thesis of Marx about the revolutionary praxis – the unity of the individual and the people. In that way, Eisenstein emphasizes the social function of the film. His theory of an intellectual film, in a wider context means a philosophical rethinking of reality itself. He intended to make a film serial according this presumptions. His notes for film-version of Marx’s Capital says enough how far he goes – beyond the general understanding of the intellectual editing, in fact. Namely, he enlarges the perspective of the presenting the scientific and historical truth. In the film, according Eisenstein, a short history fragments and contents – in a form of stories – should be included; as example: somebody’s ordinary day, for instance. Following the logic of dialectics, at the end of those consequent stories row – should be the last story (film episode) that will go out of the history framework, in order to define the history itself. In that way, he gives a birth of the intellectual editing formula, so (with a simplification) he can name the new term tha~t emerges from the struggle of the sequent scenes. He reaches his intention to find such film means that he can explore even the most abstract ideas – through the editing: the images of distant and strange countries, as China and North America, for instance.
A wider application of the editing in the literature comes in the period between 20’s and 30’s, by the film art influence. In the real meaning of the world, the editing helps the real place of the man in the world to be found. In that way, its development in this context is closely linked with the development of the socialist and left-oriented literature. Anyway, the editing becomes the active element that fulfils the concept and the vision of the author.
In Soviet literature, the use of the editing as an art procedure is linked with the general change of style. In the era of Russian avant-garde – the artist – rejecting the principle of mimesis in literature, starts to develop and use a new constructive principle in building of the literature structure. The editing is one of the most characteristic art means of the avant-garde constructivism and multi-semantics built by confronting the various semantic values. The avant-garde itself, links this art procedure with the new film art. Some theoreticians consider the principle of editing as a crucial in the avant-garde theory in general. Yuri Tynanov and Victor Shklovski will give their tribute to the enrichment of the editing theory. In the basics of cinematography, in 1927, they will note that – the editing doesn’t represent only the connection among the scenes, but their placing in yuxta-position. Namely, that’s a differential change of the scenes, which are placed among each other in the various types of relations.
In 1923, the interactivity among the literature text and the theatre, as like the editing of the authentic texts within the literature text, is characteristic for Boris Pilnack. Naked Valley, the author uses the rich documentary material edited as an authorial text, confronting different history eras. The editing itself, here has got a role of an organization method. Sergei Tretiakov creates so-called theory of facts that will help him to make changes in the function and understanding of the socialist literature. The facts organized with the editing procedure are placed as an opposite of the fiction. This is a period in the Soviet literature when it becomes to develop out of the canonized one, and the editing in that sense is acting vividly against the traditional literature gender hierarchy. In the magazine Novij Lef in 1928, Tretiakov will say – “The newspapers are our epics”.
The principle of editing is significant in the Meyerhold’s deed also. The characteristic example is his adaptation of Woods by Ostrovski (1928), were the author-director splits the continuing action of four acts to a 33 consequential episodes. With this procedure is released an opportunity – the homogeneity and the primal assumptions of the chronotop – to be broken. To fulfill this, he chooses the editing of attractions, on which the success of his play lays.
In 1934, Pudovkin, about this play, will say – “The editing at Meyerhold, trying to provoke the emotion on the recipient, frames every act into a scene moments. Their purpose is to show the new contents wanted by the contemporary recipient, by the theatre means”.
From the views of the understanding that all the different types of art are just variations of one and only art process, in the constructive doctrine of Russian avant-garde are many examples on the art interactivity. As first – there is the cooperation between Mayakovski, Malevic and Meyerhold on their project of the scene presentation of Mayakovski’s deeds; as second – the cooperation of Shklovski with the film workers and his special interest in film art. In this context, the Eisenstein’s interest for the literature structures is of a great meaning.
But Eisenstein, considering the use of the editing procedure by the literature left wing, stood on the statement that they breed the other extreme. Experimenting with the film tape, he saw a novelty that won’t be exceeded long years afterwards. That novelty is in the fact that when two images are placed one by the other, they inevitably join in a new identity. That’s not only cinematography characteristic, but a phenomenon that can be found everywhere – where opposition of two phenomena exists.
The way that merging of two phenomena appears, by Zamiatin is called architectonics, and in the film language – it’s the editing. The success that the Soviet cinematography achieves in that time of avant-garde, according the Romanian theoretician Bal Balaz, is with the later date. Eisenstein, disputing this, will say that the Soviet cinematography starts to opportune the western individualism much earlier. In that context a three aspects can be emphasized: down with the individual characters; down with the individual line of events; and down the personification of the film in the individual scene.
Eisenstein considers the avant-garde cinematography period for the first literature period linked with the incoming of the new era of cinematography, the time when it enclose to the language itself. Very intentionally, he will claim this upon the language of Isaac Babel, collaborator of the LEF magazine: the understanding of the film belongs to the second literature period, in the phase of enclosing the symbolic of the language, and the speech. The symbolic is, in its essence, the material signifier. With their opposition – a kind of a poetic image is created, and that’s nothing else but a contextual opposition, namely: the editing.
Further, he goes even beyond that, related to his statements about the principle of editing, and he will say: If Emil Zola is the greatest methodological school for the cinematographers, because we can read his pages as editing sheets, then in that manner, of the contemporary writers, there are Babel and Fedortcenko. They are the supporting anthology for the new film-picturesque, term that now incomes into the film language.
At the same time, in Western Europe, the left-oriented progressive theatre is in strong development, where the editing principle becomes the leading element. Its influence among the structure of the drama is primary. It understands the constructive-technical basis within, which leads to specific art solutions like the simultaneous decoration, the scene construction and the introducing of the photography and the photo editing. The great experiments in the theatre made by Piscator and Brecht in the 20’s and 30’s are unthinkable without the technical achievements of the editing. The appearance of this important art element and his development should be primarily viewed in a narrow relation with the art function changes, which primary goal is enlightening and transformation of the reality. With that, the reality will gain new qualitative meanings and contents.
Eisenstein puts the accent, in his theory assumptions about the editing, on the fact that the editing as a principle exists even before the invention of the film: in the El Greko’s Japanese paintjobs, in the deeds of Pushkin, Dickens, Tolstoy, Flauber and others. So is with the photography, he claims. Alexander Rodchenko, in the NOVIJ LEF (1928) magazine, will dedicate pages where he will precise the task of the photography: the contemporary man must learn to see from other and different angles. The photo editing as an art procedure exists since the XIX century, in the advertise-entertainment genres, upon the principles of contrast, but its real influence begins in XX century upon the deeds of the Dadaists, the Constructivists, and the LEF-ists will turn it into an independent art essence. That is the time when in the art painting emerges the contrastive junction and linking of concrete or abstract elements.
The collage can be considered as the phenomenon analogue to the simple forms of the contrastive editing. The procedure of putting picture details in the collage strongly effects upon the appearance of the photo editing.
So, it is beyond doubt that the figure of Sergei Eisenstein – in art generally – is one of the most important phenomena in art-philosophy rethinking of arts (especially on the visual ones) in this century.

Skopje, 1999

AuthorSofija Grandakovska
2018-08-21T17:23:59+00:00 April 1st, 1999|Categories: Reviews, Gallery, Blesok no. 08|0 Comments