Thursday, January 30, 2020
Sergei Eisenstein's Beyond the Stars
The first part of Sergei Eisenstein's memoir, Beyond the Stars: The Boy from Riga, succeeds as both historical testimony and creative non-fiction. It's stylistically rich, attacking biography thematically rather than chronologically, with a long series of short meditations on a number of different topics. Some of Eisenstein's themes emerge from nostalgia, others from film history, and still others from encounters with figures of importance to modern Russian, European, or world history. Eisenstein's memoirs read like a cross between Montaigne's Essays and Shklovsky's works of literary criticism. In each chapter the cosmopolitan intellectual meditates on some peculiar problem or idea, and somehow the juxtaposition of random aspects of his life seem particularly enlightening. The reader can't help but notice how often theory and life intersect and reinforce or contradict one another. What is more, the effect can't help remind one of Eistenstein's theories of film montage.
Overall, the first part of Eisenstein's memoir reveals a man of piercing intellect, and abiding wanderlust. Eisenstein knew Russian, German, French, and English, and must have also learned a great deal of Spanish while working in Mexico. He was steeped in the literary heritage of Europe, but also seemed to be searching out cultural information about Latin America and various non-European civilizations. If the memoirs are honest, he was dedicated to communism. However, the memoirs show him to have been a man who supported communism like an ordinary American supports the New York Yankees. Certainly, he never makes any arguments about communism, or devotes much energy to economic or political discussions in general. Instead, he invests most of his energy to art, cinema, literature, etc. He's also very interested in people, and revels in the most arresting stories about them.
Just a couple of quotes from the book:
I passed through a staggering age.
But I do not want to write about this age at all.
What I want to set down is how an average person can pass through a momentous time as a completely unexpected counterpart.
How someone can "fail to notice" a historical date as he blithely passes it.
Someone shyly (but not unctuously) said: "Don't talk about montage, or pictures, or directing. Tell us how to become an Eisenstein.
"Napoleon did everything that he did, not because he was talented or a genius; he became talented so that he could do everything he did..."
Every normal child does three things: he breaks things; he gets inside dolls or watches to see what is there; and he torments animals....That is what normal children do. Good ones.
I was a bad child.