This lecture, entitled “Problems of Composition”, was delivered by Eisenstein to his class of student-directors on Christmas Day 1946. Although almost the entire presentation focuses on the composition of frames and shots in the process of filming an adaptation of a novel or poem, at the end of the lecture Eisenstein offers a very interesting insight into Prokofiev’s working methods as a composer of his film scores. He expresses high esteem for Prokofiev’s astonishing ability for “contrapuntal development of music which fuses organically and sensually with the visual images”, after Prokofiev saw the edited material just twice and knew only the number of seconds allotted to him. According to Eisenstein, Prokofiev was able to find “structural and rhythmical equivalents for the edited piece of film” and when working with an unedited material, Prokofiev was capable to “discover the potentialities of structural laws inherent in it” (181). He also reminds the students that although the director doesn’t have to possess a musical talent, he/she needs to have at least an ability to envision some organic congruence of the movement of the music with the movement of the visual contour.
Evaluation & Analysis:
Upon first sight, this printed primary source (Eisenstein’s lecture preserved in a stenographic record) evidently contradicts Eisenstein’s other accounts about the collaboration between him and Prokofiev. Although Eisenstein repeatedly throws compliments at Prokofiev’s prodigious musical talent, here he carelessly degrades the role and function of his composer in the film-making process. The cooperation between the two, according to this presentation, limited Prokofiev’s role to a quasi Hollywood-style composer – a composer who gets the edited version of the film and/or chunks of unedited footage and then simply makes the score, without having any impact on the visual structure of the film. However, it is a known fact that Prokofiev had a significant say about the composition of shots in several scenes of Alexander Nevsky and it is therefore more than likely that this unfair “degradation” is totally unintentional one on Eisenstein’s part. The illustrations and examples he uses in this case are, nonetheless, very vivid re-creations of Prokofiev’s working techniques and enable us to understand how his music accomplishes to permeate Eisenstein’s montage structures in Alexander Nevsky and create an organic compound with the visual images.
This historic collective “Statement on Sound”, initiated and composed by Eisenstein and endorsed by the other two prominent Soviet filmmakers (Pudovkin and Alexandrov), first appeared in 1928. The ”Statement” opens up with an acknowledgement that the progress in the technical development of Soviet sound-film was slow, but it nevertheless proceeds to lay out some theoretical principles about the relationship of sound to the visual images. It reiterates the basic standpoint of early Soviet filmmakers about cinema as a separate and distinct form of art from the theatre and then goes on to suggest that sound movies should follow a continuous line of development out of the silent cinema. The trio emphasized the need to develop a sound montage “along the line of its distinct non-synchronization with the visual images”, and through a metaphor of music, asserted that “only a contrapuntal use of sound in relation to the visual montage piece” will afford new possibilities for montage development and perfection, eventually creating “an orchestral counterpoint of visual and aural images” (258). In Eisenstein’s words, this contrapuntal method of constructing the sound-film had a potential to bring the significance of the international cinema to an unprecedented power and cultural height.
Evaluation & Analysis:
Because the “Statement” was written before the arrival of sound to the Soviet Union, this document, by placing the problem within a larger context, is crucial for understanding Eisenstein’s theory of sound cinema. The theoretical standards laid out here are essential in creating a framework for analytical assessment of the interplay between the audio and visual forms in Eisenstein’s first sound movie Alexander Nevsky and they will be also useful in the investigation of the Eisenstein-Prokofiev collaboration. The Eisenstein-Pudovkin-Alexandrov manifesto advocates an organic unity of sound cinema - a conflux of audio and visual forms, where the sound is intentionally non-synchronized with the visual images. The preferred contrapuntal use of sound would effectively reduce the role of language in the sound cinema and consequently prevent commercial exploitation of the “talking movies”. According to Eisenstein, cinema was supposed to be first and foremost an international language and he was concerned that language-based cinema markets would undermine the international prominence enjoyed by the Soviet cinema at the time. In other words, in the “Statement”, Eisenstein sought to extend the fundamentals of silent cinema into sound cinema and Alexander Nevsky could be therefore regarded as the first test of his own theories.