In Part IV of this book, Eisenstein discusses the form and content in the cinema, paying special attention to the “concrete methods of constructing relations between music and picture” (158). First, he reiterates the principle of contrapuntal use of sound in relation to the visual montage and argues that audio-visual composition should be united “vertically” (matching each musical phrase with each phase of the parallel picture strips – film shots), and combined “horizontally” (shot after shot on the film stripe – phrase after phrase of a developing theme in music). As he claims, it is not important whether the composer writes music for the “general idea” of a sequence, or for its final cut; or, if the director structures the visual cutting to music that has already been written and recorded. He points out that in Alexander Nevsky all possible variations were used and praises Prokofiev several times for handing him the exact musical equivalents to the visual images. What follows is an extraordinarily detailed analysis of a scene of suspense before the attack in “The Battle on the Ice” sequence. By using graphs, musical notes, film frames and diagrams of movement and pictorial composition, Eisenstein asserts that “exactly the same motion lies at the base of both the musical and plastic structures” (178). Ergo, for Eisenstein, the contrapuntal sound is created by vertical correspondences, which relate the music to the shots through an identical motion that lies at the base of the musical as well as the pictorial movement.
Evaluation & Analysis:
Clearly, the visual and sound unity and composition of Alexander Nevsky gives Eisenstein a great joy and satisfaction, otherwise he probably wouldn’t spend more than thirty pages on examining the interplay of audio and visual forms in a single scene. There is no doubt that him and Prokofiev paid great attention to the soundtrack - where their combined ingenuities aimed at capturing the inescapable harmonies between picture and sound – which, however, seems to give the movie a character of opera, rather than of a historical film. Eisenstein’s analysis is over-detailed and sometimes even painfully long – there are numerous unnecessary digressions from the topic and lots of technicalities, which make it difficult for a reader to follow Eisenstein’s thread of thought or even consider him patronizing.
Eisenstein’s notion of the audio-visual relationship as a “vertical correspondence” on one hand, and a “horizontal contrapuntal” composition on the other is a two-edged sword. While the idea of verticality of visuals and music is almost absurd because seeing and hearing are two distinct sense modalities, ergo watching a film does not incorporate “seeing the music” while watching the visuals, nor “hearing the visuals” while listening to the music; the concept of counter-pointing the musical and visual signifiers on basis of dynamic/static juxtaposition can be a very powerful cinematic montage technique.
Furthermore, this is an ex post facto or a posteriori analysis – formulated years after Alexander Nevsky was made, Eisenstein retroactively tries to manifest that this movie is an exemplification of his own set of theories on sound in cinema (“contrapuntal sound”, “vertical unity and horizontal combination”, “correspondence in movement”). Secondly, examining only one scene to demonstrate the validity of his theories also raises suspicions whether other scenes would also follow his theoretical formulae or whether it is only a hypocritical, self-serving mean.
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.