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.