In this chapter, temporally bound to years 1938 and 1939 and thus coinciding with Eisenstein’s production of Alexander Nevsky, Robinson offers a close look on Prokofiev’s life in the harsh climate of Soviet reality and describes his professional relationship with Eisenstein before and during the shooting of the movie. He notes that both of them had actually a great deal of common, particularly the suspicion shadow casting over them for their international connections, travel abroad and supposed “cosmopolitanism”, but affirms that Alexander Nevsky “would open an important new stage in the careers of both director and composer” (350), since it re-instigated Eisenstein’s reputation as a director and inspire Prokofiev’s first successful “nationalistic” music. Robinson echoes Prokofiev’s enthusiasm about the possibilities of music in cinema and Eisenstein’s inclusion of Prokofiev in all aspects of the production of Nevsky. The chapter also provides a short description of the film score, ranging from themes, choice of instruments, folk motifs and elaborates on Prokofiev’s discovery of the enormous potential of recorded sound (mixing, distortion, etc.)
Evaluation & Analysis:
This chapter in Prokofiev’s biography does not pretend to offer any deep analytical assessment of Eisenstein-Prokofiev collaboration; as any other biography it only describes the facts that happened in someone’s life at certain point (naturally, some sort of cause-effect relationship between the events has to be outlined or logically discernible). Yet, even in this respect, Robinson could have done a little more. For example, he mentions that in early 1938 (prior to the beginning of Nevsky shooting), Prokofiev went to visit Hollywood, where he took a firsthand look at the latest advances in filmmaking technology. Taking into account the undisputable fact that the Hollywood cinema at the time was technologically (sound and camera equipment, studios, etc.) far ahead of the Soviet film industry, it seems peculiar that Robinson mentions it in only one sentence and then swiftly moves to the discussion of Nevsky. Robinson seems to ignore the well-documented fact that Prokofiev’s encounter with Hollywood enabled him to study - in-depth and around the most prominent Hollywood filmmakers of that era - the use sound and music in the cinema. Robinson is either unaware or indifferent to the fact that the enormous knowledge Prokofiev gained in the US, and especially from Walt Disney, was subsequently applied at the shooting sessions of Nevsky and in the composition of musical score for the movie.
On the other hand, Robinson makes a very wise observation that the foundation for a successful collaboration between Eisenstein and Prokofiev is to be found in their similar understanding of the active (not just accompanying) role the music could and should play in film – indeed, a radically different position from Hollywood. Yet overall, Robinson fails to connect the important dots – he completely disregards Hollywood’s influence on Prokofiev in terms of sound technology and experimentation; and he also falls short to explain that despite this influence, Prokofiev believed the film music has more than an accompanying function to images presented on the screen. Eisenstein and Prokofiev shared this philosophical platform and could therefore establish a very beneficial working relationship, but Robinson’s cause-effect explanation for that is simply inadequate and insufficient.