Merritt divides up his essay into three distinct parts: an introduction with historical background, a formal musical analysis of the score, and an assessment of the Eisenstein-Prokofiev collaboration. In the first part, he delivers a harsh criticism against both artists. He accuses Eisenstein of “inconsistencies, contradictions and confusions” in Nevsky and condemns his tactics of manipulating the epic compression and ellipsis in order to reinvent Nevsky for war propaganda purposes. These ellipses in the narrative are underscored by Prokofiev’s music, which opens up “fissures between the soundtrack and the images, commenting on and occasionally even contradicting what is seen on the screen” (36). The analysis of the music is very formalistic and examines the interplay of audio and visual forms, eventually arriving at the conclusion that sequences in the movie work through “principles of irony and denial” – the sound denies the evidence before our eyes and there are no attempts to resolve these contradictions (39). The third part is the most interesting one and it does a superb job in integrating Prokofiev’s experience in Hollywood with the conditions for sound-production in the Soviet Union, claiming that Nevsky is “the greatest film score ever written trapped inside the worst sound track ever recorded” (44). It also reiterates the fact that “by all accounts, the Eisenstein/Prokofiev collaboration was a remarkably creative and congenial one” (42).
Evaluation & Analysis:
The most interesting aspect of Merritt’s essay is the influence of Walt Disney on Prokofiev and thus on the sound design of Alexander Nevsky. Other secondary sources tend to either overlook this fact or assign only a minor importance to it. The Eisenstein/Prokofiev occasional operational method of shooting film to a pre-recorded score has been frequently – albeit incorrectly – labeled as first director/composer collaboration where the composer composed a score before the images were filmed. Merritt does a brilliant job in pointing out that Prokofiev’s visit of the Walt Disney studio in 1938 – the most ignored one in all of Prokofiev’s studies - had intrigued Prokofiev, particularly the fact that Disney’s animators synchronized their drawings to the comic scores and were able to an create an absolute, close synchronization (in fact, the term is “Mickey-mousing”). Ergo, Prokofiev witnessed for the first time a branch of film-making where music was recorded before the images were animated. Yet, it is important to keep in mind that the relationship between music and visuals created by Eisenstein/Prokofiev in Alexander Nevsky are almost devoid of minute synchronization, because the music does not accompany or punctuate the action, but merges with the structure of the film and thus comments on the images. Merritt acknowledges this fact, but asserts that there is something “Disneyesque” in the comic effects of Prokofiev’s score, which is basically a very sound argument, but unfortunately, Merritt designates only one short paragraph to it and the argument therefore remains in its embryonic form.