My Encounter with Eisenstein

Vera Rumyantseva

When I was little, my parents and I lived together in one room. We only had one bookshelf and my bed was right next to it. When I was about four years old, I picked out a book. On the cover was a strange drawing of a man in an odd pose; I was very surprised that it was possible to draw like that. That was my first encounter with Eisenstein, although I didn’t even know the drawing was by him. In 1971, six volumes of the director’s Collected Works stood on our shelves. Every volume was a different colour and had a different drawing on the cover, but the name Eisenstein was on all the spines.


I watched his films on TV when I was a child. I remember Alexander Nevski, especially one particular close-up. I remembered it differently from the way Eisenstein actually shot it – it was an image of bare feet stomping across the earth. Later, I understood that this is the moment when the duke calls the peasants. The peasants come from the earth. I remembered it as an emotional moment. The music, along with the close-up of the earth, gave me the impression that the earth dwarfs the sky and that the sky is only a background for the stomping feet.


Eisenstein searched for archetypal images that touched people’s subconscious. But in fact, these archaic images affect our consciousness too. Children, for example, feel the drama or humour of an image without necessarily understanding its context. When I was an adult, I interpreted Eisenstein differently because my generation liberated themselves from ideology. When I watched all of his films aged 22, we laughed many times during October – precisely in the moments when you were supposed to laugh. We understood for the first time that this was not a school presentation about the revolution, but a bitter tragic comedy.


Eisenstein and his contemporaries also saw tragic aspects of the consequences of the October Revolution: he wrote the second part of his script about Russia’s civil war, but it was impossible to film at the time. And the glorious myth of the revolution came later, partly based on films – but these were shot in the 1930s. We, as Soviet viewers, were initially blinded by ideology and saw October in this context. Later, we returned to a better understanding of him when we, the perestroika generation, could see him clearly. And now the generation born in the first two decades of this century sees Eisenstein differently again. A hundred years have passed and it seems to me that they now accept him more as one of their own.


We are now discovering Eisenstein’s flat as a place where he felt protected from a world in which he felt alien. He created a world for himself there that gave him a sense of home. His native land was the culture of the world. That’s where he felt at home. It wasn’t an ivory tower. It was the whole world, at the heart of Stalinist Russia.