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Eisenstein (Renny Bartlett) 2002 

Renny Bartlettís Eisenstein, a somewhat oddly conceived biopic, seems to be filled with a somewhat embarrassing sense of adulation since itís about a director that thrived before directors were given the authorial credit they now get in a country that certainly saw filmmaking as a collaborative art, instead of the vision of a singular genius. It celebrates the man with more fervor than he ever seems to have gotten when he was still alive, which feels peculiar since itís doubtful that Battleship Potemkin could have as much impact on a modern director as it would have had in its initial release. Even though we know that in actuality he was often viewed as a national hero (and often as a disgrace), the film seems more interested in showing how rough he had it and martyring him. The film notes some of his achievements, to be sure, but for every small bit about his technique thatís doled out to us, we have to watch a scene of this mad genius as he infuriates the Commies and flirts dangerously with homosexuality. The picture seems smug because of its hindsight and its desire to be the final authority on its subject is a little nauseating. It tries too hard to convince us of Eisensteinís greatness (which it seems to think comes more from his politics than his cinema), so we end up doubting the veracity of the film a little. 

Facts that I know about Eisenstein (and I am no expert) turn up here twisted into something that assumedly will play better for the audience. Eisensteinís relationship with Meyerhold, his mentor that was eventually tried by the Stalinists for refusing to make a transition from expressionism to realism, is particularly distorted here, and the results feel like something out of a mediocre Holocaust flick. Some of the filmís omissions are questionable as well. Though Eisensteinís film career is his legacy, some of his work in the theater was absolutely groundbreaking, and helped him develop his aesthetic. During one production, his montage-style assault upon the audienceís senses climaxed with fireworks planted under their chairs exploding. Another play, which portrayed the plight of the workingman, was staged in an actual plant and reached its crescendo as that plantís workers arrived to clock in. This sort of theatrical parlor trick absolutely epitomizes his approach to cinema (he wanted to leave the audience feeling assaulted), but this biopic can barely be bothered to examine those aesthetics at all. Instead, we get a dolly shot showing the director as he is location scouting the Odessa Steps and a woman with a baby carriage walks by, inspiring him. Eisensteinís reputation as one of the greatest intellectuals to ever have directed is reduced by the filmís vision of him like that repeatedly. Spanning most of Eisensteinís adult life, the film feels so rushed in its attempt to show us how much its subject accomplished that it leaves us with little in-depth understanding of anything he did at all. 

** 

01-22-02 

Jeremy Heilman