‘The New Soviet Cinema: Entering the Fourth Period’ by Sergei Eisenstein from New Theatre. Vol. 2 No. 1. January, 1935.

Chapeav film poster.

Segei Eisenstein briefly traces the history of Soviet cinema and proclaims a new period announce by the film Chapaev directed by brothers Sergei and Georgi Vasilyev in 1934. The story of a Red Army officer killed in the Civil War, Chapeav was a socialist realist film that quickly became one of the most watched movies in Soviet history, seen by 30 million people in the U.S.S.R. its first year alone. Chapeav can be seen in its entirety here.

‘The New Soviet Cinema: Entering the Fourth Period’ by Sergei Eisenstein from New Theatre. Vol. 2 No. 1. January, 1935.

THE development of the Soviet Cinema has been proceeding by distinct five-year periods.

Having passed through three successive five-year stages, we have now entered upon the fourth period which is already rising to new unattained heights.

Eisenstein on the Czar’s ‘throne’ during the filming of ‘October.’

The rich promise of this fourth phase is indicated not alone by the fact that each succeeding phase in the development of our cinema has been marked by greater achievement than the foregoing. It is remarkable in still another aspect.

While the first five-year period of our cinematography can be defined as essentially a stage of economic stabilization, organizational shaping and the cultivation of the first offshoots of a budding Soviet cinema, -the second and third periods already constitute clearly outlined stylistic entities, each presenting a distinct phase in the development of our cinematography.

Art Workshops of director Sergei Yutkevich (Golden Mountains), standing third from left. 1925.

As two consecutive stages of development, they stand out in sharp opposition to each other. The fact that the third period was marked by the development of sound cinematography and the second confined to “silent” production-important though the change undoubtedly was -is nevertheless, the least significant in their distinguishing characteristics.

The main difference lies in a marked divergence of styles. A difference that sometimes amounted to absolute incompatibility and at all times revealed a sharp contradiction in basic principles.

Let us take any production of one period and place it alongside of some production of the other period. The mere juxtaposition will suffice to illustrate our point. Mother and Deserter, Arsenal and Golden Mountains, Potemkin and Shame. With all the divergence of style characterizing each of these groups, they bear to an equal degree the unmistakable imprint of the one or the other five-year period.

Still from ‘Potemkin.’

And here we come to the particular aspect of the fourth five-year period we mentioned before- the feature that makes the present period so outstanding. This period will be marked by a synthesis, a fixed embodiment of the best achievements of the two preceding eras.

The contributions made to the history of our cinema by its second and third periods are of a widely divergent quality, reflecting the different social conditions of which they are a product.

A distinct line of demarcation is provided by the predominance of poetry in the first of these two periods and the decisive turn to prose in the second. Then there was a marked difference in compositional structure, in imagery, in the choice of media employed to produce a desired effect. It would, however, be a gross political mistake to apply to the “prosaic” period Belinski’s well-known characterization of the “post-Pushkin epoch”:

“…But alas I It was not a step forward, not a revival, but an impoverishment, an exhaustion of all creative activity…”


Many of those infatuated with the first five-year period and ready to belittle the achievements of the second period would quote Belinski further:

“…All vital activity ceased; the clash of arms died away; the tired fighters sheathed their swords, rested on their laurels, each· claiming victory, and none having really gained it…” (Belinski: Literary Dreams)

Such a mood should be decisively condemned. It spells narrow vision, erratic judgment, downright pessimism. But those who, on the other hand, would attach a halo of irreproachability to the second period; who would smooth over the elements of one-sidedness undeniably present in this period, as well as in the one preceding it, -should be no less decisively rebuffed.

IF the first period, at times -in detriment to thematic depths -was able to entrance the spectator by its revolutionary thematics, by its poetic media and skill of presentation -the second period is characterized by a decisive abandonment of all elements of cinematic expressiveness, peculiar to the first. Although in part caused by incomplete mastery of sound technique, it was essentially a result of different orientation.

The “prosaic” period has brought to the fore a demand for deeper penetration into the inner problems of the individual, psychoanalytical treatment of the human material, and an integral plot, strictly confined to its story, and with greater cohesion of its component elements. “Bringing a demand” is not a rhetorical figure on my part. It is a fact that this period has not always been able to satisfy the demands it created. In this respect, its most successful production has probably been Shame, which stands out in the sharpest contradistinction to the productions of the preceding period.

One must be either completely self-infatuated or blind not to see the one-sided limitations of both periods, on the one hand, and their valuable contribution to Soviet cultural development, on the other. Likewise one must be blind not to foresee and foretell that the succeeding period must necessarily become a stage of synthesis, permeated with the best elements of the preceding stages.

Chapeav film poster, 1935.

A short while ago we were able only to prophesy.

A short while ago we might not have cared to confide our prevision to print. Today we can clearly see it. Now we may freely speak about it. Today the beautiful film Chapaev testifies to it from the screen. What is the essence of the remarkable achievement of Chapaev?

It lies in the fact, that this latest product of the Soviet cinema, without losing a single one of the artistic achievements of the first stage, has at the same time incorporated all the essential points of the second stage. This has been done without compromise and without surrendering any artistic principles -not in the way of eclectic mixture but in the way of organic synthesis.

Scene from Chapeav.

Having utilized the entire experience of the poetic style and emotional appeal of the first stage, and at the same time, fully availing themselves of the thematic depth unfolded in the living, intensely realistic, human image, characteristic of the second period- the Vasilievs succeeded in achieving unforgettable portrayals of living human beings and in presenting an unforgettable picture of the epoch.

The composition of the film is most remarkable. It is not a return to the old forms of plot composition in vogue during the first stage. It is by far not a movement “back to the plot.” It is a movement “forward to a new form of plot.”

Retaining the epic form popular during the initial stage of our cinema, the authors were able to create within the epic framework a brilliant gallery of heroic individualities, which formerly was the exclusive province of the traditional plot. Shakespearean? Undoubtedly! Not a direct descendant of King Lear, Macbeth or Othello, though. The poetics of Chapaev’s composition is not of that character. Nevertheless, the style of Chapaev is Shakespearean -the Shakespeare that has given the world a style of dramaturgy no less remarkable than the above-mentioned- the Shakespeare of the great historical chronicles.

Sergei and Georgi Vasilyev..

In my belief, the appearance of Chapaev puts an end to the conflict of different stages in our cinema. Chronologically, Chapaev ushers in the fourth five-year period of Soviet cinematography. It also inaugurates a new orientation. The appearance of Chapaev marks the inauguration of an era of great synthesis·. An era which incorporates all the previous achievements, in all the uncompromising purity of their sterling quality, and puts them entirely at the disposal of millions of humanity, instilling them with a new fountain of energy for gigantic struggles, heroic achievements and creative activity.

The victory of the Chapaev is our first victory on this glorious road.

Translated by LEON RUTMAN.

The New Theater continued Workers Theater. Workers Theater began in New York City in 1931 as the publication of The Workers Laboratory Theater collective, an agitprop group associated with Workers International Relief, becoming the League of Workers Theaters, section of the International Union of Revolutionary Theater of the Comintern. The rough production values of the first years were replaced by a color magazine as it became primarily associated with the New Theater. It contains a wealth of left cultural history and ideas. Published roughly monthly were Workers Theater from April 1931-July/Aug 1933, New Theater from Sept/Oct 1933-November 1937, New Theater and Film from April and March of 1937, (only two issues).

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/workers-theatre/v2n01-jan-1935-New-Theatre.pdf

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