Aborted Beauty

I was poking around the extras on the Criterion Alexander Nevsky disc, and found the best effort reconstruction they had of this missing Eisenstein film, Bezhin Meadow.

So this is a review of something which no longer exists. The reconstruction consists of the start and end frames of each original shot - thanks to Sergei's habit of saving them for posterity - with what I assume is another of Prokofiev's wonderful scores. This was meant to be the first sound film for Eisenstein, but for this effort, it was necessary to create subtitles for the dialog.

The story is placed within Stalin's modernization / collectivization drive for the young Soviet Union. It was a tumultuous time of hushed violence, ranging from resistance by peasants to Stalin's ideological crackdowns. Eisenstein took on a very pertinent story - a father who commits arson to stall the collectivization, and the son who informs on him.

The supporting materials on the disc include some essays written by Eisenstein, regarding this failed project. He sounds like any other talent bullied around by a government or a religion. It became too painful to read about how art was now supposed to reflect a socialist realism, and that he could not do anything meaningful without embracing it from a communal aspect... I had to move on, it was so depressing.

An unfinished film makes necessarily for an incomplete review. All I can say is that the visuals are equal to, if not greater than, the rest of Eisenstein's work. There's an intimacy here beyond the simple interpretation of what a few frames suggest. I think it's the material for one, bringing out an aspect to his filmmaking that the vast historical dramas tended to suspress. If Bezhin Meadow would have survived, I have no doubt it would rank amongst Eisenstein's greatest films. The problem is that I have to go by what we have, which is an awful lot of promise, with a lot more missing. Bezhin Meadow is excellent, evocative filmmaking, but the holes are too great, and the presentation so much not what was originally expected, that I have to restrain myself. What we see is the promise of greatness, rather than the greatness itself. May this one turn up in its full glory some day.

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