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Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (1938) represents a pivotal moment in the director's career, revealing the metamorphosis of his

creative vision under rigid state control. Stalin's massive push toward centralization through the 1930s introduced pervasive reforms which increased the state's authority and inuence over culture and society. ese reforms aimed to create a malleable, patriotic Soviet identity; which could unify the masses in absolute devotion to the state. Artistic expression was wholly under state authority by 1934, its form and function exclusively prescribed by the doctrine of socialist realism. e purpose of socialist realism is to glorify socialism and patriotism in a straightforward manner with clear depictions of concrete subjects, it is essentially propaganda. Abstraction, symbolism, formalism and experimentalism were suppressed; these qualities emphasized subjective, "bourgeois" interpretations.

Filmmakers were expected to follow these stipulations under the guidance of the Principal Directorate for the Cinema and Photographic Industry (GUKF). GUKF Chairman Boris Shumyatsky adapted social realism to lm, concluding that lms had to be popular in form (or "intelligible to the masses") and ideologically correct in content. By this view, a lm's success depended on a well-dened linear narrative which inspired the masses; stylistic pretensions such as montage and symbolism were symptoms of a petty bourgeois mentality. ese criticisms frequently targeted Eisenstein and his intricate structures of montage and symbolism, which oen eclipsed the narrative element in his early work. Moreover, adhering to the stated function of socialist realism was sometimes harder to achieve in practice even for enthusiastic supporters of Marxist Leninism. e unpredictable standing of individuals and ideas within the party could render a work obsolete, possibly within a matter of weeks under Stalin's rule. Eisenstein had been ordered to remove references to Trotsky as well as a speech by Lenin from October (1928), a cinematic take of the October Revolution. ough this example precedes the doctrine of socialist realism, it indicates

the maddening eect of the condition. Once the wunderkind of Soviet cinema, Eisenstein was dismissed by critics and authorities as an artistically and ideologically misguided eccentric.

In 1929, Eisenstein and his group obtained permission for a journey abroad with the goal of studying new developments in lm technique (such as sound) in Europe and North America. Later, he attempted several productions in Hollywood and Mexico. None of these projects were brought to completion. In 1932 he was forced to return to the Soviet Union aer the failure of Que Viva Mexico, cancelled aer two years for being hopelessly late and expensive. He lived in the shadow of this incomplete masterpiece for years. On top of that, the diculty of adapting to the cultural reforms enacted in his absence made it impossible for him to nd work as a director. All of his proposals were shot down by lm czar Shumyatsky. Over the next few years he worked to regain the trust of the establishment. His essays in this period gradually embrace the rhetoric of party-line socialist realism as he revised or antiquated his early theory. In March 1935, he was nally allowed to direct Bezhin Meadow, a "collective farm lm" based on a scenario commissioned by the Communist Youth League. Shumyatsky kept a close eye on the project, warning Eisenstein several times against symbolism and religious imagery. Try as he did to conform, Eisenstein was unable to abandon his creative enthusiasm. Finally, in March 1937, Shumyatsky halted Bezhin Meadow and launched an acerbic attack on Eisenstein and the unnished lm in the press. oroughly humiliated, Eisenstein issued a public apology and promised to change his ways for good. By the end of 1937, Shumyatsky himself came under re for his poor management of the lm industry. He was arrested and executed on charges of treason. is took some pressure o Eisenstein, and he was commissioned by the Politburo to create Alexander Nevsky under the guidance of a trusted Soviet author.

By this time, the Soviet Union had become increasingly concerned over the threat of Nazi Germany. e function of Alexander Nevsky is clear: as a propaganda piece, the lm is designed to rouse patriotism in preparation for an inevitable German invasion. Eisenstein makes this clear in his own writing:

e theme of patriotism and national defence against the aggressor is the subject that suuses our lm. We have taken a historical episode from the thirteenth century, when the ancestors of today's Fascists - the Teutonic and Livionian knights - waged a systematic struggle to conquer and invade the East in order to subjugate the Slav and other nationalities in precisely the same spirit that Fascists Germany is trying to to today, with the same frenzied slogans and same fanaticism. (Taylor 1998, 86)

It is understandable that the characterization of Germans relies on shock and clich, both staples of wartime propaganda. e Teutonic Order is strictly organized and well-equipped. Angular helmets and long white shrouds create a highly imposing eect for the knights; an outt perhaps inspired by the Ku Klux Klan, which Eisenstein knew about during his travel in North America (a recorded conversation between Stalin and Eisenstein during the lming of Ivan the Terrible Part II conrms that Stalin knew of them, too). e style used in the German costumes may also be a nod to Futurism, an art style that was popularized by Italian fascists. While religious imagery is emphasized in the portrayal of Germans, it is curiously absent from that of medieval Rus society particularly curious, as Alexander Nevsky was canonized by the Russian church. Here we see how history is revised to reect the states anti-theistic ideology. Part of Stalins cultural policy included the establishment of a pantheon of inspirational historical gures, especially from Russian history. In acknowledging the historic signicance of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Alexander Nevsky and others, Stalin strayed from the dominant historiographical tradition, which assumed

a purely Marxist consideration of history based on economic and sociological structures. By contrast, Stalin's interpretation of historical materialism emphasized relativism and underlined the role of individuals in history. Propaganda director A. I. Stetsky paraphrased Stalin's views at a 1934 Politburo discussion of public school history textbooks:

ese textbooks and the instruction [of history] itself is far from what is needed, and Comrade Stalin talked about this at the Politburo meeting. e textbooks and the instruction [of history in the schools] itself is done in such a way that sociology is substituted for history... What generally results is some kind of odd scenario [neponiatnaia kartina] for Marxists - a sort of bashful relationship - [in which] they attempt not to mention tsars and attempt not to mention prominent representatives of the bourgeoisie... We cannot write history in this way! Peter was Peter, Catherine was Catherine. ey relied on specic classes and represented their mood and interests, but all the same they took action - these were historic individuals - they were not ours, but we must give an impression of this epoch, about the events which took place at that time, who ruled, what sort of a government there was, what sort of policies were carried out, and how events transpired. Without this, we won't have any sort of civil history. (Brandenberger-Dubrovsky 1998, 874-875)

Nikolai Cherkasov's Nevsky, stern and wise, is clearly a nod at Stalin; the Russians need to be united by a strong leader to defeat their adversaries. e Russians must also handle their internal enemies: the capitalists, the clergy, and the traitors. Nevsky emphasizes the need for collective action, rooted in peasant uprisal. e traders of Novgorod are shown as narrow-minded bourgeoisie who try to buy peace. Anananias, the sole Russian representative of the clergy, is in collaboration with the Germans along with the treasonous mayor of Pskov. is may refer to the collaboration of the White Army with the imperialist Allies and the Orthodox Church.

Stylistically, Alexander Nevsky lacks the frantic quality of Eisensteins intellectual theory of montage, a hallmark of his early lms. However, Alexander Nevsky is Eisensteins rst piece to feature sound (to great dramatic means, thanks to Prokoevs gripping soundtrack). Sound plays a key role in Eisensteins new technique of vertical montage, which intends to provide a more cohesive dramatic eect, as opposed to the emotional explosion of intellectual montage. In any case, there is a quantiable change in the visual structure of his work, which can be analyzed mathematically as a function of scene complexity and cut frequency. Using an algorithm based on differences of block histograms per frame (Nagasaka, Tanaka 1992), this example shows a dramatic increase in the average length of a cut in each of his movies up to Alexander Nevsky:

Eisenstein's films up to Alexander Nevsky


strike (1924) potemkin (1925) october (1927) staroye (1929) nevsky (1938) 0 3.75 7.50 11.25 15.00

Average cut length (s)

ough this algorithm does not accurately classify all scene changes in a lm, as a basic measure it shows startling results. I am working on improved methods to yield more accurate results, particularly through block-based histogram methods and wavelet analysis.