Eisenstein’s Smooth Stones of Forgetfulness
I only know a few of Maddin’s projects. This seems to be the earliest available.
I’m really beginning a deep appreciation of this man’s visual soul. While this project didn’t change my life, it demonstrated the power to do so, like a strutting policeman among weak minds.
What I like about his mind is how he seats the thing first in the soul, then in the cinematic vocabulary instead of the usual path which values character, motivations, narrative clarity. What he’s done here is revisit Eisenstein. I don’t suppose many filmgoers have much truck for a Russian silent filmmaker who was primarily occupied in Soviet propaganda. He developed some important ideas about how a scene (never a movie — only a scene) can be constructed from visual fragments — what it means to “see.”
His particular solutions aren’t popular today, and the whole idea of slicing the eye has been appropriated to the service of now-conventional values of storytelling and the cult of celebrity — some few jokes and even fewer emotions destinations.
Eisenstein’s idea is based on the notion of readable cells of retinal comprehension, more or less of the same size which when combined give an impression. The more discrete the components in presentation the more comprehensible the assembly, what he called the collage.
What Maddin does here is make a metaEisenstein. The story is set in Russia and populated by international warriors, all of whom have only a groggy notion of why they are there. Our hero, like Maddin, is Canadian. It is essentially a silent movie. There is a parallel movie that is a talkie, into which this silent, main piece is embedded.
Within the silent movie is a sort of “movie within,” exactly as abstract from the silent portion as the silent portion is to the talkie portion and thence not to our world (as is the usual case with folding) but to the world of normal movies.
That “movie within” is the “illumination” a set of stage tableaus depicting famous battles. If you experience nothing but these — or rather if you skate over all the surrounding context and focus only on these — you will be rewarded. There’s so much reference there.
The overall theme of the thing is the hard boundary of memory, where the continuity of knowing begins and ends. In the story, this exhibits as amnesia plus a sort of quantum identity shifts — of women, who else? That’s good, its valuable. But the interesting thing is how this is seated in the collage itself. Eisenstein’s idea is that each cell, each image, of the collage needs to have some reference to the others. The art is in the nature of that reference.
Maddin makes that reference sit on the cells. In his case they are not bubbles in transparent foam that light can shine through. Instead they are stones, smooth stones with hard impenetrable skins that only know themselves and keep forgetting those they are nestled against. So they forget who they are.
Posted in 2006
Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.