Old and New

(Staroye i novoye)
USSR 1929. Dirs: Sergei Eisenstein, Grigori Aleksandrov. 120 min. DCP

Also known as The General Line, Eisenstein’s last silent picture is one of his most beautiful works — and one of his least seen (it was unavailable for The Cinematheque’s Eisenstein retrospective in 2012). The film dramatizes the collectivization of Soviet agriculture through the tale of Marfa, a peasant woman battling hostility and superstition in her efforts to modernize (and Sovietize) local farms. The use of an individual protagonist, rather than the “mass” hero, was a departure from Eisenstein’s usual practice. The “cream separator” sequence is celebrated; this visually-sophisticated film is throughout a remarkable display of overtonal, or polyphonic, montage, an advanced editing technique Eisenstein likened to symphonic music (or “the filmic fourth dimension”). Eisenstein interrupted production to make October; when he returned to the project, the political situation had changed and he was forced to re-edit.