The Nevsky DVD contains the reconstruction of Eisenstein’s completed-or-was-it return to Soviet cinema as a handy bonus feature. After a few years in the West, he’d come home to find the government rather more hands-on than before in interfering with film productions, and what should’ve been his first finished sound film ended up not being that. I read conflicting descriptions of the extent to which Bezhin Meadow was finished; apparently it was ready by late 1935 but changes were demanded and kept being demanded until in March 1937 production was called off entirely and whatever state the film was in by then we’ll likely never know. The footage supposedly vanished in a bombing raid in 1941, so all we have is this, the 1967 reconstruction by Kleiman & Yutkevich from extant frames of the original film preserved by Eisenstein’s wife. Being effectively a slideshow, it’s almost impossible to appraise what the film might’ve been like (though easier to envisage than the similar photo-reconstruction of London After Midnight, since it uses original film frames rather than posed stills). The story is that of, frankly, a snitch, based on a supposedly but probably not entirely true story of a boy murdered by his father for informing on him to Soviet authorities, which you’d think would actually have pleased Stalin and friends, but they seem to have been too bothered by the film being insufficiently “socialist” and more of a plain good-vs-evil story. (Compare and contrast this plot outline with that of the film’s contemporary, John Ford’s The Informer.) Apparently this reconstruction is closest to Eisenstein’s original script, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that we’re talking about a film that doesn’t exist, maybe never quite did. The most we can really say is that the Kleiman & Yutkevich version reveals something that might have been a great film… and yet I think the fact that it made a hero out of a barely pubescent police informant would always have made it hard to fully accept somehow. Who can say at this remove.
Bezhin Meadow (1937)