Old and New (1929)

Director: Sergei Eisenstein

Odd how I’d managed to see all of Eisenstein’s features (apart from whatever was made out of the footage of the Mexican debacle) by the end of the 90s except this one. Doesn’t seem to be terribly well-known or well-regarded for whatever reason. Certainly, and perhaps predictably, the Soviet establishment were not fans. I didn’t realise until recently this was actually meant to be his follow-up to Potemkin and he’d actually started it in 1926, before he was called away to make October instead… and just as that fell foul of government changes before release, so did this, details that Wiki explains better than I can here. So changes were ordered and the film quietly slipped out just before the collectivisation program began in earnest, and after Eisenstein had gone to Europe, whence they probably hoped he’d never come back.

So this film has probably suffered ever since, which is a shame cos I wound up liking it. It’s obviously recognisably his work, though there are a few features that mark it out; it was his only film set in the present, and his first one with a single “hero” (and a female one at that, though Marfa is nothing like Nevsky or Ivan in the later films). But there’s also a general good humour to it that I don’t think I’ve ever really felt in Eisenstein’s films before… and, admittedly, I suppose that upbeat feeling is a function of the film’s propagandistic side, but even amidst the overt selling, you get these little kind of rapturous moments of pleasure. (The business with the cream separator borders on the pornographic, indeed; Robert Israel’s score hilariously goes into Wagner’s “Liebestod” at which point. I applauded.) Indeed, in some respects, Old and New didn’t feel (at least to me) too far removed from an American western about farmers taming the land… you know, similar hardships, similar bureaucratic bullshit, similar people trying to hold the pioneers back, similar epic vistas of wide open spaces, that sort of thing. So there you go; it only took 23 years for me to see my last Eisenstein feature after seeing my first. Worth the wait, happily.

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