Eisenstein: The Master's House

The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Alexander Iskin

REVIEWED: 07-20-98

How such a mercurial visionary as Sergei Eisenstein produced such ambitious, experimental films in Communist Russia may always remain a mystery. Eisenstein: The Master's House chronicles his career from his boyhood, where he was influenced by his father's work as an architect, through his theatrical training with Meyerhold and on to his whirlwind days in Hollywood, his frenzied collaborations with Prokofiev, and eventually his relationship with the increasingly repressive Stalinist regime.

Using titles to indicate various "houses" ("Mama's House," "Teacher's House," "Glass House," "Valhalla," "The Cathedral"), the filmmakers trace the labyrinthine trajectory of Eisenstein's life and work by examining its historical context -- a method Eisenstein himself employed. With rare archival footage (including one documentary on filmmaking with hilarious outtakes), still images, animated storyboard drawings, and clips from directors Eisenstein particularly admired, as well as his masterworks Ivan the Terrible, Strike, and The Battleship Potemkin, the resulting montage is at once a tender tribute and a harrowing newsreel. The most remarkable thing about The Master's House, indeed, is that nothing of the sort has been attempted before now. Its release marks the 100th anniversary of Eisenstein's birth, the 50th anniversary of his death. The film shows how, passionate to the end, despairing under Stalin's tyranny, he literally worked himself into his grave.

--Peg Aloi

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