David Bordwell   The Cinema of Eisenstein.
Harvard University Press, 316 pages, $65; $29.95 paper

Was the Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein a toady of the regime or an artistic genius? The question is debated by the zeks in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. They are well informed about the scene in The Battleship Potemkin, the best known of Eisenstein’s films, where the sailors mutiny over rotten meat. The zeks wouldn’t mind being offered that meat in their Gulag prison.

Eisenstein died in 1948, at the outset of the Cold War. Since then, Western film studies, strongly influenced by Soviet sympathizers, some of whom attended Eisenstein’s lectures in Moscow in the 1930s, have turned him into a mythic figure. At the Brussels World Fair in 1958, film critics named Potemkin the best film of all time. Many books have appeared that...


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