The Cine-Fist in New York and Vienna

Sergei Eisenstein’s October (1928)

Wednesday sees the presentation of two new books, and if there’s a single figure that connects them, it’s Sergei Eisenstein. In New York, Light Industry will present a talk by Masha ​Salazkina, whose World Socialist Cinema: Alliances, Affinities, and Solidarities in the Global Cold War is freely available from Luminos, the open-access publishing program from the University of California Press. Euphorie des Erkennens. Denken in Filmen und anderes is a new collection of writing on cinema by Annette Michelson, the late critic, scholar, and cofounding editor (with Rosalind Krauss) of October, the journal that takes its name from Eisenstein’s 1928 silent film. Along with the book, the Austrian Film Museum in Vienna will present short films by Hollis Frampton, Richard Serra, and Noël Burch as well as October: Ten Days That Shook the World with live accompaniment from pianist Elaine Loebenstein.

In World Socialist Cinema, Salazkina, the author of In Excess: Sergei Eisenstein’s Mexico, hinges her survey, which stretches from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, on the Festival of Cinemas of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which first took place in 1968 in Tashkent, the capital of Soviet Uzbekistan, and showcased a wide range of films from dozens of countries. Salazkina notes that in 1978, the fifth edition “featured as many as seventy public events—roundtable discussions and press conferences—in addition to film screenings, reportedly attended by more than two hundred thousand people.”

That’s a major event that’s often overlooked in histories of both cinema and the late 1960s, and Salazkina suggests that this is probably because the “neoliberalism that pervaded all discussions of socialism in the post–Cold War era discredited it as, at best, naive or opportunistic. As a result, all the cultural production associated directly with it has been largely discussed as either propaganda or, should it have any artistic value, as implicit or explicit dissent. For works produced outside the socialist bloc, connections to socialism, either as ideology or as production mode, have been systematically downplayed or subjected to a similar set of Cold War binaries. In contrast, I argue that carefully reconsidering both the promises and realities of global socialism in all its complexity and the body of films it produced reconfigures how we must think of history and the geography of cinema.”

Eisenstein is a constant and influential presence throughout the book. “The metaphor of ‘cinema as a weapon,’ so often repeated at Tashkent by both hosts and guests,” notes Salazkina, “goes as far back as Eisenstein’s notion of cine-fist.” As Michelson pointed out in the second issue of October, the “cine-fist” was an “early countering of the Vertovian notion of the ‘cineeye,’” or “Kino Eye,” an observational rather than activist mode of filmmaking. Euphorie des Erkennens, featuring several of Michelson’s key essays as well as an unpublished conversation with Alexander Kluge translated by Ted Fendt, is obviously appearing in German, but English readers can turn to On the Wings of Hypothesis: Collected Writings on Soviet Cinema, a 2020 collection divided into two sections, one on Eisenstein and one on Dziga Vertov.

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