A BOY FROM RIGA
Eisenstein wrote about himself: “Not a lad, nor a nipper. A boy. Twelve years old. Obedient, mannerly, knows how to make a leg. A typical fondling from Riga.”
Wavy-haired, in a white suit, he is sitting and browsing through books on the French Revolution. He is deeply touched by Marat, Robespierre, Danton but above them all – the guillotine. He likes to draw, and Augusts Lira bookstore on Tirgoņu Street seems a true paradise to him. There, one can find all kinds of pencils, China ink of all colors, erasers, envelopes and penknives, even some frilled paper for wrapping flowerpots, still the most interesting of them all are postcards that, at that time, are being collected like stamps. Horseshoes and cartwheels clatter on the Old Town Riga cobble behind the windows of the store, and a balloon bargainer is calling: “Balloons, balloonies, Lufftballons!”
Outside the Old Town – on 6th Nikolai (now Valdemāra) Street, flat 7 – is where the family of state councilor, civil engineer and architect Eisenstein dwells. His beautiful wife Julia has inherited the tugboat company Konetski & Co from her father, the first guild tradesman Ivan Konetski. Tugboats carry coal, barges float along the Winter Palace on the Neva River, and, on vacation, little Seriozha goes to St.Petersburg to see his granny. In Riga, it is a Latvian governess Marija Elksne who takes care of Seriozha, and he calls her Filya. Every morning, the little schoolboy gets hot tea with a bun, pieces of cheese and butter, but on a separate plate – two plump, hot sausages with yellow mashed potatoes. In the nights, since mammy is having loud quarrels with daddy behind the wall, Seriozha runs for cover in Marija’s bed.
EISENSTEIN´S GREAT REVELATION
It does not happen on one fine day, yet the life in the flat on Nikolai Street smashes into pieces. Mammy cries that daddy is a thief, daddy hoots – she is a drab! Daddy throws down the gauntlet to somebody; mammy runs to the staircase and threatens to jump from the third floor. Nursemaid is taking Seriozha out for a whole-day-long walk, and in the end, mammy takes her vale and leaves for St. Petersburg with tear-stained eyes. In a couple of days, her furniture, piano and everything else that belonged to rich Julia’s trousseau, is taken out. Seriozha takes it all with certain liking – this puts an end to the wearing musical classes, at last he can have a good night’s sleep and, in the daytime, take long bicycle rides across the huge empty apartment.
Letters with different addresses travel to St. Petersburg – mon chere maman, Maine Liebe Mutter, дорогая маменька – but mammy in St. Petersburg dreams of sending Seriozha, right after graduating from secondary school, on an eduacatioanl voyage to focal points of the world’s cultural history – Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome, and then to all the countries of Europe. Her plans are destroyed by the WWII – her son only gets to reach St. Petersburg and enters the very same Institute of Civil Engineering that his daddy once attended. Mikhail remains in Riga right until the revolution, and then he becomes an engineer at the White Army. Bolsheviks come out on top, and Mikhail, with the wave of emigration, is brought to Berlin. The proud functionary and prosperous architect has now lost everything, he lives in a boarding-house and clings to its young owner Elizabeth, but on July 2, 1920 he dies.
Within measurable distance from Berlin, in the orthodox cemetery of Tegel there is a tiny church with a high tower and blue domes, and close nearby, a wooden stem with a leafy whorl, all cast in bronze, can be found. In the architecture of art nouveau, as well as in the art of symbolists, there are many variations to a tree – from the Biblical Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, to the tree of Life. On this brazen stem, there is a granite headstone with inscription – the acute state councilor, civil engineer Mikhail Osipovich Eisenstein. Sergei learns of his father’s death in 1923.
Seventy-four years later, Prince Albert Street in Riga has lost its title of prince, though the Eisenstein houses are still standing. In the splendid circular staircase of the 12th house, there are candles burning – one on each stair, up till the 5th floor. There is a man on each stair as well, and on the very top an orthodox choir under the guidance of father Joann is singing a liturgy.
It is 1998, IFF Arsenāls commemorates the daddy – Mikhail Eisenstein. And the son has grown old, too – in this Arsenāls, his centennial is being celebrated. Six volumes of theoretic writings. An autobiography. And hundreds of drawings – observances, life-long thoughts right till death. What did he really create? The cinematograph? It sure did exist before him. We can say that the King Ramses’ Mummy has existed for ages yet it is mute, therefore one can ask if it really does exist in the live meaning of this word. One can put the same question about cinematograph, since Eisenstein was the one to give it an unrepeatable language, as well as to blow the breath of the century into the film stock.
But isn’t the abovementioned facet substantial for archeologists and film historians only? Isn’t there something else missed out with the lapse of time? We believe there is.
It is not the first time Viktors Jansons encounters Sergei – he studied the writings of the classic in the Leningrad Institute of Culture already. Arsenāls is mostly interested in Eisenstein’s utopian projects, one of which is introduced to us by the Ansis Epners film Sergejs Eizenšteins. Post scriptum, where merely seven seconds have been dedicated to the Glass House.
SERGEI EISENSTEIN´S GLASS HOUSE
In America, unlimited possibilities opened up for Eisenstein, so in 1927 he started the House, and was building it until the end of his days. However, the unlimited possibilities did not last long – they would be gone as soon as appeared.
Without any doubt, the Glass House is the most grandiose project that Eisenstein has ever touched. In the ocean of the newly born ideology of Soviet totalitarianism, he was searching for his solid surface. With the lever he created – the cinematograph – he, just like Archimedes, dared to turn the old world upside-down, tear down its regulations, myths, legends, ruin its religion, moral and judgments. Yet more, inspired by The Einstein Theory of Relativity, he gave his mind to revelation of the dimension of time and space. He came to master the time in the cinematograph. His self-created utopian projects broke into the future, drew away from the force of gravity and soared up in the Space. He created “new heavens and a new earth” for himself.
“In one’s life, everybody is writing his own mystery,” said Eisenstein, “for me it has been the Glass House”.  A skyscraper with everything – the walls, the floors, the ceiling, the tables, the elevators and the toilet-bowls – made of glass. That could be frosted glass, illuminated, filled with water or smoke, and countless actions could be performed in it, the glass would both separate and merge these actions. Eisenstein studied the magic of glass – there was a time, when one could buy gold and even a whole continent for glass bugles. He was probably aroused by his childhood memories of his mother, who used to fright Seriozha by making her face look like a dead mask with a motionless look. “I see cold, freezing eyes, and there is only glass, glass, glass,” remembers Eisenstein.
Viktors Jansons says Eisenstein’s Glass House is a unique “screen monster”, which simultaneously projects events and processes on several screens of different size and shape – on cubes, pyramids, squares, surfaces of ceiling and floor. This creates a one-off film praxis – a structure of simultaneous images, which can be perceived from different angles: both frontally, from the back, from the sides and from the top, as well as from the bottom and even from the inside – a spectator can walk through, rise in different levels, or dissociate; he can also intervene in the on-screen action, change the course of action and play his own version. At the same time, he is both a spectator and a participant. And that is what really matters – not creating an insubstantial world, capturing it, editing it and then screening it, but creating the reality instantly. That was an attempt to see and to convey the real world, only the technical possibilities wouldn’t let Eisenstein fulfill it. Yet he was intending to do it.
With the Glass House, Eisenstein has created a phenomenon, surprising for his time, unexposed and unfulfilled by now – a substance of the kinetic screen. Today we indicate it with the three magic letters www, which hint at a comprehensive database web. That is where the latest multimedia technologies, an interface of the real and virtual environment has created the electronic community, which Eisenstein has been contemplating. In substance, Eisenstein offers a new plot for civilization. And that is what Woland intends, when collecting the world with the whole human life – blurs, tragedies, love and death – in a bullet in the size of a fist.
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