Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Eisensteinian Ambition at El Leñador

Sergei Eisenstein's Strike (1925) was the director's first full-length feature film, as well as Eisenstein's first full-fledged development of the ideas set forth in his now-famous 1923 essay "Montage of Attractions." Eisenstein's use of quick and rhythmic edits in Strike (and later that same year in Potemkin) forever expanded the possibilities of what film could do. Some eighty-six years after its premiere, Strike's editing and pace resemble that of a contemporary 2011 feature film.

Eisenstein's late-April 1925 premiere of Strike so impressed the Soviet Central Committee that they immediately demanded another film from Eisenstein by the end of the year. The compressed schedule for shooting and editing Potemkin for its premiere in December led to what must have been one of the most harrowing of situations in cinema history:
In his account of the premiere at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow from Immortal Memories: An Autobiography, Eisenstein confirmed how rushed the whole process was, with the final reel not yet spliced together––even in the projection booth— when the opening section of the film was being projected. “The sequence of the meeting of the squadron was made up of extremely short cuts,” he wrote. “To make sure they would not be lost or get mixed up, I stuck them together by licking them with my tongue, and gave the reel to the assistant to splice. Then I took a look at the first version. Tore it apart. Looked at the second. Tore and changed that one too.”

To Eisenstein’s horror, the assistant threaded the film onto the projector without cement-splicing the cuts. Miraculously, the film ran through the projector without sputtering into bits. The premiere was a success, and the rest was history.
While nowhere near as difficult, stressful (and ultimately as thrilling) as Eisenstein's 1925, the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra's 2009 had much in common with Eisenstein's 1925. 2009 was the first (and so far only) year in which we composed, rehearsed and premiered two full-length feature film scores. Further making our work difficult was the spacing between each premiere: our new score to Strike was to be premiered at Webster University on September 27th and our new score to Murnau's Nosferatu was to be premiered on Halloween night at Vanderbilt University.

Composing our new score for Strike began in July of 2009, and as soon as we had enough score to start rehearsing it, we started rehearsing it. Meanwhile, Brien and Pace continued to compose some twenty minutes of film ahead of the full ensemble's rehearsals. As soon as Brien and Pace composed the last notes of the Strike score, they started composing the first notes of the Nosferatu score. (That moment happened in early September, if I remember correctly.) It was as if we were inside that Bolshoi Theater projection booth, and the full ensemble was the projectionist, and Brien and Pace were Eisenstein the editor ... just twenty minutes ahead of the full ensemble.

At the same time during that late summer and early fall of 2009, we wanted to expand and develop both as composers and musicians. Our previous scores for Go West and The Last Laugh had been loose and less technically demanding affairs. With Strike's quick and rhythmic editing, we took the opportunity to "compose above" our technical skills and challenge ourselves to meet the demands of a technically demanding score that we ourselves had composed. Strike is an audacious and often muscular film that demands an audacious and muscular score. What we composed was a score that gives us a workout unlike any other. Perhaps we were a little crazy. Thank goodness that we pulled it off. The months leading up to our Strike and Nosferatu premieres were the most difficult and stressful of our ensemble's existence. Each premiere was equally as thrilling as the difficulty and stress leading up to them.

The May Day Orchestra is the opener for R&P MPO's performance of its score in accompaniment of Strike, this coming Monday the 19th at El Leñador. May Day Orchestra will perform its folk opera May Day, or Songs for Lucy Parsons. The songs of Lucy Parsons center around the people and events related to the Haymarket Massacre. The subject matter seems a fitting complement to Strike. Further in complement of Strike (and of the venue), May Day Orchestra will perform Lucy Parsons as Eisenstein's ¡Qué viva México! is projected on the big screen.

Eisenstein Evening

10PM: May Day Orchestra performs Songs for Lucy Parsons in accompaniment of Eisenstein's ¡Qué viva México!

11PM: Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra performs its score in accompaniment of Eisenstein's Strike

Monday, September 19th
10PM Movie Time
El Leñador
3124 Cherokee St. STL MO

21+, free admission (but donations welcome and appreciated)


  1. Reading all of these updates, and all one after the other at once, I am feeling sorry I don't have anything more/better to offer for the 26th!

  2. I'm glad I made it! Great performance!