SERGEI EISENSTEIN

A LIFE IN CONFLICT

This biography limns a man driven by ideas but thwarted by oppression from all fronts—family, business, and government. Using material recently made public by the Russian government, South African-born film scholar Bergan (Jean Renoir: Projections of Paradise, 1994) effectively dispels perceptions of the Soviet director as a “calculating, didactic theorist whose films ‘lack humanity.’ “ Bergan provides a reflective yet chatty portrait of Eisenstein as a gifted iconoclast who escaped his domineering, bourgeois father to embrace the new Soviet state and the “Eighth Art” of film only to confront greater tacticians in Hollywood types and censure by Josef Stalin. Paramount terminated Eisenstein’s contract early, and David O. Selznick rejected his screenplay adaptation of An American Tragedy as potentially a “most miserable two hours to millions of happy-minded young Americans.” Stalinist censors rejected his now-lost film Bezhin Meadow (which Bergan believes may have been his greatest achievement) and forced Eisenstein to —confess— its political groundlessness and anti-artistic tendencies. Bergan’s erudite, jargon- free film analyses complement the personal history and reveal Eisenstein as a humanist and early maker of movie illusion. Long before George Lucas added sound to outer space in Star Wars, Eisenstein fabricated the bloodbath on the Odessa Steps in The Battleship Potemkin. True to the power of the film image, it stands as an icon of the 1905 revolution. As for the image of Eisenstein, this biography views him not as an underappreciated film pioneer who must be revisited but as a cinema genius of lost potential. Like Orson Welles, Eisenstein won an early place in the cinema pantheon and followed it with decades of fits and starts, notably the aforementioned Bezhin Meadow and the truncated, John Dos Passos-financed QuÇ Viva MÇxico! An accessible, smart chronicle of a creative genius attempting to follow art and country. (36 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 27, 1999

ISBN: 0-87951-924-X

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he...

LIVES OTHER THAN MY OWN

The latest from French writer/filmmaker Carrère (My Life as a Russian Novel, 2010, etc.) is an awkward but intermittently touching hybrid of novel and autobiography.

The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he describes powerfully. Carrère and his partner, Hélène, then return to Paris—and do so with a mutual devotion that's been renewed and deepened by all they've witnessed. Back in France, Hélène's sister Juliette, a magistrate and mother of three small daughters, has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that crippled her in adolescence. After her death, Carrère decides to write an oblique tribute and an investigation into the ravages of grief. He focuses first on Juliette's colleague and intimate friend Étienne, himself an amputee and survivor of childhood cancer, and a man in whose talkativeness and strength Carrère sees parallels to himself ("He liked to talk about himself. It's my way, he said, of talking to and about others, and he remarked astutely that it was my way, too”). Étienne is a perceptive, dignified person and a loyal, loving friend, and Carrère's portrait of him—including an unexpectedly fascinating foray into Étienne and Juliette's chief professional accomplishment, which was to tap the new European courts for help in overturning longtime French precedents that advantaged credit-card companies over small borrowers—is impressive. Less successful is Carrère's account of Juliette's widower, Patrice, an unworldly cartoonist whom he admires for his fortitude but seems to consider something of a simpleton. Now and again, especially in the Étienne sections, Carrère's meditations pay off in fresh, pungent insights, and his account of Juliette's last days and of the aftermath (especially for her daughters) is quietly harrowing.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9261-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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