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Early Sound Counterpoint

Author(s): Kristin Thompson


Reviewed work(s):
Source: Yale French Studies, No. 60, Cinema/Sound (1980), pp. 115-140
Published by: Yale University Press
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KristinThompson

EarlySoundCounterpoint

A. DefiningCounterpoint
The Americanintroduction
of successfulsoundtechnologyin thelate
1920s brought forthconsiderable reaction fromforeigntheorists,
While oftencautiouslyadmittingthe aesthecritics,and filmmakers.
tic possibilitiesof the new filmicelement,thesepeople were almost
universal in theirfear of what the "talkie" mightdo to the newly
viewsof sound,
developed silentfilmart.Amongthe earlytheoretical
the "Statement"' of SergeiEisenstein,signedbyVsevolod Pudovkin
and GregoriAlexandrov,has held an importantplace. These major
Soviet filmmakerssaw potentialdangersin the new technique,but
did not thereforerejectit; theysuggestedinsteada way sound could
be used to greatesteffectin film-in counterpoint
to the image.
Eisenstein'shopes and fearsforthesoundcinemawerenecessarily
based almost entirelyupon his theoreticalunderstanding
of cinema
and any reading he may have done of reportsfromabroad. The
"Statement"appeared on August5, 1928; up to thattime,according
to JayLeyda,2 the onlysound screeningsin Russia had been demonstrationsof the German Tri-Ergonsystem(in 1926) and the Soviet
Tager system(1927 and 1928; later named Tagephon). Couched in
rathergeneral terms,the "Statement"tendsto give the impression
thatthe Soviet directorswere callingfora moreradicalformalusage
of sound than was in practicein any othercountryduringthe early
sound period.

I
Sergei Eisenstein,Vsvolod Pudovkin,and GregoriAlexandrov,"A Statement,"
trans.and ed., JayLeyda, FilmForm(New York: Harcourt,Brace, and World,1949),
pp. 257-259.
2JayLeyda, Kino (New York: Collier Books, 1973), p. 278.

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Yet the unavailabilityof the earlySoviet sound filmshas leftthis
period a virtual blank in English-languagehistories.Factors like
Eisenstein's absence fromRussia duringthiscrucialtime,plus the
late developmentof sound technologyin the Soviet Union, plus the
imposed doctrineof SocialistRealism from1934onward,have added
up to create an impressionof relativeinactivity
duringtheyears1931
to 1933. Our accountsof Soviet filmhistorytendto place the end of
the montage movementin 1930, then skip to Chapayev(1933) and
other anti-montagefilms.The major filmmakersapparentlyspent
theirtimeplanningsoundfilmsthatcould notbe made forone reason
or another(e.g., Pudovkin'sfiascowithA SimpleCase, finallymade
silent); alternatively,
theymade sound filmswhichfolloweda safer,
non-montageline. Leyda, our key source of information
on Soviet
films,fostersthisviewbydismissing
thesound"Statement"as basically
non-influential,
callingit, "of historicinterestbut notof greathelp in
the crises[i.e., presumably,technicalproblemsand officialstrictures]
to come."3 Enthusiasmand Deserterhold reputationsas the rare
exceptions,counterpointfilmsthatactuallydid get made.
In fact,counterpointfilmsmay have been rare,but not so much
so as this view would suggest.I have surveyedeleven films,mostly
made between 1930 and 1934 by the major directorsfromthe silent
to use some kindsof
period.4 Of these, two seem to me consistently
sound-imagedisjunctionwe may provisionallycall "counterpoint":
Alone and Deserter. Several others use occasional counterpoint:
3Ibid., p. 279.
(Eisensteinand Alexandrov,
4These are, in orderof release: Romancesentimentale
1930); Enthusiasm(Entuziazm,Vertov, 1931); The Road to Life (Putyovkav zhizn,
Nikolai Ekk, 1931); Alone (Odna, Kozintsevand Trauberg,1931); Golden Mountains
(Okraina,BorisBarnet,1933); Deserter
(Zlatyagori,SergeiYutkevich,1931); Outskirts
Kuleshov, 1933); Lieutenant
(Pudovkin, 1933); The Great Consoler (Velikiiuteshitel,
(Vostaniye
1934);Revoltof theFishermen
Kizhe (PoruchikKizhe,AlexandreFeinzimmer,
rybakov,Erwin Piscator, 1934); ThreeSongs of Lenin (Tri pesni o Leninye,Vertov,
1934).
My thanksto JacquesLedoux and the staffof theRoyal Film Archiveof Belgium,
who permittedme to view and take stillsfromthesefilms,as well as to the American
Association of UniversityWomen, whichsupportedthisresearch.
I also appreciate the helpfulcommentson the manuscriptgiven me by David
Bordwell and JanetStaiger.
Several of these filmsare available for16mmrentalin the USA. Audio-Brandon
and The Road to Life. The Museum of Modem Art
distributesRomance sentimentale
distributesEnthusiasm.

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KristinThompson
Enthusiasm,The Road to Life, Outskirts,
and Romancesentimentale.
The resthave at mosta couple of isolateddisjunctivesound devices:
The Great Consoler,LieutenantKizhe, Revoltof theFishermen,and
ThreeSongs of Lenin. I includeRomancesentimentale
here because,
althougha French film,it was the onlyworkcompletedduringthis
period by two of the "Statement"'s signers.
The existence of a body of early Soviet sound filmsoffersthe
possibilityof clarifying
what the filmmakers
mayhave meantby the
term "counterpoint."A simple definitionas a disjunctionbetween
sound and image will not do. First,it is vague; was counterpoint
differentfromthe stylizedsound usage recommendedby European
writers?Second, thedefinition
does notdeal withthefunctionswhich
counterpointdevices played in the films.Stylesare definednot only
by theirtypicaldevices, but also by those devices' typicalfunctions.
Briefly,the "Statement"says thatthe earlysound period in the
Soviet Union would need two stages,one of experimentsimplywith
non-synchronized
sound and laterone withcounterpoint.The latter
concept remainsvague; the "Statement"neverdefinesit. Its last two
paragraphsdo suggestthatsoundwillbe used to continuethetradition
of silentmontage,providingan additionalmaterialforthecreationof
ideas and feelingswithoutan excess of words.Eisensteinindicatesan
avoidance of spoken language by his emphasison the international
characterof the resultingfilms:
Such a methodforconstructing
thesound-film
willnotconfineitto a nationalmarket,
as musthappen withthe photographing
of plays,but willgive a greaterpossibility
than ever beforeforthe circulationthroughoutthe worldof a filmically
expressed
idea.5

The Soviet filmmakerswere largelyprepared, throughtheirdeep


groundingin filmtheory,to welcome sound as anothermontage
element. They seem not to have considered it as a thingapart,
requiringa whole new approach, as so manyotherfilmmakers
did;
instead theywere able to see it as a filmicdevicesimilarto theimage
devices of the silent period. In "A Dialectical Approach to Film
Form" (1929), Eisensteinput conflictbetweenopticaland acoustical
elements into his list of types of montage conflict;the list also
5Eisenstein et al., p. 259.

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includesconflictof light,tempo,graphics,and otherimageelements.6
The sound filmwas simplya majorextensionofthemontageprinciple.
of theperiodsuggestthathe did notconceive
Eisenstein'swritings
counterpointas a radicaland constantdisjunctionbetweensoundand
image. Like manyof the contemporary
European theorists,hismain
fear was the dominanceof synchronized
dialogue. When asked during his 1930 lectureat the Sorbonne what he thoughtof the talking
films,he replied:
I thinkthatthe 100% talkingfilmis a stupidity,
and I believethateveryoneis of
my opinion.
But the sound filmis a thingof greatinterestand the futurebelongsto it. In
particularthe filmsof Mickey.
The interestin thesefilmsis thatthesoundis notused as a naturalistic
element.7

Elsewhere he explainedhis admirationforthe MickeyMouse films:


"In these, forexample, a gracefulmovementof the footis accompanied by appropriatemusic,whichis, as it were, the audible expression of the mechanicalaction."8For Eisenstein,synchronized
sound
was not of a
was not unacceptable, as long as the synchronization
naturalistickind.
But thisleaves theconceptofcounterpoint
as unclearas before.If
use of soundcounts,thenhow maywe distinguish
any non-naturalistic
filmmakers
like
Soviet audio usage fromthatof theotherimaginative
Clair, Hitchcock,and Gosho? Is thereindeed any significant
difference? To further
clarifywhatSovietcounterpoint
was, we mayexamine the types of non-naturalistic
sound-imagedevices employedin
these earlyRussian films;by analyzingthefunctions
ofthesedevices,
we may see how theyare specificto the montagemovement.
To what extentare otherdirectors'filmsrelevantto the "StateAfterall, mostofthefilmmakers
ment" 's definitionof counterpoint?
did not signthe essay,nor,as faras we know,did mostof themwrite
6Sergei Eisenstein, "A Dialectical Approach to Film Form," Film Form, trans.
and ed., JayLeyda (New York: Harcourt,Brace, and World,1949), p. 54; see also his
discussion of sound as part of a "monisticensemble" in "The Unexpected," Film
Form, pp. 20-21, 24, 26-27.
7Sergei Eisenstein, "Les Principes du nouveau cinema russe," La Revue du
cinema, Vol. II, #9 (April 1, 1930), p. 24.
8Sergei Eisenstein,"The Future of the Film," interviewwithMark Segal, Close
Up, Vol. VII, #2 (August, 1930), p. 143.

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theirown theoreticalviews.Certainlyfewwereas daringin theiruses
of sound as one suspectsEisensteinwould have been at thispointin
his career. Yet these earlyfilmsdisplaya considerablehomogeneity
in theirconsistentusage of certainsound devicesand functions.If we
may safely consider a number of silent Soviet filmsby different
directorsas belongingto a unifiedmovement,then the montage
principleswhichcarriedover into the sound period maintainedthis
relativeunityof approach. (By unityhere I do notwishto implythat
the Soviet directorsdid not have distinctive
personalstyles,but only
thata significant
stylistic
overlapexistedamongtheirfilms.)Taken as
a whole, the eleven filmsunder considerationhere demonstratea
relativelysuccessfultransition
to soundbytheSovietcineastes,in the
sense thattheyavoidedalmostentirely
anyperiodof "cannedtheatre."
PredictablyKuleshov, whose theoryhad alwaysbeen more concreatedone of the sound
servativethanthose of his contemporaries,
filmsof thisgroupwithalmostno stylization
ofsound.His silentwork
had been largelya series of attemptsto systematizeclassicalcontinuityusage. (The mostfamousof the"experiments"are based on such
familiarcontinuitydevices as the eye-linematch and shot/reverseshot.) The Great Consoler offersalmostnothingwe would consider
montage; instead it reflectsKuleshov's main interestsin actingand
narrativeconstruction.
SimilarlyErwinPiscator'sRevoltof theFishermen contains almost no montage-influenced
material.A visitorin
Russia fromGermany,Piscator must have been familiarwith the
"Statement," whichhad been publishedin Germany;only the first
sequence of his filmmakes any sustainedeffortto utilizemontage
cuttingand sound, however. Finally, LieutenantKizhe's director
Feinzimmercreates a stylemore akin to the comic European traditionthan to the montagemovement.
All the otherdirectors,however,were commitedto some variant
of the montagestyleand had made silentfilmsusingit. In spiteof
theirdependence upon mise-en-scene
stylizationin theirearlyfilms,
Kozintsev and Traubergpicked up the prevailingSoviet fastcutting
and dynamiccompositionsby the time theymade New Babylon in
1929. Pudovkin and Vertov were of course two of the strongest
membersof the movement.SergeiYutkevichand BorisBarnetmade
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excellent,ifless original,filmsin the twenties.Yutkevichwas particularlyeclectic,borrowingfreelyfromthe major European stylesas
well as fromhis fellowmontagefilmmakers.
Barnet's filmsat times
show strongtouchesof Vertovand Eisenstein.On thewhole,we can
assume thatbecause these directorswere all utilizingmontageprintheirsound practicewould be likelyto
ciples in theirfilmmaking,
continueto displayat least some stylistic
overlap.In addition,bythe
end of the silentperiod, the montagestylewas so well established
that virtuallyany Soviet film contained some example, however
cliched and limited,of it. Such old-fashioned,conservativedirectors
as Protazanovand AlexanderIvanovskyoccasionallyinserteda bitof
fastcuttingor dynamiclow anglesof statuesagainstthesky.Thus we
mightexpect to findsound counterpointcroppingup in otherwise
conventionalfilms;in fact,the onlyfilmof theelevenwhichcontains
no examples of it is ThreeSongs of Lenin.
In looking at sound functionsin these early films,I will use a
schema based on Eisenstein'searlymontagetheory.For Eisenstein,
to controlaudience response.
montagewas a way forthe filmmaker
This response occurredin a sortof chain reaction,beginningon the
relativelysimplelevel of perception,buildingup fromperceptionto
stimulateemotion,and finally,reachingthehighestlevel,cognition.I
emphasize thatthesethreelevelswerenotseen as separateprocesses,
but as threestages,each increasingin theamountof stimulusneeded,
of the same fundamentalresponse process. (This view is basic to
Eisenstein's early theory;for a more detailed account, see David
Bordwell's "Eisenstein'sEpistemologicalShift."9) Since a filmdevice
in the montage stylefunctionsto stimulatethe spectatorto one of
these levels of response, we should be able to classifyindividual
examples fromthe filmswithinthese threecategories.One general
typeof sound-imagefunction,then,willbe perceptual"roughening."
thespectatorwithan unusual
This termimpliesthatthefilmconfronts
device which is difficultto perceive smoothly;the purpose, in the
montagetheory,is to stimulatethespectatorto a moreintense,active
perception. In this heightenedstate, the spectatorwill be more
9David Bordwell,"Eisenstein'sEpistemologicalShift,"Screen,Vol. 15, #4 (Winter 1974/5),pp. 32-46.

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susceptibleto stimulationof the emotionaland cognitivelevels. My
threecategorieswillbe perceptualroughening,
emotionaleffect,and
cognitiveeffect.In layingout thetypesof counterpoint
devices,I will
attemptto show whichcategoryof functionseach performedwithin
the filmsexamined.
These examples will ultimatelydemonstrate,I believe, thatthe
Soviet montagemovement'ssound distinguished
itselflargelyby its
use of the perceptualand cognitivefunctions.Virtuallyno filmsof
thisperiod outsidethe experimentalmovementsused purelyperceptual effectsto any extent.Such devicesdependupon callingattention
to the materialof the montageelementsapartfromanycontribution
to narrative;thestrongnarrative
motivation
of Hollywoodand western
European filmsalmostinevitablysuppressedsuch usage. These films
did, of course,use ideas, boththematicand narrative;butmoreoften
psychologicalmotivation(Hitchcock'sfamous"knife"scene in Blackmail) or genre conventionslike comedy,musicalnumbers,and suspense (as in Le Million,The Love Parade, and M, respectively)seem
to have providedthe justificationforstylizedsound. But the Soviet
montage movement,with its traditionof intellectualmontageand
propagandisticuse of cinema,tendedto use sound devicesto convey
abstractand rhetoricalideas quite frequently.
B. Types and Functionsof CounterpointDevices
1. Manipulationsof Only theSound Track
One mightexpect to findthe Soviet directorsusingmanipulation
of sound qualityto achieve a non-naturalistic
relationof sound and
image. But these eleven filmscontain only one such example. In
Deserter, an interiordialogue scene is followedby a scene of the
protagonistand his comrade on a tram; the sound track is dead
during this scene. Suddenly a strange,reverberating
clang occurs,
and the people on the tramget up and jump out; a clash withpolice
follows. The clang is cymbalsound run backward. It representsa
diegetic sound, since the charactersreact to it, but the distortionof
thesounditselfhas no apparentfunction
beyondroughening
perception.
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Extended silence is anotherrelativelyrare device. Once sound
was introduced,theSovietfilmmakers
seem to have been determined
to fillmuch of the track. (By silence here I do not mean the usual
pauses between distinctsounds, but stretchesof dead trackwithout
even ambientnoise.) Again, Deserteris an exception,witha number
of entiresequences playedmostlyor entirely
witha dead track.These
scenes come at whatappear to be arbitrary
points;forexample,while
most scenes of strikers'demonstrations
and battlesare accompanied
by appropriate crowd babble and shouts, one is played with no
sound. Nothingcues us to feel or thinkdifferently
about the strikers
in thisone scene; insteadthe effecton the audience is perceptualthe sudden switchto complete silence heightensand renews our
perceptionof events. (This may be necessarybecause Desertercontains several similarstrikescenes.)
Alone, on theotherhand,uses a briefsilentsceneforan emotional
function.Afteran extendedcheerfulopeningscene of the heroine's
breakfastand meetingwithher fiance,accompaniedby overlysweet
Shostakovich,the image fadesout on a highangleof thestreetas she
leaves the frame.A fade-inrevealsthesame framing
and theheroine
enters, reading a letter; she learns that instead of receivingthe
teachingpost in Leningradshe had requested,she has been assigned
to Siberia. The music had faded with the image; afterthe fade-in
thereis silence, functioning
here to stressher shock and disappointment. Deserterand Alone containthe onlymajor uses of silence in
the eleven filmsexamined; they also happen to be the two most
extremefilmsof the set in theiruse of sound counterpoint.
In quite a numberof cases, though,thefilmsutilizenon-fidelity
of
that
sound
withinapsound;
is, real, non-manipulated
synchronized
propriateimages. (This is thekindof thingthatClair uses at times,as
in Le Million, when the hero's frienddrops a plate and we hear a
cymbalclang, or when two men runintoeach otherand a bass drum
sounds.)
The Great Consoler,generallyremarkableforits lack of counterpoint, has one isolated instancewhen a prisonerin a jail cell hurlsa
stool across the room; the sound synchronizedwithits impactis a
cymbalclash. No emotionaleffectis apparent(as, forexample,with
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KristinThompson
thehumorous
use ofthesamedevicein theLe Millionexamplejust
cited), nor is thereany conceptualmotivation;
again,the device
simplyroughens
perception.
Several jokes in Outskirts
dependon non-fidelity.
In the first
scene,variouscharacters
are loitering
abouta publicpark;among
themis a cart-horse,
whoremarks
wearily
(withgenerallipsynchronization),"Oh, myGod, myGod." Later,thetownsfolk
meetat the
railroadstationto sendofftheyoungmenon theirwayto thefront
early in WorldWar I; the blastsof steamfromthe engineare
accompaniedbysynchronized
shoutsof"Hurrah!,"echoingthecries
of the people. The firstsceneendsin a clashbetweenstrikers
and
with
machine
andsympathizers;
theworkers
police,
gunsturned
against
a finalshotshowstheheroinecrouching
in theparkas a "machine
theshottwirling
a
gun"noiseis heardoff;thena childwalksthrough
toywhichis makingthenoise(a jokewhichperhapsonlytheSoviets
could fullyappreciate;see Fig.1). In all casescomedyprovidesthe

41.~~~
t.~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Fig. 1
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sound remainslargelyin
motivationforthe device; the non-faithful
the realm of emotionaleffectshere.
Finally, non-fidelitycan functionfor conceptual purposes. In
Enthusiasmworkerscut down churchspireswithsaws; as thesefall,
theirimpact is synchronizedwithgun shots. A man in The Golden
Mountains dreams of parading in fancyclothes before his fellow
workers; in his dream, the men play humble accordions,but the
accompanyingsound is a pompous orchestralmarch.The heroineof
Alone goes to the corruptand lazy presidentof the local Soviet for
help; images of her shoutingto rouse himto actionare synchronized
althougha
with the sound of an alarm clock. Thus non-fidelity,
device used in other countriesas well, sometimesserved a sort of
"intellectualmontage" purpose in the Soviet sound film.
The sound "Statement"warnedagainstcuts on the sound track
correspondingexactlywithcutson theimagetrack;in otherwords,it
deplored the possiblityof constantlyemployed on-screendiegetic
diegeticsound and
sound. In factmost of these filmsuse off-screen
sounds which overlap cuts. But we mightalso expect to findthe
filmmakerscuttingtheirsoundtrackswiththe rapidityand disjunctions they had developed in theirimage editingduringthe silent
period. Two filmsdo use abrupt,discontinuouseditingof sound;
these are again Deserterand Alone. Directlyafterthe silentscene
describedabove, wherethe heroineof Alone reads the letterassigning her to Siberia, the dead trackcuts to barrel organ music; the
effectis not of a barrelorganbeginningto play,but of an abruptcutin to the middle of an ongoing sound. This music continuesover
several shots of the emptystreetas the heroine walks and stops
beforea china shop. As she staresblanklyat thewindowdisplay,the
organ musiccutsout, 19 framesof dead trackfollow,thena woman's
voice beginsa sad, non-diegeticsongover. A moreremarkablescene
follows as the heroine goes to an officeto complain about her
assignment.She calls someone froma telephonebooth there. The
scene alternatesa mediumclose-upframingof her takenfrominside
the booth and a mediumshot of the booth fromoutside, withher
back visible throughthe window(Figs. 2 and 3). A babble of voices
mixed withmusicfades up insidethe booth as she places the call; on
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KristinThompson

Fig. 2

Fig. 3
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thefirst
cutoutsidethebooth,thisis replacedbya similar
babbleand
clack of typewriters.
The babbleand musicreturn
on thecut-back
intothebooth;on thesecondcutoutside,babblewithno typewriters
is heard.(In neitherspacedo we heartheheroine'svoice.)As she
hangsup thephoneinthisshot,thereis an abruptcuton thetrackto
silence.Thiswholealternation
ofsoundshas apparently
beenmotivatedbythecutstodifferent
spaces,yetthesoundsarenotconsistent
betweenspaces-if thesoundof theofficeworkers'voicescan be
heardin the booth,whynot thetypewriters?
and whyshouldthe
officesoundscutoutwhenshe hangsup?
Finally,at theend of thisofficescene,theheroine'sappealhas
been rejected;she mustteachin Siberiaor notat all. She stands
undecidedinthehallway,
watchedbyan oldman.Overa longshotof
the two (Fig. 4) we heara man'svoicein a cheerful
Shostakovich
song. The old man's lips move,and a titleis used to conveyhis
dialogue,whichdeclaresthatno onewantstogo to "thathole."This
seriesof shotsfollowsthetitle:

0.-

Fig.4
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KristinThompson
MCU
MCU
MS
LS

The old man.


Reverse shot,the heroine.Old man's voice, off:"Life willbe beautifulfor
you!" [i.e., if she gives up the teachingpost and marriesher fiance]
The pair. Dead trackas she ripsup theofficialformin herhand. She looks
at him and shouts: "I'll go!" [lip synchronization]
The pair. Dead track,pause, she leaves.

Here Kozintsevand Trauberguse a title,an off-screen


voice, and an
on-screenvoice in quick succession,along withan ironicallyinappropriate, cheerfulsong and patches of dead track; this and the telephone and officescenes precedingit are themostvaried,daring,and
sustaineduse of contrapuntalsound in the eleven filmsexamined.In
all threeexamplesof abruptsound cuttingfromAlone, the narrative
motivationis unclear.The cuttingworksprimarily
on theperceptual
level (though the individualsounds, like the sad song in the first
example, have emotionalfunctions).
Deserteruses abrupt cuttingof one musicalpassage for a more
clearlyemotionaleffect.Over a sceneof theheroinesellinga workers'
newspaper on the street,passages of a non-diegetic,cheerywaltz
alternatewiththe woman's cries. These individualsounds are each
relativelysustainedat first;thenthecuttingbecomesmorerapid,until
only a note or two of the musicor a singlewordwill occur in quick
succession. AfterthisPudovkinpresentsthemusicbyitself,butwith
sonic "jump cuts" whichdestroytherhythm
and melodyofthepiece,
jumblingit randomlytogether.This correspondswithquickercutting
of the images,showingpeople walkingbyon thesidewalk;it leads up
to the arrivalof police who confiscatethe papers. Unlike in Alone,
the sound cuttinghere followsthe emotional developmentof the
to the
scene, fromtheironicallysereneimagesof bourgeoispassers-by
tensionof the police raid.
2. Manipulationof Only theImage Track
In spite of these few very successfuluses of disjunctivesound
editing,most directorsdo not seem to have developed extensively
theirsilentmontagetheoriesforsound. Instead,muchof the sound127

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image counterpointin these filmsresultsfroma manipulationof the
image withrelativelyextendedpassages of sound over it. Again, this
manipulationmayfunctionperceptually;bybreakingup theimagein
some way, the filmmaker
discouragesa fusionofsoundand imagefor
the spectator. Deserter contains many scenes in which Pudovkin
insertsseriesof singleframesof black leaderintoshots.This happens
firstin the openingscene, wherefour"shots" in a row show a chain
falling;one passage of chain sound effectsextendsacross the entire
action. But one "shot" has a flickering
appearance; it actuallyalternates single-frame
shotsof the chainwithframesof black leader (see
Fig. 5, a stripof the filmitself).Numerousotherscenes,particularly
of fastaction such as demonstrations
and riots,use thissame device.
In some cases, the device arguablyplays an emotionalfunction;in
others,like the chain example, the effectis purelyperceptual.
In Outskirts,a factoryboss throwsdown a seris of boots to
accompanyingdiegeticthumps.But our viewoftheshoes landingin a
heap is a series of jump cuts, which destroysthe synchronization
betweenthesoundeffectsand thevisuals.Again,no specificemotional
or conceptualfunctionmotivatesthisdevice. Certainlyin theseexamples, some sortof sound counterpointexists,even thoughthe sound
itselfis simplya singlepassage of onscreendiegeticeffects.
More often, the manipulationof the image in relation to its
accompanyingsound has an emotionalfunction.The openingscene
of Revoltof theFishermenuses fastcuttingof shotsof men chopping
up fishon a boat at sea; the accompanyingsound is a blend of nonshoutsof the men. The rapid
diegetic music and non-synchronized
visual montage of fish,knives,and hands createsan atmosphereof
confusionand tension,preparingthe way forthe momentwhen one
of the men cuts his hand witha cleaver. Only afterthisaction does
the conceptualpointof thescene come forward:thattheownershave
providedtoo fewmen per boat, causinga workspeed-upand dangerous conditions.The sound of the openingscene helps motivatethe
spectator's sympathyforthe revoltwhichformsthe main action of
the film.
Similarly,Romance sentimentale
beginswithan extendedfast-cut
Parodying
passage of leaflesstrees,withquickmusicalaccompaniment.
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KristinThompson

12~~~'1

Fig. 5

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currentEuropean avant-garde
usage, Eisensteinand Alexandrov
in whichthe image
introducecantedframings,
rollingmovements
goes upside-down
(Fig. 6), staticupside-down
shots,fastmotion,
slowmotion,backward
motion,andtiltsup anddown.Thecombination of cameratricks,cutting,
and musiccreateswhatEisenstein
would probablycall a tonal effectof tensionand bleakness;this
preparesthewayfortheonlynarrative
actionofthefilm,a woman
herpastlove.
singinga sad songand remembering

1~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~1

Fig. 6
The Road to Life presentsa dance in a tavernwithdiegeticdance

musicand shouts;theimagesare handledin muchthesamewayas


theywouldhavebeenin a silentfilmdancescene.The cameraspins
on itsaxis,creating
a serisofextended
ofshots
whippans.A number
are donethrough
prisms,
creating
multiple
imagesofthesamefigure
in the frame.Here the emotionaleffectof the livelydanceis the
motivation.
Lieutenant
Kizhealsousesspecialphotographic
effects
to
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KristinThompson
create sound-image
A sprightly
disjunction.
Prokofiev
marchfor
fifes,bugles,and drumsplaysdiegetically
as the filmopens,aca seriesofshotsofsoldiers
companying
andservants
drilling
cleaning.
The cutting
ofall themencorrespond
andgestures
tothebeatsofthe
music,so muchso thatthemenmovelikemechanical
toys.Butmost
oftheseshotsare donewithsplitscreen,anda secondimageofeach
manappears,slightly
fuzzy,at thelefthalfofthescreen(Figs.7 and
8). Thuseachmanor group'sgestures
matchnotonlythemusic,but
also theidenticalgestures
oftheduplicateimage.Thisis notexactly
counterpoint,
but the treatment
does destroythenaturalistic
syncsoundrelations
in hiswritings.
whichwereEisenstein's
maintargets
(In fact,Lieutenant
ofthe
Kizhe'scomicopeningcaptures
something
qualityof the perfectly
Mouse
synchronized
Mickey
cartoons.)In
generalKizheis theclosestoftheseSovietfilms
to thecomicstylizationof earlyClair films.Its storyand stylizedimagesprovidethe
mainpointsof comparison,
playof the
however;thesound-image
firstscenevirtually
disappearssubsequently.

I~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Fig. 8
AlonetakesPudovkin's
deviceofblankleaderinserts
perceptual
in thiscase white-and uses it in combination
withsoundforan
emotionaleffect.
In thefinalsequence,theheroine,
whohasbecome
ill whileteachingin Siberia,boardsa planewhichwill
dangerously
takeherto a Moscowhospital.As thevillagers
cheerherpromiseto
return,theimagecutting
accelerates.
Shostagradually
Triumphant
kovichmusicplaysas thescenebuildsup to an emotionalclimax;
finallysingleframesof a low-angle
shotoftheplanealternate
with
singleframesofwhiteleaderforabout30 shots,endingas theplane
pullsawayto takeoff.The cutting
and musiccombineto createan
extrememomentof triumph
as the filmends. (This momentmay
have been ideologically
sinceAlonepresents
thebleakest
necessary,
of
I
life haveencountered
ina Sovietfilm.)
portrayal contemporary
3. Conceptual
Juxtaposition
ofSoundand Image
In no case did manipulations
of the visualsto createa nonnaturalistic
sound-image
relationship
playa conceptualrole in the
filmsexamined.Quite often,however,sounddevicesthemselves
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KristinThompson
inrelationship
to images,affecting
themeanfunctioned
conceptually
Severalfilmsuse musicwhichis
ing of the imagesconsiderably.
is ironic.
totheimages.In somecasestheeffect
clearlyinappropriate
striker
triesto stealfoodfroma tablein an
In Deserter,a starving
mediumshotof a
outdoorcafe.The scenebeginswitha long-held
richmanapparently
asleepat histable.(Fig.9). Thereisnomovement

Fig. 9
foraboutthirty
seconds,thenhe wakesandordershisfood;throughout thisand therestofthescene,loud,cheerful
musicplays.As the
toa congarhythm
forthe
foodarrivesat thetable,themusicswitches
the
theft
the
of
the
worker.
and
attempted
expulsion
Throughout,
of the
bothto theslowrhythm
musicis completely
inappropriate,
a
to
the
of
the
action.
The
result
is
bitter
and
gestures
implications
ofKerenvisualtreatment
toEisenstein's
conceptual
irony
comparable
in October.
skyin theTsar'schambers
GoldenMountains
also usesmusicto undercut
themostobvious
the
line of action,in a factory
scene.The managertriesto impress
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Yale FrenchStudies
discontentedworkersby presentinga gold watch to one of them.
During the presentation,the manageris friendly
and deferential;the
workersstarein delightedastonishment
as thewatchis liftedfromits
box. Yet the music which accompanies the entire scene is overly
sweet and triumphant;
althoughwe sympathizewiththeworkers,we
are cued not to sharetheirdelightat themanagement'sgenerosity.
A
similardevice occurs in the firstsequence of Alone. As the heroine
rises cheerfullyin the morning,does her exercises,and gets breakfast,we hear birdssinging,and exaggeratedly
sweetmusic.This music
continuesthroughthe scene, apparentlymatchingshiftin thesmiling
heroine's thoughtsexactly.Yet the whole thingis so sweet and so
cheerfulthatthe spectatorcannot but suspectan ironicimplication.
This exaggerationcontinuesas the heroine and her fiance discuss
their futuretogether,repeatedlyexclaiming,"How wonderfullife
will be!" This lengthysequence leads directlyintothesilentscene on
the street,describedearlier,in whichthe heroinediscoversshe must
go to Siberia. Much ofAlone's subsequentbleaknessderivesfromthe
action's contrastto thisebullientopening.
Beyond this negativefunctionof ironicallyundercutting
the apfunction
parent implicationsof the images, sound can
positivelyto
controlimplicationsof a scene. In Outskirts,
imagesof a shoe factory
frontduringWorldWar
with
at
the
machine
are intercut
shotsof
guns
I. By continuingthe sound effectsof a machinegun over all these
shots, Barnet suggeststhat the factory,with its contractto make
to the war as muchas does the actual
soldiers' boots, is contributing
fighting.In Deserter,the groansof an injuredstrikeraftera riotare
heard firstover a longshotof himlyingin a desertedstreet;thenthey
ownerslookingon
continueover shotsin anotherlocale ofthefactory
as other strikersare led away by soldiers. The continuinggroans
reveal the ownersas the real causes of the man's injuries;the police
we had seen in the previoussequence are onlytheiragents.
in Siberia.
In Alone, theheroinepracticesherlectureafterarriving
Insert shots show a local Shaman doing a ritual dance and other
villagersworkingwithprimitivetools. The Shaman's drumand chant
alternatewiththe cheerfulwaltz associatedwiththe heroine;finally
the two sounds mergeand continuetogether.Here sound and image
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KristinThompson
cuttingdo not coincide; instead,theindependentshiftson each track
combine to suggestwhat the heroineis up againstin teachingabout
modem life in the primitiveSiberianculture.Enthusiasm'sfirstsequence containsa lengthyscene alternatingshotsof people praying
before a Christ icon with shots of drunkardsand vagrantsin the
streets. At firstVertov continuesreligiousmusic fromthe church
scenes over the vagrants;laterhe switchesto tavernsounds,continthe two groups
uing these over the churchimages. By characterizing
of people as similarin some way,Vertovpreparesfora scene of the
conversionof a churchinto a workers'club-a positiveforcewhich
will then counter both of the problems shown earlier. All these
examples, except the one fromDeserter,depend on sound simplyto
of
strengthena conceptual point made already by the intercutting
role; it can act as
images. But sound need not play onlya reinforcing
an independentelementto determinethe implicationsof a scene.
In several films,musicfunctionsto suggesta meaningnot necessarilypresentin a seriesof images. Pudovkindescribesthisfunction
as a Principleof Sound Film"; in discusin his essay, "Asynchronism
sing the finalsequence of Deserterhe says: "Justas the image is an
objective perceptionof events,so the musicexpressesthe subjective
Deserter'sendingresemblesthat
appreciationof thisobjectivity."'10
of Mother,in that the workersmarchwiththeirflagand are ridden
down by a group of police. In thiscase the hero holds the flagand
strugglesto keep it aloftto the end. Throughoutthemarch,riot,and
musicplays.
regroupingof the remainingworkers,loud, triumphant
During much of the scene, the music seems inappropriateto the
brutal struggle,in which many workersare struckdown. Yet it
"rejoins" the image forthe finaldefiantending,suggestingthatthe
workers' victory,despite temporarysetbacks,is asured. (Pudovkin
discusses thissequence at greaterlengthin his essay.)
of the conceptualuse of musicin these
Much of the effectiveness
ofDmitriShostakovich.
earlyfilmsmaybe tracedto theparticipation
in
Even
the silent period, he evidently tried to avoid simple
10V. I. Pudovkin,"Asynchronism
as a Principleof Sound Film," Film Technique
and Film Acting,trans. and ed., Ivor Montagu (New York: Grove Press, 1960), pp.
192-193.

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Yale FrenchStudies
accompanimentin favorof meaningfuldisjunction;of hisNew Babylon score he wrote in 1929: "At the end of Reel 2, the important
momentis the German cavalry'sadvance on Paris, but the reel ends
in a deserted restaurant.Silence. But the music,in spiteof the fact
that the German cavalry is no longer on the screen, continuesto
I Shostaremindthe audience of the approachof thatfiercepower.""
kovichwas responsibleforthe musicin the twoheavilyironicscenes
fromGolden Mountainsand Alone describedabove. The musicofthe
opening sequence of Golden Mountainsfunctionssimilarlyto thatof
Deserter'sfinal scene, but here more disparatevisual elementsare
drawntogetherintoa conceptualwhole.Yutkevichintercuts
relatively
staticshots of oil workerspresentinga set of demandsto theirboss,
quick shots of soldiersridingfuriouslyalong a road, a briefscene of
an exhausted workercollapsing,and a series of shotstaken froma
movingtrain.Overall, thescene createsan extremely
dynamiceffect,
yet the individualvisual elementsdo not all seem to fitin withthe
do notmovedynamically
at
music.The workers,thoughsympathetic,
all; theysuggestratheran extremeexhaustionresultingfromoppressive conditions. The soldiers move quickly,yet theyare certainly
unsympatheticin this context;the trainshots are also rhythmically
appropriate to the music, yet theirconnectionwith the action is
uncertain.Again theimplicationfora Sovietaudiencewouldprobably
be the inevitableconflictand triumphwhichwould arise fromthe
situation.
The Road to Life uses triumphantmusic similarly.A group of
juvenile deliquentsare being trainedto make shoes. As theirleader
cutsa piece of leather,a flashbackshowshimas he had been, stealing
cloth froma woman's coat. Over the imagesin thepresentas well as
the flashback,a men's choir sings cheerfully.Clearly the music is
appropriate not to the individualactions of cuttingleather or of
stealing,but to the successfulchange broughtabout in the boy.
These variousscenes are complexin themselves,but the creation
of meaning throughapparentsound-imageconflictpresenteda difficultproblem. The filmmakersseem not to have been able to get
" Quoted in Leyda, p. 259, fn.

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KristinThompson
past a certain conventionalizedlevel, since all three filmswhich
containthe device use it to conveythesame idea-the triumphofthe
the Soviet directorshad littletimeto
Soviet struggle.Unfortunately
explore thisnew dimensionof intellectualmontage.
4. TemporalDisjunction
One finalway the Soviet filmmakers
separatedsound and image
was throughtemporaldisjunction-havingthe sound occur at a differentpartof theplot timefromtheimage.The moststraightforward
temporalusage was the sonic flashback,a device whichhas become
familiarin even themostclassicaloffilmmaking
practices.At theend
of Golden Mountains,a strikehas been planned.Soldierscapturethe
main strikers,butone workerrememberstheirleader'sorderto blow
the whistleat two o'clock, and he does so. Here the leader's voice is
heard over, repeatinga line givenin an earlierscene. In Alone, the
heroinetriesto convincea bureaucratnotto assignherto Siberia;her
words are conveyedby titlesonly,but the non-diegeticmusicof the
earlierscene withthe fianceplaysover. A less conventionaldisjunctioncomes just afterthis,in Alone, as the heroineleaves thebureaucrat's office.The bouncymusiccutsabruptlyout overa mediumshot
of the heroine smiling,and a woman's voice and typewriter
sounds
begin off;the voice is dictatinga lettertellingthe heroineshe must
teach in Siberia or give up her career. Althoughshe does not leave
her seat in this shot, a straightcut leads to a mediumshot of her
standing by the office door, then exiting.As she goes, another
straightcut reveals her standingin long shot in the middle of the
hallway outside. Each of these cuts involves an ellipsis, yet the
continuewithoutinterrupdiegetic off-screenvoice and typewriter
tion. Moreover,the heroineexitscarrying
thesheetofpaperwiththe
bureaucrat's decision (which she has acquired duringthe ellipsis
between the firstand second shots)-a paper whose contentswe
continueto hear being dictatedand typedon the soundtrack.While
the sound flashbacksfunctionprimarily
in a conceptualway,to recall
eventsforthe spectator,thisAlone scene is an exampleof perceptual
roughening.It is perhapsthemostextremely
disjunctivesingledevice
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Yale FrenchStudies
in all the filmsexamined;mostrefrainfromplayingwiththe diegetic
sound of a scene in such a confusingfashion.
5. Non-counterpoint
Sound
The filmsof thisearlySoviet soundperiodwerefarfromavoiding
synchronoussound altogether.Deserteralternatesits many experimentalpassageswithpedestriandialoguescenesshotin soundstudios.
The Great Consoler is mostlysynchronizeddialogue scenes and is
probablythe closest to earlyHollywood usage of any of thesefilms.
Vertov wentto greatlengthsto getportablemicrophonesto filmonlocation sound effectsin minesand factoriesforEnthusiasm,thelast
two-thirdsof whichhas littleif any counterpoint.Afterthe adverse
reception accorded this filmin the Soviet Union, Vertov seems to
have played it safewithThreeSongsof Lenin,whichcontainsvirually
no tensionbetween sound and image; the sound consistsentirelyof
reverentmusicand bitsofon-screendiegeticvoice. Onlya fewfamiliar
Vertov camera tricksroughenthe film'saudio-visualrelationships.
The Road to Life and LieutenantKizhe, in spiteof isolatedcounterpoint sequences (primarilyin their brilliantopening scenes), use
mostlysynchronizeddialogue and appropriatemusic.
C. Conclusions
The intensetheoreticalwork in whichSoviet cinematicpractice
make thetransition
to
was groundedprobablyhelped thefilmmakers
and immediatelythanothergroups.But not
sound more successfully
all montageproblemshad been workedout bytheend ofthetwenties.
Viktor Shklovski pointed out in a discussionof October that its
intellectualmontagewas stilltoo new to be usefulforall purposes:
A new formalmeans whenit is createdis alwaysreceivedas comic,by virtueof its
novelty....
A new formis thereforemost suited to materialwhere the comic sense is
appropriate.This is how Eisensteinhas used his innovation.His newformaldevice,
whichwill no doubt become generalcinematicusage, is onlyemployedby himin
of negativefeatures,to show Kerensky,the WinterPalace, the
the structuring
advance of Kornilov,etc.

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To extendthe device to the patheticpartsof the filmwould be a mistake,the
new device is not yet appropriateto the treatmentof heroism.12

Eisenstein, perhaps in response to this argument,went furtherin


developing montagepracticeto cope withRevolutionarythemesin
Old and New. There, Marfa's dreamof the futurecollectivefarmis
stronglycomic, but presentsthe positiveforcesof the narrative;the
comic.
cream separatorsequence is onlyincidentally
But Eisensteinwas not presentto develop thisworkin the early
carriedon thetradition
soundperiod.And, whiletheotherfilmmakers
mostdid littleto explorefurther
possibilby usingsound cognitively,
itiesof thisapproach. They seem to have optedfortheeasierrouteof
using stylizedsound forcertainconventionalizedpurposes-ridiculing bourgeoisforces,expressingtriumphfortheproletarianstruggle,
and so on.
apparentduringthisperOne problemthatbecomes increasingly
iod is the conflictbetweenthe more extremeformsof montageand
the Socialist Realist narrativeswhich were becoming prominent.
Deserter
throughout.
None of theseearlysoundfilmsuses counterpoint
has its many dialogue scenes, Alone its extendedscenes in Siberia
withappropriatemood music;theotherfilmsuse onlyisolatedcounterpointpassages. Counterpointworkedfineforsettingup thereactionary forces against whichthe characterwould struggle;most of the
best examples in these filmsoccur earlyin the film,thendwindleor
disappear. When counterpointwas used in relationto the positive
elements, it tended to interferewith the clear progressionof the
narrative;such scenes, as the examplescitedheremayindicate,were
likely to be pauses, plateaus in the ongoing action. A scene of
triumph,a parade, a demonstration-alltheseactionscould be drawn
out considerablywithoutaddingto theirnarrativefunction.
This would have been finehad therelativefreedomto experiment
of the twentiespersisted.But as aestheticdoctrinesgot tighterin the
Soviet Union from1930 on, the necessityforclear, even simplistic
narrativeprogressionbecame greater.Virtuallyall these filmsconintothe principleof Socialist
tain scenes whichcould fitcomfortably
'2Viktor Shklovski,"Eisenstein's October. Reasons for Failure," trans.,Diana
Matias, Screen, Vol. 12, #4 (Winter1971/2),p. 90.

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Realism (with the possible exception of LieutenantKizhe, whose
So
polished period comedymakes it atypicalof Soviet filmmaking).
practicedid exist,but onlybriefly.The fact
counterpointfilmmaking
thatmost of filmscontaincounterpointsequences onlyin theirearly
portions suggeststhat the filmmakersmay have triedto leave the
officialsin theiraudiences withthe dominantimpressionof straightforwardnarrativestyle.
Nevertheless,these few filmswiththeirlimitedexperimentare
remainedwithinthemonenough to indicatethatSoviet filmmaking
tage traditioninto the sound period. Concentratingon perceptual
and cognitiveas well as emotionalresponse,most of these Russian
fromearlysound stylesof
filmsfollowan approach indistinguishable
America, WesternEurope, or Japan. These last few years before
Socialist Realism also produced at least one greatfilm,Alone, and
several othersof considerableinterest.

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