Posts Tagged ‘Sergei Eisenstein’

Code Blue

March 1, 2018

As usual, message-mongers in Moscow are still stuck on the steep up-slope of modern media’s oscillatory learning curve.  Despite pioneering 20th c. work by the Tartu School of Semiotics, United Russia’s party hacks do not yet seem to have fully mastered the techniques of deploying signs and symbols as cultural referents in the service of mass mental manipulation.  F’rinstance, yon scenic backdrop.

Yes, it’s vast, it’s mighty, it’s YUGE.  These are all attributes that customarily denote strength, power and perhaps invulnerability. But … it’s blue.  Light blue.  Perhaps this is the blue of the Russian tricolor flag, but the light blue color also has another significance in modern Russian culture: it is a codeword and signifier for homosexuality.  So what’s the subliminal message here?  Are the average Boris and Natasha supposed to see a Real Man who stands in stark contrast to the overwhelming mass of wimpy, craven light-blue gayboys that swarm across the endless steppes and taiga?  Or does the emperor’s new wardrobe reveal what many people have suspected for years –that Comrade Bear secretly skates on both sides of the hockey rink?  After all, this is the guy who “found his thrill on Blueberry Hill.

What would Ser”gay” Eisenstein say about this particular form of intellectual montage?



Black Skies Matter

August 19, 2017

North America’s partially total solar eclipse isn’t due until Monday August 21st, but it seems as though our avian wildlife already knows what’s coming.  I say that because the birds in these here parts are already exhibiting anomalous behavior 48 hours in advance, on Saturday afternoon.  This despite the fact that it’s “officially” National Aviation Day. Here are some examples of bird behavior we don’t usually see (or hear) in my semi-rural environs:

  • total absence of spiraling vultures riding the thermal lifts in the high, wide skies overhead.  This despite the abundance of attractive roadkill deer carcasses littering the grassy margins of our picturesque country lanes … and the vultures aren’t on the ground snacking, either.
  • eerie quiet instead of the regular alarm calls of countless crows.  Occasional cheeps, chirps and tweets from other species hidden in the distant shrubbery, but not the usual cacaphonic conversation you can’t avoid hearing.
  • no visible feeding, and very little flying.  Airborne birds are taking very short-hop flights from tree to tree or shrub to thicket, but no longhaul excursions.  Yesterday evening, under a rainbow that formed in the wake of a slow-rolling storm front, flocks of swallows wheeled through the raindrops and flashed across the fields in golden, oblique sunbeams shining eastward from beneath the trailing clouds.  Not today.
  • more than four dozen mourning doves perched in a long row on roadside power line, facing west across several hundred acres of open fields.  Usually, that kind of a lineup would be an invitation to buffet lunch for the neighborhood red-tailed hawks, but they’re nowhere to be seen.
  • when I visited town earlier in the day, sparrows and pigeons that usually swarm along the main street to pick at lunch leftovers were instead flitting between the shrubs and trees one block to the south, annoying the jays and other usual inhabitants of the area.

Now that I’m once again paying closer attention to the non-human environment, I’ll continue to monitor animal behavior as the eclipse draws nearer.  Ordinarily, I’d only be interested in the effect of a new moon on women’s behavior.  I already know what effect it has on me.

Highwayman’s Hitch

As long as I’m talking about birds, I might as well go on record with an observation that occurred to me a couple of years ago, but which I haven’t previously published in explicit form:

Once you’re able to comprehend Alfred Hitchcock‘s “The Birds” as the tragi-comic pastiche of Sergei Eisenstein‘s “Battleship Potemkin” that it was intended to be, you’ll be in a position to evaluate the enduring influence of Ivor Montagu on Hitchcock’s cinematic oeuvre.

Understand?  Probably not.


December 4, 2015

Where did it all begin? With …

Basho‘s raven?

Brueghel‘s winter crow perched above Hunters in the Snow?

Hunters in the Snow

Vasily Surikov‘s original inspiration for the composition of Boiarina Morozova?


Eisenstein‘s spectral Potemkin crow’s nest-and-mast?


Hitchcock‘s Bodega Bay jungle gym?


Tarkovsky‘s rear window backdrop to the Solaris mise-en-abyme Berton backstory?

geste et gesture

geste et gesture


Why my sudden interest in Corvus brachyrhynchos?  Because they’ve been making their presence unmistakable in recent days. Even though they’ve always been around and among us, for millennia.

You may have noticed them …

  • crow-hopping across lawns and meadows.
  • Perching on fences, tombstones, Dumpsters, or swaying tree crests and limbs.
  • Clustering on telephone lines awaiting their casting call or cue from Disney animators.

When you can’t see them you’ll still hear them –a two- or three-caw location/status update, a five-caw warning of unexpected environmental change, a seven-caw alarm call of imminent potential threat.

And when you can’t see or hear them, crows still refuse to be erased from mere human consciousness.  Small shiny objects left in the open will tend to disappear in crow neighborhoods –but don’t call them thievin’ crows, because they usually leave something in exchange.  Like a small travel tin of dental floss the size of a nickel, in trade for a shimmering, opalescent plastic pearl.  Who’s to say that’s not a fair trade?  After all, a crow needs dental floss about as much as a human needs plastic pearls.

Although their beaks don’t benefit from regular flossing, crows are prodigious eaters:

“Crows are omnivorous, and their diet is very diverse. They will eat almost anything, including fruits, nuts, mollusks, earthworms, seeds, frogs, other birds, eggs, nestlings, mice, and carrion. The origin of placing scarecrows in grain fields resulted from the crow’s incessant crop damage and scavenging, although crows also assist farmers by eating insects otherwise attracted to their crops.”

Which brings me to scarecrows. The crows in my neighborhood don’t seem to be ravenous consumers of  grain, perhaps because there are plenty of “fruits, nuts, earthworms, seeds, eggs, nestlings, mice, and carrion” everywhere around.  But.  As winter descends southward from the Canadian tundra and prairies, flocks of geese in their myriad thousands flee before the relentless advance of ice and snow, flying across forest, mountain and vale in search of forage and fodder.  Here in the maritime clime of the Mid-Atlantic region, tender green shoots of winter wheat have sprouted from furrowed cropland and lie exposed to the open sky.  A Thanksgiving banquet laid out before countless pairs of beady black eyes.

This particular wheat was planted in mid-October, a few weeks after the soybean harvest.  For the first few weeks the farmer didn’t particularly mind about the grazing geese: he thought that deep-rooted wheat plants would be strong enough to withstand the remorseless onslaught of close-cropping beaks.  By late November he had changed his mind: along the fringes of the fields rows upon rows of glowing green wheat clusters stood seven inches tall, but in the center … wide swaths of bare grey-brown soil clearly could be seen from the distant roadside.  The wheat had been browsed down to less than half an inch high.

At 9 AM every morning for a week he drove his pickup truck a quarter-mile up the driveway and walked out into the field, waving his arms as he approached the uninvited feeders.  Each day, the geese responded with a honking chorus of dismay and panic that reached a crescendo as they struggled into the air and flew away.  But it’s a two-mile drive against rush hour commuter traffic from his house to the wheat fields, so this clearly wasn’t a sustainable practice for the longer haul.
Time for a technology intervention.  The other morning when I looked out my back window at 9:30, I saw something beyond the trees –outstanding in the field.  Two hundred meters away.  I walked through the drizzle and mud for a closer look.  A kitschy scarecrow with clanking aluminum piepan hands.  And another one a further two hundred meters beyond.  American Gothic for the 21st Century.


Long story short: no more geese in the wheat.  The crows are still around.

Void Where Prohibited

November 22, 2015

I’m not at all pleased that Kazimir Malevich‘s Black Square has intruded upon my consciousness twice in the past few weeks.  In the first instance I was myself partly to blame, because I attended a presentation by an art theorist academic whose talk meandered in eccentric orbits, guided by the gravitational pull exerted by Black Square over the past century.  The experience must have primed my attention for an unexpected return engagement, because I actually took notice of a minor media report proclaiming as novel what I’d thought was old news:

An X-ray examination of Kazimir Malevich’s famed “Black Square” painting by Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery found that two earlier paintings [are concealed] under the black expanse.  [According to] Tretyakov director Zelfira Tregulova, there’s also an inscription by the artist using the title of a 19th century black square painting by the French humorist Alphonse Allais that purportedly portrays two black men fighting in a cave at night.


There are four known variants of Black Square, the first in 1915 and the last circa 1929 or thereabouts.  The version in the Tretyakov Gallery is (I think) from 1923, but strictly speaking the precise provenance doesn’t really matter.  That’s because the meaning and significance of Black Square always lies outside the frame –in the totality of the social context/ experiential “reality” that accompanies the spectator through time and space to her spot in front of the canvas.

Black Square is a window into the void, a place where a steady gaze brings the viewer no more information than a passing glance … or, alternatively, all the information that anyone can ever know.  Is that its intention?  What would Malevich say?  It might depend on the occasion:

“I transformed myself in the zero of form and emerged from nothing to creation.

Malevich’s 1915 painting is sometimes cited as a historical milestone which marks the break between representational painting and abstract painting —-and Black Square has thus become one of the key (should I say “iconic”?) shorthand symbols for the complex and contested transition from a representative regime of art to the aesthetic schema that still (sorta-kinda) prevails today.  Whatever.

The final, smallest, Black Square painted by Malevich was intended [to be displayed] as a diptych together with the Red Square for the 1932 Leningrad exhibition Artists of the RSFSR: 15 Years.  The two squares, Black and Red, were the centerpiece of the show.


Perhaps this would be the appropriate time to note that:

In United States maritime warning flag systems, a red square flag with a black square occupying the middle ninth of the flag is used to indicate a storm warning.  The use of two such flags denotes a hurricane warning.




Hawk Eyes

September 15, 2015

Sergei Eisenstein probably would have considered it a clever (but cynical) real-world example of intellectual montage.  Others might call it an understandable visual error or write it off as an amusing coincidence worthy of little more than a quick double take. But I’m always looking for the meaning and message in the scenic backdrop, so when I saw two gigantic flags arrayed behind Barack Obama during his recent trip to Des Moines (literally, The Monks’), I felt that something didn’t look quite right.

Why was a huge flag of Mexico prominently displayed onstage behind the President?  Oops!  My bad.  Upon closer examination, turns out it’s the state flag of Iowa.  Despite the fact that Iowans are known in Midwest colloquy as “Hawkeyes,” the state flag actually depicts a eagle … just as does the national flag of Mexico.  And Iowa’s tricolor of blue-white-red might sometimes somewhat resemble the green-white-red tricolor of Mexico –in the right (or wrong) shade of light. So, at a quick glance, an Eastern Seaboarder who has never before laid eyes on Iowa’s state flag might understandably think he’s looking at the Mexican flag. And wonder why.


In 2001, a survey conducted by the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA) placed Iowa’s flag 42nd in design quality out of the 72 Canadian provincial, U.S. state and U.S. territorial flags ranked.


I’m thinking it’s no coincidence at all that the Iowa flag loomed large behind President Obama’s left shoulder. I’m thinking that somebody in Obama’s advance team also noticed the similarities in flag design, and made sure that the Iowa flag formed part of the backdrop.  And I’m thinking it’s a none-too-subtle message to Donald Trump … and to all the Latino voters enraged by Trump’s stupidity and arrogance.  There may not be a tremendous number of Mexican-American voters in Iowa, but Iowa is just the beginning.  And Donald Trump won’t be around at the end.

Montage (for Independence Day)

what’s present in the visual representation:

  • a tricolor flag … but not El Tri
  • an eagle
  • a thin serpentine object in the eagle’s beak –it’s (merely) a caption banner

what’s absent (but supplied by the mind of the viewer):

  • snake (don’t tread on me?)
  • nopal cactus
  • Lake Texcoco
  • islet in the marsh
  • laurel wreath

new combi-nations (the image of the theme):

  • founding myth(s)
  • divine guidance
  • our future united states –the hybrid MexAmerica coming into being

Viva Los Nuevos Estados Unidos!