This essay explores Joan Neuberger's book This Thing of Darkness (Cornell University Press, 2019) as a work of cultural history. It praises Neuberger's use of cultural-historical practices such as the history of mentalites and the study of reception to illuminate Sergei Eisenstein's artistic process and his subjectivity during the creation of Ivan the Terrible. Neuberger's work also illuminates the mentalites of the Soviet arts establishment seeking to restrain Eisenstein and keep him in line with Soviet cultural norms. Neuberger convincingly argues that Ivan the Terrible is a subversive critique of Stalin and Stalinism and she demonstrates that Eisenstein was able to assimilate to Soviet society while simultaneously criticizing Soviet power. It remains doubtful, however, whether Soviet audiences understood Eisenstein's cinematically complex critique. One aspect of the film's context, however, that might be explored even further is the effect of the cataclysm of the Second World War on the making of Ivan the Terrible. Neuberger addresses Eisenstein's grief at the loss of friends and the immense difficulties of creating a film after being evacuated, but author wonders whether the intense violence of the film reflects, in some way, Eisenstein's perceptions of the war. The strength of this book is that it operates on so many different levels of analysis, and while the war is not as fully fleshed out as it might be, this fact does not take away from Neuberger's mastery of Eisenstein's milieu.
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- Ivan the terrible
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