The Partial Success of Early Eisensteins Emotional Appeal

As I noted in the desiderata in the introduction to this book, an approach to analyzing the emotional appeals of film narration should be able to explain not only how certain texts such as Stella Dallas successfully evoke emotion in audiences but also why certain texts are less successful in their emotional appeal. A useful methodology must not be blatantly prescriptive, emphasizing certain modes of narration and trying to fit alternative modes into that norm. Nonetheless, the fact remains that some texts (or portions oftexts)are not particularly well structured to appeal to the emotions. They make demands on the viewer that are counter to the basic structure of the emotion system as outlined here, making it less likely that audiences (regardless of their preferences for Raiders of the Lost Ark or Stranger than Paradise) will experience emotional responses.

Of course it is impossible to say that a portion of a text is utterly without emotional appeal, given the range of individual variation in viewer's emotional makeup. One may respond to a work based on highly idiosyncratic, personal associations made with a text (e.g., because the film was shot in one's childhood neighborhood). But it is possible to say that the narration's appeal is more or less well structured to appeal to an audience that has the appropriate cinematic knowledge of genre schemas, narrative norms, and so forth.

There is always a danger when critics say a text has a lesser emotional appeal that they are denying the possible pleasures of others; critics must tread sensitively here to try to keep open a space for others to discuss their pleasures. Saying that a text has a less effective emotional appeal is necessarily a provisional statement, subject to revision by other voices articulating their pleasures where previously none were found. Yet to say that it is impossible to determine if a text's narration has a lesser emotional appeal is to slip back into the conception of emotions as too messy to be dealt with.

This case study examines Sergei Eisenstein's Strike1 (1925) to provide an explanation for how certain portions of the text successfully appeal to the emotions, whereas others are less effectively structured. Eisenstein himself came to view Strike as a mixture of forceful and weaker sequences. On one hand, Eisenstein used Strike's finale as the very definition of "emotional dynamisation."2 On the other, he denigrated the film as a "treatise"3 preparing the way for his later, more proficient work. He compared some of Strike's sequences with those in Potemkin and always found Strike lacking somewhat in its formal qualities but primarily in its relatively ill-organized emotional appeal. And yet he was vague in his criticisms of the film's lesser appeal, blaming this on its lack of "psychologism,"4 among other qualities. This case study provides a more useful structural explanation of the film's narra-tional successes and failures to elicit emotion than the explanation Eisenstein provided. Simultaneously, this case study demonstrates a useful function of the mood-cue approach. As this consideration of Strike shows, the approach can help us explore and articulate the ways that a film's emotional appeal can fail.

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