Author: Sergei Eisestein
Original Title: наследник
Date of Publication: 1946
Pages: 3
Nationality: Soviet Union
Original Language: RUS
Editor: Antonio Somaini
Presented with: Amsterdam University Press, from Sergei M. Eistenstein: Notes for a General History of Cinema (forthcoming), ed(s): Naum Kleiman, Antonio Somaini,


The excerpt from the notes for (Eisenstein’s) General History of Cinema here published – a selection from a larger body of notes which shows the extraordinary complexity and ambition of this unfinished, perhaps impossible project – gives us an idea of how such an “general history” could have been constructed. We find here the fragments of a complex genealogy of cinema which gathers, roaming freely through history, the different medial forms which have performed such function of recording phenomena and events.

In the text dated 22 October 1946 and entitled “The Heir”, as well as in other fragments belonging to the same project of a General History of Cinema, photography is presented as a “craft” which begins with Aegyptian mummies and Roman death masks, and which responds to the urges “to record a phenomenon” and to substitute a loss “through a mechanical devices”; cinema instead fulfills “the urge to record a process” and is reconnected to the a tradition which includes “all cine-toys”, as well as “doll-automatons, mechanical miniature theatres, wind-up dolls”.

…Cinema appears here as the last response to a series of fundamental needs or ‘urges’ that are deeply rooted in human nature and that were previously channeled and configured through other art forms and other media. As in his previous writings, Eisenstein is not interested in defining and fixating once for all its medium specificity, but in isolating the basic principles that cinema shares with practices and processes that lie outside its own borders. Throughout his career Eisenstein worked with and reflected on a cinema in constant transformation: from silence to sound, from color to stereoscopy. In his notes for a General History of Cinema he is moved by the conviction that cinema’s future transformations will become predictable and understandable only if we fully investigate its own pre-history.

from Antonio Somani’s introduction, “Cinema as Mummification and History as Montage:
Eisenstein’s Notes for a General History of Cinema (1946-48)”, forthcoming from Amsterdam University Press





S.M. Eisenstein

Notes for a General History of Cinema (1946-48)


The Heir[1]


Cinema is the heir of all artistic cultures, as is the nation itself that elevated it for the first time in all history – both in estimation and creatively – to the very heights of art, and it is the heir of all cultures of the preceding ages.

Cinema is the art of the USSR par excellence* [in French], and it is so in a natural and organic way.

It is according to this perspective that the history of cinema must be established.


1. The historical place of cinema in the history of the arts.

Its origin in the ruins of the “second baroque”.

Other arts disintegrate to level zero.

“-Isms”. Each based on one particular feature[2].

The collapse of bourgeois society.

Cinema begins from level zero.

Technical invention.

The social structure (USSR), seeking a type of mass art etc.

The social pre-condition and [the] technical [one] coincide* [in English].

As a new totality, social and aesthetic.


2. A synthesis of the arts

A real synthesis in the technique of film, and in our aesthetics.

Taking the place of “dreams” about synthesis.

Recurrence* [in English] of the idea of synthesis from the Greeks (at first morphological in the dithyramb) — liturgies (architecture, organ, stained glass, plain chant* [in English], the merging of the audience with the action) — Diderot — Wagner —Scriabin — we.

In which stages do the tendencies towards synthesis arise?

In the periods of social unification.

Unity (par exemple* [in French], the unity of Catholicism and the liturgy).

Or in the discord of unity, as a protest-dream (par exemple* [in French], Scriabin).

Vérifier * [in French: verify]: the unity of Bismarckism and Wagner (who starts with the revolutionary unity of 1848* [in English] and ends with Parsifal).

The aesthetics of Lipps.

La Nuance à Diderot* [in French] and the French Revolution.


The removal of contradictions

Where has it ever been more so than in our case?

Universal unity.

“Workers of the world…”

Annihilation of exploitation (XVIIth Congress)

Annhilation of national enslavement:

a community of nations as basis for* [in English] a community of the arts!

The idea of synthesis as a revival* [in English] of synchretism.

Hostility towards synthesis in periods of social breakdown — Nordau against* [in English] Wagner.


A synthesis not of the mechanical copresence in pure form (that was

the limit of the synthetic possibilities of the theatre).

But each [art] is embedded in a qualitatively new way, such that it cannot be organically taken out.

A further “paragraph-by-paragraph” analysis of the fate of each art and of its new quality within the synthesis.

            The Phenomenon of Cinema

(History of the phenomenon)* [in English]

“Frames” and the method of cinema.

From the mosaic to pointillism.

A dynamic juxtaposition instead of mixing together.

Daumier and Tintoretto in micro* [in English].

Goya, El Maragato in macro [in English][3].

Hogarth, Mariage à la mode* [in French] in scenes.








Egyptians (according to Gregor).


Busch and comic strip* [in English]. Auswuchs* [in German: growth] in montage.


3. The Method of Cinema

Montage and counterpoint.

The ultimate exposure of the fundamental patterns of being.

Montage as a unity in diversity.

The universality of method:

Through art.

Through sociology (the national question and federalism).

Through science (the truth according to Marx).

Through all phenomena of nature (biology: worms).

Through pre-science: Osiris, Bacchus, Phoenix — deconstruction and reconstitution on a new level* [in English].

Montage as a purposeful (tendentious), socially conditioned, ideologically tendentious reconstruction of reality in images.

(To be shown in the history of oscillation between poles: the pole of reconstruction and the pole of reflection. The strengthening and the weakening of [the two tendencies]: the clearness of  montage and the bareness [of reality]).



Photography and the urge* [in English] to record a phenomenon.

Primärer* [in German: primary] eideticism— lost paradise* [in English] of the eideticism with the awakening of consciousness — the urge* [in English] towards the substitution for the loss through a mechanical device (great!!!)* [in English].

The camera and the retina of the eye: the camera — a portrait of the eye (The Clansmen!).



Cinema and the urge* [in English] to record a process.

All cine-toys.

The reason behind doll-automatons (the immortalized actor), mechanical miniature theatres etc., wind-up dolls.



Sound cinema and the urge* [in English] to record sound processes.

Balloons* [in English] in comic drawings.













The same in the middle ages. Justicia [sic]

The same with the ancient Maya.

Hieroglyphs, but also graphically deformed for the

transmission of intonation (my interpretation from observations).

Photo-element as nux* [in Latin: nucleus] of aesthetics.




If we follow along the line of the urge* [in English] to secure phenomena (chronicle, photography, document), impressions (travelog[ue]) * [in English].

“Objectively”: Homer

Later: tendentiously (par exemple* [in French], the figures of pharaohs and ordinary mortals already in disproportion).

Later: emotionally.

The Tale of Igor’s Campaign.

Les désastres de la guerre, Callot

(as a sequential newsreel film).

Later: patheticized.

Los Desastres de la Guerra, Goya

(as non-sequential patheticized impressions)

Later: dramatized, i.e., by the means of staged delivery, being true to the essential facts.


poeticized — the chronicles of Shakespeare.

(“Garbling” — for ex., The Horrors of Kalish, shot in the courtyard of the Nirensee Building, 1914).



I. As nec plus ultra* [in Latin] of the graphic-stroke tendency

II. as Auslauf* [in German: development] of the tendency of the “animal epos”:


I. Petroglyphic [drawings].

Linear woodcuts of the early Renaissance.

Linear engravings of the Japanese.

Tolstoy (19th c.)

Graphics der Jahrhundertwende* [in German: of the turn of the century]:

Olaf Gulbransson


Das Geheimnis der Umrisszeichnung* [in German: The Secret of the Contour]my analysis







All types of line drawing as derivatives from this [secret] with a weakening des primären dynamischen Effektes* [in German: of the primary dynamic effect] and with an increase of new attendant circumstances (as with eideticism — the more photographism declines, the more an identifiable Gestalt-ship increases).

An “ossification” in the rectilinear elements. Breaks of contour, ruptures, etc. New ways of dynamic effect.

Eugène D’Ors on Rembrandt and Watteau — a “flickering” fabric of small strokes, etc.


II. The animal epos.

Disney —

Andersen —

Lafontaine —

Reynard the Fox —

Aesop —

Totemism* [in English in the text]

(d’après ce que j’ai fait au sujet de Disney 1940-1941) * [in French: according to what I have done on Disney]

NB. We duly put him in the beginning, for this kind of drawing is primär* [in English and German: primary:] in the visual arts. And drawn cinema precedes other types

(on all these apparatuses! booklets, etc.)







Then here and in the remnants of the thematics— in the animal epos and so on — basic laws* [in English] of visual impact, of mythological remnants etc.

[1] The notes organized by Eisenstein under the title “The Heir” [Naslednik] are dated 22 October 1946 (Archival reference: RGALI 1923-2-993, pp. 19-29). In the text, the following symbols are used with the following meaning: () round parentheses are part of the original text; [] square parentheses indicate either integrations of words that are abbreviated, or (if preceded by *) the language in which a particular expression was written (not Russian); italics indicate titles of works, or phrases not written in Russian; underlined words indicate phrases or words that Eisenstein himself underlined, or circled, or inscribed within a square.

[2] The term “-isms” refers to the various avant-gardes that in the 1910s and 1920s designated themselves with terms ending invariably with “-ism”: Futurism, Cubism, Expressionism, Constructivism, Surrealism… In 1925, El Lissitzky published together with Hans Arp a book entitled Die Kunstismen (Rentsch, Zürich-München-Leipzig 1925), which presented, through a montage of definitions given by the artists themselves and images of their most emblematic works, the main avant-garde tendencies in the visual arts between 1914 and 1924 under the following headings (in German): Abstraktivismus, Dadaismus, Expressionismus, Futurismus, Kompressionismus, Konstruktivismus, Kubismus, Neoplastizismus, Purismus, Simultanismus, Suprematismus, Verismus.

[3] The title El Maragato refers to the cycle of six panels by Francisco de Goya depicting the capture of the dreaded Spanish bandit El Maragato, in 1806, by the humble monk Pedro de Zaldivia.