Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize


Honorable Mention

This Thing of Darkness: Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible in Stalin’s Russia

Honorable Mention: Joan Neuberger
Title: This Thing of Darkness: Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible in Stalin’s Russia (Cornell University Press)

Impressive in its profound scholarship and brilliant insight into Eisenstein’s filmic and historical achievement, Joan Neuberger’s This Thing of Darkness provides the most wide-ranging account to date of Eisenstein’s classic and controversial film.

Neuberger switches seamlessly between two historical epochs (Ivan’s and Eisenstein’s/Stalin’s), incorporating the director’s cinematic, artistic, and political philosophy. The very different nature of part 1 of the film (Stalin Prize, if barely) and part 2 (repressed until well after Stalin’s death) and the backstory of the film’s reception are given detailed and fascinating attention. Far more than a simple film history, Neuberger revisits the film-making process from various angles and in so doing sheds new light on the difficult and risky choices forced on artists in authoritarian regimes. Neuberger’s use of a wide range of materials, from personal diaries, letters, and drawings to Eisenstein’s theoretical writings, reviews in the Soviet press, and official pronouncements by the Party is a tour de force of scholarly agility. This book provides a scintillating new perspective not only of this film and director, but more broadly of how art was produced within the political culture of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Winner: Eliot Borenstein