Vera Rumyantseva-Kleiman (ed.): V dome mastera. Mir Sergeia Eizenshteina / In the Master’s Home. The World of Sergei Eisenstein

Translated by Natalie Ryabchikova. Moscow: Belyi gorod, 2018, ISBN: 978-5-00119-011-0, 368 p.

Alexander Schwarz
Sergei Eisenstein; Naum Kleiman; Soviet Union; Moscow; Film Museum; the Eisenstein Apartment; biography; silent film; sound film; archive; collection.

Not many filmmakers could universally and undisputedly be called masters of their art. Sergei Eisenstein, however, was not only one of the most complex minds in the history of filmmaking and a master of his art but also an expert teacher to generations of students in Moscow and abroad. However, his film theories, lectures, screenplays, drawings, and memoirs mostly remained unpublished during his lifetime. Now, alongside multi-volume editions of Eisenstein’s writings available in many languages, there are thousands of articles and hundreds of books on Eisenstein that have been written over the last few decades, while Moscow archives like RGALI (the Russian State Archive for Literature and Arts) hold thousands more pages of unpublished documents. And yet, there is another great collection of materials associated with Eisenstein: an apartment filled with his personal items, such as books, furniture, photographs, works of art, and hundreds of objects brought back to Moscow from many corners of the Soviet Union, from all over Europe, the USA, and Mexico. But even in Russia, with its rich tradition of the ‘dom-muzei’ in the homes of celebrities, exhibition of archival materials and personal belongings of artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers in their original living spaces and contexts, such as “the master’s home”, is very rare. Therefore, the publication of Rumyantseva-Kleiman’s book V dome mastera. Mir Sergeia Eizensteina / In the Master’s Home. The World of Sergei Eisenstein as a meticulous reconstruction and contextualisation is unprecedented. It goes far beyond the usual catalogue provided for the visitors of analogous spaces, as “the master’s home” is not a typical museum, with glass cases and little description labels for the objects displayed. Moreover, this book is not meant to be a mere museum catalogue, but rather an ‘archaeological’ study that reveals the layers of history and biography, interconnections and interpretations, and is supplemented by essays that comment on the main interests and phases in Eisenstein’s life as well as an extensive inventory of all objects in the Eisenstein apartment. The fact that it is published as a Russian-English edition suggests a wider readership that goes beyond the visitors to the Moscow apartment.

The Eisenstein museum, administratively part of Muzei Kino [The Cinema Museum], was established in 1962 by Eisenstein’s widow, Pera Atasheva. For more than 40 years it has been well kept by Naum Kleiman and his daughter, Vera Rumyantseva-Kleiman, as a unique environment for research and inspiration available to Eisenstein scholars, filmmakers, and visitors from all over the world. Those who, like myself several years ago, are granted the privilege of access do not necessarily come to study Eisenstein’s writings there but rather to experience the atmosphere in which the master lived and worked. One is stunned by the sheer amount of artefacts, books, and memorabilia on display. But even those intimately familiar with the life and work of Eisenstein cannot easily grasp all the milestones of his personal history, the whole network of associations, ideas, and interests, as well as the links to the fatal twists and turns in Eisenstein’s life that come forward through the meticulously arranged objects and images exhibited in the apartment. Now we have a book that guides the reader through all that. It took the fantastic expertise of Rumyantseva-Kleiman, her deep understanding of Eisenstein’s character traits, his private and professional lives to achieve the depth of understanding and the level of accuracy unattainable to others.

Though it is not the original apartment Eisenstein and his wife lived in,1 it has been reconstructed, preserved, and presented in a manner that is very true to the original. Reading the book, we learn about the layout of the apartment in great detail not only from the photos, film stills, and Eisenstein’s own drawings but also from reminiscences of its frequent visitors, for example, Esfir Shub. It is a biography that achieves a perfect balance between giving a comprehensive overview (for the brand new fans) and providing ample detail (which would be of interest to the specialists). The reader senses a true and deep feeling of “affinity with the artist, a joy of recognition” (Rumyantseva-Kleiman 2018: 6) by getting so close-up and private with Eisenstein, similar to a guest invited to his home but being 75 years late.

The first seven chapters present Eisenstein’s life in its entirety: from his childhood and youth in Riga to his early Moscow years, his travels to Europe, the USA, and Mexico, to him designing and building his ‘nest’ in his first own flat at Potylikha, to the wartime evacuation to Kazakhstan and his return to Moscow, through to the last years of his life. The eighth chapter, “The Continuation. 1948–2018”, is dedicated to the various editions of Eisenstein’s writings, to the photographs of the apartment visitors during Eisenstein’s lifetime, conferences, and the transfer of the entire collection to its current home in Moscow’s Smolenskaia Street.2

Every chapter starts with an introductory essay, each written by Rumyantseva-Kleiman, which then phases into the presentation, description, and contextualisation of the objects associated with the respective years in Eisenstein’s life and work. Although it sounds banal to point out that museums consist of rooms and objects presented in them, the object-driven approach to history has conquered ever greater parts of historiography since the tremendous success of (former General Director of the British Museum) Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects published in 2010. In her book, Rumyantseva-Kleiman somehow extrapolates this approach. She presents a history of one specific life in over 1,000 objects which constitute all surviving things from the Eisenstein’s household. Each and every object is numbered, explained, and then placed within the contexts of Eisenstein’s personal and professional lives. In addition to this, they are meticulously listed in the index. Rumyantseva-Kleiman demonstrates how Eisenstein cultivated his own method of gathering information, mainly for his film projects. As evident from the book, he did it systematically, in a quite encyclopaedic, comprehensive, if not compulsive manner. From the books, illustrations, everyday objects, pieces of art and folklore Eisenstein collected as well as the associations and emotions they embodied, he drew inspiration for his cinematic works. These same objects sometimes became props for his films helping him recreate an atmosphere of a specific era or region. Being able to experience the interiors of his apartment makes it easier to understand the rather surprising connections between myths, cultures, and ideas Eisenstein established in his works. We are able to relish this ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ of living, thinking, and working amongst and with these objects. The book not only allows for this virtual visit, but also lets the reader enjoy the explanations of the immensely qualified ‘tour guide.’

A spread from the chapter “The Home. Potylikha. Moscow, 1935–1941.”

Especially enlightening in terms of Eisenstein’s creative processes and ways of thinking are the central chapters which provide readers with a wealth of new information and surprising interconnections between his less well known projects, which are in no way less interesting than the relatively few films he was allowed to finish: “The Unmade Films. Moscow, 1932–1935” and the “Projects and Plans” section in “The Home. Potylikha. Moscow, 1935–1941.” Similarly inspiring to read is the chapter “The City of Dreams. Alma-Ata, 1941–1944”, as Eisenstein’s war time evacuation temporarily deprived him of most of his collection and his customary working environment. The respective section of his memoirs is quoted in this chapter’s essay (ibid.: 258) and describes the content and importance of his apartment during this period:

Twenty years’ worth of manuscripts.
Everything concerning my busy path in art these two decades.
Everything that seemed a find, a discovery.
And books, books; fragments of life, thoughts about them, quotations not yet transformed in unfinished works.
And thoughts […] Thoughts live within these walls more materially than do books. […]

As a reviewer, I have to resist the temptation to list numerous examples where objects from the master’s home were used in his work or influenced his films. But at least one fine case needs to be mentioned: on page 240, there are three Japanese woodcuts by Sharaku and Utamaro, which were hanging in Eisenstein’s bedroom. Rumyantseva-Kleiman explains how the facial expressions of the Kabuki actors portrayed on the woodcuts “became a key to the close-ups of Ivan the Terrible” and “the complex play of character and shadow in Utamaro’s Teahouse would be echoed in the indoor lighting” (ibid.: 241) of the same film.3 Rumyantseva-Kleiman points out that in stills from newsreels shot in Eisenstein’s apartment “next to the Japanese engravings, we see an echo of Mexico, photos made on set” (ibid.: 247–248).4 Reproductions of two stills from the Mexico film and a photo reproduction of the Maya Women painting by Roberto Montenegro (1926) document the shot composition, lighting, and actor’s expression that Eisenstein achieved or sought to replicate. This example very aptly illustrates Eisenstein’s ability and fascination for working across the boundaries of time and cultures. For almost two decades, he pondered and wrote about “post-logical thinking” in art.5 Rumyantseva-Kleiman summarises his principle: “[I]n order to create, it is not enough to master logic; one needs to synthesize logic with the ‘primal’ imagery of primitive thinking, brought to us in myths and still lying latent in the depths of our consciousness.” (ibid.: 233).

A spread from the book. The left page is in Russian, the right page – in English.

Much like Eisenstein’s preoccupation with film montage and montage theory, his home with itscollection of artefacts associated with him is a giant piece of art in its own right, a cleverly built and cultivated montage of ideas, friends, and cultures. “The master’s home” was the result of a creative process, in-depth research, and tireless work put into a collection of memories and memorabilia that influence new pieces of art and inspire new ways of thinking in its visitors. Fortunately, it has been preserved until now. It holds huge potential for future generations of researchers and filmmakers alike – to go there and study “the very principles of creativity, rather than blind stylistic imitation” on the spot (ibid.: 282). However, in recent years, “the master’s home” fell victim to the Russian cultural politics, in conjunction with the rather problematic fate of the Moscow Film Museum.6 Since things look grim for this unique spot of world culture, a new scientific project Collisions based in Berlin and Potsdam, has set out to recreate it in virtual reality:

The European Film Academy declared the apartment a World Heritage Site. However, in the course of the political dismantling of the Moscow Film Museum, to which the Eisenstein cabinet officially belonged, the apartment was closed down in 2018. The arts and science research project Collisions aims to restore access to this unique space and thus to the intellectual cosmos of Sergei Eisenstein.7

So far we have this book by Naum Kleiman’s daughter, which is a fitting continuation of Eisenstein’s work. Beautifully translated into English by Natalie Ryabchikova, it is available not only to Russians, but open to the world.

Alexander Schwarz
Independent Scholar, Munich, Germany


1 The original apartment was at No. 54b Potylikha Street near the Mosfilm Studios. The two-room apartment with the current collection is located at No. 10 Smolenskaya Street, built in 1962, and had been given to Eisenstein’s widow.

2 See Helen Grace’s review of Sergei Eisenstein’s Beyond The Stars and the information on the various editions of Eisenstein’s autobiography, online: [15.04.2021].

3 Eisenstein discussed Sharaku woodcuts in the context of Japanese cinema, alphabet, and Kabuki masks. See, for example, Ėizenshtein, Sergei. 1929. “Za Kadrom”. In Yaponskoe kino, Moskva: Tea-Kino-Pechat’, 72-92. See also the detailed discussion of the Utamaro woodcuts in relation to the scenes in Eisenstein’s films: Schwarz, Alexander. 2010. “Ėizenštejn und das Geheimnis der chinesischen Meister. Macht und Überwindung binärer Oppositionen.” In Strategien der Filmanalyse – reloaded. München, 184-204.

4 The set referred to was of course the one of Que Viva Mexico!, the project shot 1931 which he was never allowed to finish.

5 See Szilvia Ruszev’s review of the most recent study on this, Elena Vogman’s Sinnliches Denken – Eisensteins exzentrische Methode. Online: [16.02.2021].

6 The change of management and parts of the staff at the location of the Museum on the Mosfilm premises in 2014/2015 looked like an ousting of Klejman and seemed rather politically motivated. The museum has moved to a new location at the VDNKh. The refurbished pavilion opened in 2017 (sее . We would like to discuss this issue and the current status of the Muzei Kino in conjunction with the fate of the Eisenstein collection in Apparatus

7 More about the project here: [16.02.2021].


Alexander Schwarz studied German and Russian literature, film and history in Munich, Germany, St. Andrews, Scotland, and at VGIK Film School in Moscow. He graduated from the University of Munich with his PhD thesis on the history and development of German and Russian Silent Screenplays. From 1994 until 2004, he worked as a TV manager for documentary channels in Munich and London. Since 2005, he has worked as a film historian, curator of film programs (including one on the Georgian filmmaker Michail Kalatozov), documentary filmmaker and translator of English and Russian factual TV programs. He teaches Eastern European film history at the University of Basel, Switzerland. Most recently he published Die rote Traumfabrik. Meschrabpom-Film und Prometheus 1921 – 1936 (The Red Dream Factory. Mezhrabpom-Film and Prometheus 1921 – 1936), Berlin 2012, together with Günter Agde, and with Rainer Rother Der Neue Mensch. Aufbruch und Alltag im revolutionären Russland (The New Man, DVD edition and booklet), Berlin 2017.


Kaufman, Nikolai. 1929. Yaponskoe kino. Moskva.

MacGregor, Neil. 2010. A History of the World in 100 Objects. London.

Schaudig, Michael. 2010. Strategien der Filmanalyse - reloaded. München.

Vogman, Elena. 2018. Sinnliches Denken – Eisensteins exzentrische Methode. Zürich.


Eisenstein, Sergei. 1945 (part 1), 1958 (part 2). Ivan Groznyi / Ivan the Terrible. TsOKS, Mosfil’m.

Brandrup, Tatiana. 2014. Cinema: A Public Affair. Filmkantine UG and Tatiana Brandrup.

Suggested Citation

Schwarz, Alexander. 2021. Review: “Vera Rumyantseva-Kleiman (ed.): V dome mastera. Mir Sergeia Eizenshteina / In the Master’s Home. The World of Sergei Eisenstein.Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 12. DOI:


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