Shub, Esther (1894–1959)

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Shub, Esther (1894–1959)

Soviet film editor and director who was one of the first to use montage editing to create compilation films. Name variations: Esfir Shub. Born Esfir Ilyianichna Shub on March 3, 1894, in Chernigovsky district, Ukraine; died on September 21, 1959, in Moscow; attended the Institute for Women's Higher Education in Moscow.

Filmography as director, screenwriter and editor:

The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (1927); The Great Road (1927); The Russia of Nicholas II and Leo Tolstoy (1928); Today (1930); Komsomol (1932); Moscow Builds the Metro (1934); Land of the Soviets (1937); Spain (1939); Twenty Years of Soviet Cinema (with Vsevolod Pudovkin, 1940); Fascism Will Be Defeated (1941); Native Land (1942); The Trial in Smolensk (1946); Across the Araks (1947).

Born in the Ukraine in 1894, Esther Shub attended the Institute for Women's Higher Education in Moscow. After working in the experimental theaters of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky and her friend Vsevolod Meyerhold, she began a career as a film editor. Shub edited more than 200 films, mostly foreign films that needed to be recut and retitled for Soviet audiences to comply with censorship guidelines. In the course of her work, she became interested in the intellectual possibilities of film editing, splicing together preexisting footage to create an entirely different result. This style of editing, known as montage, was pioneered by husband-and-wife collaborators Dziga Vertov and Elizaveta Svilova , and was also being explored by Shub's colleague Sergei Eisenstein.

Shub became so skilled in montage editing that, against the wishes of the Goskino film company for which she worked, she virtually created the compilation method of documentary filmmaking; Mayakovsky would call her "the pride of our cinematography." In 1927, she made her first and most famous compilation film by cutting together old footage from newsreels, filmed war reports, and even home movies of the Russian royal family, having scoured every available source for documentary material. The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty dealt with the early years of the Russian Revolution, from 1912 to 1917, and was extremely well received. That same year Shub made The Great Road (1927), in honor of the 1917 October Revolution. Her technique influenced Eisenstein, and she visited the set and advised the director during production of his classic film October: Ten Days that Shook the World (1928).

Shub considered Vertov her teacher, although she disagreed with his conviction that film should not be scripted. The pair also differed on the issue of authenticity, as Shub believed a documentary could include both staged and real-life footage. Despite their differences, Vertov recognized Shub's genius, calling her "one of the most significant figures in Soviet documentary film of the silent era."

When movies began to use sound, Shub temporarily abandoned her compilation method to create an ultrarealistic style, predating cinema verité by 30 years. In her film Komsomol (1932), she purposely integrated the making of the film with the film itself, on screen. Microphones and cameras were clearly visible in some instances, and shots of people stumbling, stuttering or looking directly into the camera were also included to replace the illusion of reality with reality itself. Shub also completed a script for a film to be called "Women" (1933–34), which was to explore the ways in which women's roles had changed since the Revolution, although the movie was never made. She oversaw a workshop in photomontage for a class taught by Eisenstein at the VGIK film school in Moscow from 1933 to 1935, the year she received the title of Honored Artist of the Republic, and edited several other documentaries in the last years of the 1930s. Among these was Spain (1939), a compilation of newsreels and frontline film of the Spanish Civil War. The following year she co-directed, with Vsevolod Pudovkin, Twenty Years of Soviet Cinema. She became chief editor of the News of the Day serial at the Central Studio for Documentary Film in Moscow in 1942, and made her last film, Across the Araks, in 1947, 12 years before her death in Moscow. Shub's autobiography, My Life—Cinema, which contains extensive commentary on filmmaking techniques, was published in Russia in 1972.


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