Esther Shub was a master of the "compilation" film. She hunted down film material and contructed her works from "found footage" materials at an editing desk. In essense, the editing machine became her canvass to paint with, doing what is usually done in Post-Production stages .

She was born in Moscow and made her films In Russia. As directors traditionally do their own editing, famous film editors are rare. A great exception to this rule was Esther Shub. After gaining her reputation and experience in the early 1920s on the strength of her reediting of foreign productions and a dozen Soviet features, she became, largely on her own initiative, a pioneer of the "compilation" film , producing work that has seldom since been equaled. She brought to this genre far more than her speed, industry and flair; she brought a positive genius for using all sorts of ill-considered odd bits of old footage as a painter uses his palette, using them as if they had all been especially shot for her. In creating her first two brilliant compilations, The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty and The Great Road, about the first decade of the revolution (both released in 1927), she scavenged everywhere with indefatigable determination. Old newsreels, amateur footage shot by the imperial family and their friends, official footage from a pair of official imperial cinematographers, storage facilities (cellars, vaults, and closets) of wartime cameramen were all investigated by Shub. She even managed to purchase valuable material from the United States. All of this was against the original reluctance of her studios to go ahead with these projects, and they refused to recognize her rights as author when she had finished the films.

Shub originally planned a film biography of Tolstoy as her third work, but even she failed to dig out more than a few hundred feet of material. Undaunted, she wove the footage she did secure in with other early fragments with great effect, emerging with The Russia of Nicholas II and Lev Tolstoy.

With the advent of sound Shub made an abrupt change in her methods. For K-SH-E (Komsomol Leader of Electrification) she created her own version of the Communist Hero young, passionate and dedicated, complete with high-necked Russian blouse and leather jerkin. She forsook her cutting table to become a sort of investigative journalist, deliberately turning her back on archival material, sweeping generalizations, and bravura montage. Instead, she forged a new, original style of ultra-realism, predating by 30 years many of the practices and theories of cinema verite. Forty years later a Soviet film historian was to chide her for indulging herself with a contemporary enthusiasm for the future of sound film and with the peculiar cult for film-apparatus. This was because she opened the film in a sound studio full of every kind of cinematic machinery with what she termed a parade of film techniques,? and occasionally cut back to this theme throughout the production. She purposely included shots in which people looked into the lens, screwed up their eyes at the arc-lamps, stumbled and stuttered in front of cameras and microphones visible in the scenes, and, in general, tried to augment reality by reminding the audience that the crew and camera were actually there instead of pretending that they were part of some all-seeing, omnipotent but unobtrusive eye.

Another important Shub film was Spain, a history of the Spanish Civil War. This work was seen once again as an editors film. Put together from newsreels and the frontline camera work of Roman Karmen and Boris Makaseyev, the film featured a commentary by Vsevolod Vishnevski, who also collaborated on the script. In the following year Pudovkin collaborated with Shub on her compilation Twenty Years of Soviet Cinema, a history of the Soviet industry. She continued her documentary work through the war years and into the late 1940s.

Although as a woman and an editor she perhaps suffered some bureaucratic indifference and obstruction (they only join pieces of film together), Shub was an influential filmmaker who deserves at least a niche in the Soviet film pantheon alongside such other originals (in both senses) as Pudovkin and Eisenstein, who certainly appreciated her work.

This evening was documented by filmmaker Joey Huertas (aka Jane Public).

© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS).
Copyright © 2012.
All rights reserved.

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