Jay Leyda (1910-1988)
A Bronx Morning (1931)
Jay Leyda was an American avant-garde filmmaker and film historian, noted for his work on U.S, Soviet and Chinese Cinema.
Leyda was born on February 12, 1910 in Detroit. He was a member of the Workers Film and Photo League in the early 1930s. He travelled to the Soviet Union in 1933 to study filmmaking at State Film Institute, Moscow, with Sergei Eisenstein. He participated in the filming of Eisenstein's lost film Bezhin Meadow (1935–37). When he returned to the United States in 1936 to become an assistant film curator at the Museum of Modern Art, he brought the only complete print of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin. In the 1940s he translated Eisenstein's writings.
His The Melville Log (1951) was a day to day compilation of documents which he had painstakingly collected on the life of Herman Melville.
Leyda’s wife, Si-lan Chen, a ballet dancer of international reputation, was the daughter of Eugene Chen, a colleague of the Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen. Leyda was invited in 1959 to work at the Film Archive of China in Beijing, where he stayed until 1964. His account of Chinese film history, Dianying, was the first full length treatment to appear in English. Although he could use the basic (and now outdated) Chinese scholarship only in summary translations, Leyda’s knowledge of film gave him still useful insights into individual films and techniques.
He was awarded the Eastman Kodak Gold Medal Award in 1984. He taught at New York University from 1973 until his death in New York on February 15, 1988 of heart failure. He was professor and dissertation advisor to noted film historian and theorist Tom Gunning. In 1981 he was a member of the jury at the 12th Moscow International Film Festival.