Adherents.com Home Page

< Return to Adherents.com's Guide to Movies
    < Return to Religion of the 25 Most Influential Film Directors
< Return to Famous Eastern Orthodox Christians
< Return to Famous Freudians

The Religious Affiliation of Director
Sergei Eisenstein


From: John Wakeman (editor), "Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein" in World Film Directors, Volume One: 1890-1945, H. W. Wilson Company: New York (1987), pages 291-292:
Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (January 23, 1898-February 10, 1948)... was born in Latvia. He was the son of Mikhail Eisenstein, an engineer of German-Jewish descent... and of a Russian mother, Julia... the daughter of a successful haulage contractor [who] was of a very different type--elegant, pretty, and wholly absorbed with the trivia of bourgeois life. The family was prosperous and cosmopolitan, conversing as freely in French or German as in Russian.

As a child, Sergei Eisenstein was docile and hypersensitive, and a voracious reader. He admired his father and hungered for the love and attention of his frivolous mother, receiving both in fuller measure from his illiterate nurse, Totya Pasha,a warm and motherly woman who provided the most stable relationship of Eisenstein's childhood but also instilled in him the peasant superstitions he so nervously observed all his life. He had a Christian upbringing, his father (or grandparents) having renounced Judaism, and was profoundly impressed by the drama of the Russian Orthodox ritual, passing through "a period of hysterical, puerile religiosity and juvenile sentiments of mysticism" before he lost his faith...

[page 292] 1917... Eisenstein... seems to have been scarcely aware that Russia was hurrying towards revolution, being far more interested in his latest hero, Leonardo da Vinci. Reading Freud's psychoanalytical study of Leonardo confirmd his sense of a profound connection between himself and that aloof and multifaceted genius, at the same time awakening his interest in Freud and his work...

During all the trails and horrors of his army service... he characteristically extended his day with long hours of reading, devouring the works of Maeterlinck, Ibsen, and Schopenhauer, among others. Marie Seton suggests that his blasphemous and foulmouthed with developed at this time to disguise his acute physical modesty and "mortifying sensitivity" from coarser companions.

From: "Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein" in World Film Directors, Volume One: 1890-1945, pages 299-300:
[1928] There is a strong folkloric element in The General Line, as well as a good deal of Freudian symbolism. [The Freudian aspects of this Eisenstein film are discussed in more detail.]

...The cream-separator also becomes a symbol of supernatural fertility and abundance, pointedly compared with the religious procession that tries but fails to invoke rain... Eisenstein edited the film in an almost religious "creative ecstasy."... he said, the extraordinary montage for the religious procession was linked "not merely through one indication--movement, or light values, or stage in the exposition of the plot, or the like--but through a simultaneous advance of a multiple series of lines."

...August 1929, when The General Line had its premiere... They went to Berlin, where Eisenstein was feted as a celebrity, meeting everyone from Murnau, Pabst, and Lang to Brecht, George Grosz, and Freud's disciple Hanns Sachs. Marie Seton says that he also spent much time at the Max Herschfeld Institute studying homosexuality. Eisenstein was often called a homosexual, and though he denied that he ever had been, he was much troubled by fear of a phenomenon that he believed could lead only to creative death. He studied it so that he could recognize its indications and if necessary suppress them.

[page 300] ...in France he began an investigation into religion and mystical experience, a long-suppressed interest. And in France he received and accepted an invitation from Paramount to make a film in Hollywood.

Arriving in New York in the spring of 1930, Eisenstein found himself expected to behave with the decorum of a major celebrity... He also became the target of a virulent anti-Semitic and anti-communist campaign led by one Major Frank Pease...

...in December 1930 Eisenstein... left Hollywood for Mexico... Eisenstein set out to discover the country, soaking himself in its landscape and colors while studying its history, economy, religion, art and violent pastimes... Eisenstein's... Que Viva Mexico! was... a passionate, sensual epic poem about the country's bloody history, from the Aztec death cult through conquest, feudalism, and revolution, to the contemporary Day-of-the-Dead festival, which begins with obeisances to the dead and ends in an orgiastic affirmation of life.

From: "Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein" in World Film Directors, Volume One: 1890-1945, page 303:
Early in 1941, Eisenstein... began work on the script of Ivan Grozni (Ivan the Terrible), intended to reassess the life and achievements of the sixteenth-century Czar, infamous for his barbaric cruelty, who nevertheless achieved the unification of Russia...

Bending historical fact when he thought it necessary, Eisenstein elevated drama into myth... Euphrosinia... poisons Anastasia, and there follows the famous scene of Anastasia's funeral service in the Upensky Cathedral where Ivan's anguish at his loss and uncertainty about his course are reflected in the words of the Sixty-ninth Psalm, interwoven with news of ever more damaging treacheries. Throughout 1645 and into 1946 Eisenstein worked on Part II of Ivan, much of it already filmed, and on the scenario for a propsed Part III, never completed. In Part II, Ivan's struggle continues against the Boyars and Euphrosinia, and against her allies in the Orthodox Church. As Ivan's sense of divine mission grows, his cruelties become ever more appalling. The scene of Anastasia's funeral is reinvoked in another great sequence in the Uspensky Cathedral when Ivan, once more frantic to justify his crimes but with no Anastasia to give him her silent blessing, finds himself, as it were, eye to eye with the Czar of Heaven.

Patrick McGilligan, Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast, St. Martin's Press: New York (1997), page 172:
His [Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels's] speech singled out four favorite films as models to which good German filmmakers should aspire. One was Greta Garbo's Love, a 1927 silent film based on Anna Karenina, Tolstoy as rendered by the MGM director Edmund Goulding; another was Sergei Eisenstein's Potemkin, the classic Russian film about a mutinous episode in the 1905 revolution; the third, Der Rebell (The Rebel), about the Tyrolean struggle for freedom against the Napoleonic occupation army, was a German film from 1932, co-directed by Luis Trenker and Kurt Bernhardt. The fourth was Fritz Lang's Die Nibelngun, which the Minister of Propaganda singled out for effusive praise: "There is an epic film that is not of our time, and yet it is so modern, so contemporary, so topical, that even the stalwards of the National Socialist movement were deeply moved."

"What a backstairs joke of film history, of world history almost!" Paul Erich Marcus wrote, years later. Eisnstein, Bernhardt, even Lang--according to common knowedge--were Jewish. Edmund Goulding, an Englishman, and Luis Trenker were the only gentiles among those listed by the anti-Semitic Gobbels. It was a chilling irony, and the Jews among the crowd realized their days in Geramny were numbered; many resolved then and there to flee at the first opportunity.

From: Ronald Bergan, Sergei Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict, The Overlook Press/Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc.: Woodstock, New York (1999), page 2:
Eisenstein's fragmentary memoirs, which remained incomplete... were published in German as Yo! Ich Selbst, and in English as Beyond the Stars... It was Eisenstein who had expressed the wish for a 16th-century engraving of a monk gazing 'beyond the stars' to illustrate the dustjacket for a book of his theoretical essays on the cinema, subtly signifying that 'the book dealt with problems of cinema -- everything, apart from the stars and the spontaneous human participants in film.'
Bergan, page 4:
Though Eisenstein wrote profoundly about art, science, philosophy, metaphysics and religion, there is little in his writings on either political theory or practice, apart from his mandatory public utterances when he merely mouthed the prevalent orthodoxy. These differed markedly from private utterances and passions. There is no doubt that, like the majority of his generation, he embraced the Revolution, wanting it to continue in the innovatory manner in which it had begun, and he was forever suspicious of capitalism, but a man of Eisenstein's wide culture and universal interests could never had condoned Stalin's regime or the restrictive rules it imposed on art. He remained faithful to the Communist principles that were at the root of the Revolution.
An example of material from Eisenstein's diary, from: Bergan, page 5:
There is a description Chesteron [i.e., Catholic theologian and author G.K. Chesterton] on the threshold of the church where he was converted, that has a charming symbol and internal sense. When he was sked if he had a twopenny catechism, Chesteron searched his pockets feverishly to see whether his customary absentmindedness had got the better of him again. And the first thing he took out and hastily shoved into the depths of his pocket was also worth two pennies, but it was a detectie story not a catechism . . .' Eisenstein would then go into the mechanics of the detective story in general, its similarities to the tenets of the Catholic Church, double nature and meanings, moving into Greek mythology etc. etc.
Bergan, page 10:
The drawings of the figures of Christ seen on the walls in [Eisenstein's film] Ivan the Terrible were taken from Paul Gauguin's Yellow Christ. Many of the sketches for the film were also derived, as Eisenstein admitted, from the 'ecstatic angularity' of the paintings of satanic monks by Alessandro Magnasco (1667-1749). 'It was his monks, rather than El Greco's, who stylistically determined how my Ivan the Terrible -- Cherkassov -- should look and move.
The author of this biograhy of Eisenstein recounts finding the grave of Sergei Eisenstein. From: Bergan, page 11:
Mikhail Osipovich, who cast a long, dark shadow over most of his son's life, died in exile in July 1920, when [his son] Eisenstein was twenty-two. I sought out this heavy father's grave in the small Russian cemetary on the outskirts of Berlin. Now knowing where to find the grave, I asked a small, bearded man in a whoolly cap, watering some plants, whom I took to be the gardener, if he knew where Mikhail Eisenstein was buried. He told me he was the priest and directed me to the grave. He then indicated the grave of Vladimir Nabokov's father not far from Eisenstein's.

The priest then showed me inside the little Russian Orthodox church with the sky-blue onion dome. As he doffed his cap, I took off my fur hat. He crossed himself before entering and then again while kneeling before an icon of the Virgin Mary. He was silent. I wasn't sure if one was allowed to speak. He broke the silence by pointing out some of the features of the church and the art work, all of which had been smuggled out of Russia after the Revolution. The place reminded me of the church that is vandalised in [Eisenstein's film] Bezhin Meadow, thogh the priest had nothing of the demonic qualities of Eisenstein's priests.

Bergan, page 12:
a visit to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts allowed me to see the many paintings that had impinged themselves on Eisenstein's mind. Hogarth and Goya, two of his favouite artists, are well rpresented, and there are Japanese and Chinese prints, Gericault's Revolt, and Sano di Pietro's The Beheading of John the Baptist, a subject Eisenstein returned to again and again in the drawings he made in Mexico.

At the Bolshoi, where Eisenstein directed a production of Wagner's Die Walkure, I saw a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride, the intrigues of which echo those in Ivan the Terrible. In the resplendent Armory Palace, I saw Ivan the Terrible's opulent regalia; in the Assumption Cathedral, where Ivan was crowned Tsar, his carved throne, and in the Cathedral of the Archangel, his tomb, all within the walls of the Kremlin, all of which were redolent of the atmosphere of Eisenstein's final film.

Bergan, page 19:
Mikhail Osipovich [Sergei Eisenstein's father] was a powerful, stocky man with a Kaiser Wilhelm moustache, who came from a family of German-Jewish origin which had been baptised and assimilated into Russian society. Not much is known about them. Although Mikhail Osipovich's grave in Berlin is marked 'Born in St Petersburg', no record of his birth there has been found... Among Sergei Eisenstein's possessions was a souvenir glass on which there is a picture of a church in the town of Eisenstein, somewhere in Europe. Almost nothing is known of his paternal grandparents, though th ewife of his cousin once remarked that her husband mentioned that the grandmother was thought to be Swedish.
Bergan, page 21:
[Eisenstein's mother's] mother, Iraida Matveyevna Konyetskaya, ran the comapany after her husand died. Eisenstein, always fond of finding analogies in literature, saw his grandmother as the eponymous character in Maxim Gorky's 1910 play Vssa Zheleznova, a woman who rules her bourgeois family and its shipping empire with a rod of iron. Iraida [Sergei Eisenstein's grandmother] died of a brain haemorrhage while praying vigorously in the Alexander Nevsky church in Riga. Perhaps she was in the throes of religious ecstasy, a state of mind that theoretically fascinated Eisenstein most of his life, linking it as he did with sexual ecstasy.
Bergan, pages 24-25:
[Eisenstein wrote:] '...I expect it was this image that gave rise to my prediliction for St Sebastian . . . In my Mexican film, I named the peon who wa martyred in the fields of agave, Sebastian...'

...it seems no coincidence that it was none other than Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich the Terrible who ruled my mind and was my hero for very many years.

He could have added the tower of Timur, in the unrealised Ferghana Canal, constructed from tortured human bodies, and the hundreds of sketches of the beheading of John the Baptist, the murder of King Duncan from Macbeth...

Bergan, page 28:
Yet, Eisenstein, an artist who claimed to be a Marxist all his life, makes an astonishing admission. 'The reason why I came to support social protest had little to do with the real miseries of social injustice, or material privations, or the zigzags of the struggle for life, but directly and completely from what is surely the prototype of every social tyranny -- the father's despotism in a family, which is also a survival of the basic despotism of the head of the "tribe" in every primitive society.

Again, elsewhere, Eisenstein puts the origins of his rebellious or 'revolutionary' nature in art as uch down to his father as to politics and philosophy. 'Father was a pillar of the church and the autocracy . . . Father who instilled in me the whole melting-pot of petit-bourgeois, petty passions for self improvement at the expense of authors, but was not able to see that an Oedipal [author's italics] protest would make me hate them even though they were part of my baggage. And instead of being invisibly intoxicated by them, the cold eye of the analyst and tally clerk would break down whatever charm they might have held . . . I do not represent my late father -- a typical bully about the house, and slave to Tolstoy's ideas of comme il faut -- with a list of grievances. But it is interesting that my protest against what was "acceptable" in behaviour and in art, and my contempt of authority, was certainly linked to him.'

In the second of the aborted Bezhin Meadow, there is a reversal of the patricidal Oedipus story -- the origin of the Freudian 'Kill the father'. It is the kulak father who kills his young son after declaring, 'If a son betray his own father, let him be slaughtered like a dog.'

Two months before his mother's death in 1946, and over two decades after his father's death, Eisenstein wrote: 'Perhaps to tell the truth, I never felt a particular love for Mikhail Osipovich [his father] according to the Biblical code. But one of the fundamental commands in the Bible is that we "honour" our parents. "Honour thy mother and thy father and thou shalt dwell long on the earth." A reward that was of dubious value. And anyway, why should one be grateful to one's parents.'

Bergan, pages 31-33:
Aside from the combined influence, both positive and negative, of his parents, there were other components in Eisenstein's background that doubtless contributed to his 'differences' from many of his contemporaries.

Although he considered himself to have only an eighth of Jewish blood he has always been perceived as being of German-Jewish descent. Riga had a fairly large Jewish community, although there was (and is) only one synagogue. Both in Latvia and Lithuania, the Jews were treated as equals under the law. (It was only under the Nazi occupation that the persecution and killing of the Jews began.) In Odessa, however, whose populationw as 30% Jewish, countless Jews were slaughtered in the streets in 1905 in one of the most terrible pogroms in Russian history, the sort of pogrom that must have driven Eisenstein's paternal grandparents to give up their Jewish heritage. 'Down with Jews,' says the sneering bourgeois in Odessa in The Battleship Potemkin, suggesting that he was typical of the attitude held by his class during the Tsarist regime. Of course, the proletarian population react violently to this remark and attack the man. This sequence was obviously influenced by Eisenstein's friend, the Jewish writer Isaac Babel.

While Eisenstein was writing the script of The Battleship Potomkin, he was simultaneously working with babel ona script of The Career of Benya Krik based on the latter's story in Tales of Odessa. In Babel's story How It was Done in Odessa (1924), one character asks rhetorically, 'Wasn't it a mistake on God's part to settle Jews in Russia so they suffer in Hell?'. There is a further link with Babel (who also co-wrote the second version of Bezhin Meadow with Eisenstein). Babel wrote the intertitles for a Yiddish film called Jewish Luck, made the year before Potemkin, which has a dream sequence shot on the Odessa steps.

Eisenstein learned to use Yiddish slang and Yiddish humour. A Jewish student of his at the G.I.K. (State Cinema Institute) had an elementary English grammar book open on a page of kitchen utensils. As a joke, Eisenstein ringed the word 'pots' (putz) meaning... in Yiddish.

There was also a risky and risque Jewish joke that Eisenstein liked to tell. [The joke is described.]

[page 33] Eisenstein's semi-Jewishness is rarely mentioned in his own writings, nor in much that has been written about him. Nor did he ever seem a victim of overt anti-semitism in the Soviet Union -- suspect comrades were often referred to pejoratively as 'cosmopolitans'. According to Herbert Marshall, the English film historian, 'All the Soviet Jewish directors had to keep silent in order to survvie and this included all the leading directors -- Roshal, Kozentsev, Trauberg, Zarkhi, Heifitz, Vertov, Room and Romm.' It is doubtful whether Eisenstein's Jewish ancestry had anything to do with his detachment from the mainstream of Soviet artists, though his 'cosmopolitanism' in the objective sense, did cause him problems.

In July 1941, with the Soviet Union at war with Germany, Eisenstein was wheeled out as a Soviet Jew to speak on a radio programme to America, 'To Brother Jews of All the World.' But, as a child, it was because he was German-speaking that he was never wholly accepted as Russian, nor was (or is) he considered a Latvian by natives of the country of his birth.

Bergan, pages 38-39:
...Eisenstein's best subject at school was religious education. 'I think that the religious element in my life was a considerable advantage,' Eisenstein wrote during his final years. Indubitably Eisenstein was a Christian believer into his late teens -- his last confession was around 1916 -- and no evidence exists that he ever lost his faith, though he, rather uncomfortably, wore the robes of an 'atheist' director in an officially 'atheist' state. Marie Seton, in her biography of Eisenstein, recalled that he had once told her he had spent sixteen years of his life striving to destroy the fascination that religion exerted over him.

Father Nikolai Pereshvalsky, the religious mentor of his childhood, impressed him deeply during the time by the overwhelming dramatic way he officiated at religious rituals. This, he thought, probably lay at the root of his attraction to church spectacle and ornate religioius vestments. Neither did he ever forget the priest called Father Pavel at Suvorov Church in Tauride Street in St Petersburg who 'went through Holy Week as if suffering the Lord's Passion. I remember him in tears of torment at vigils of incessant prayer . . . [his] forehead exuded droplets of blood in the candlelight when he read the Acts of the Apostles . . . I practically left the domain of these emotions and ideas, while preserving them in my stock of useful memories. It was at Tsar Ivan's confession of course thta this knot of experiences, which always flickered weakly in my memory like the dull glow of an icon lamp, burned at their strongest.

After 'a period of hysterical, puerile religiosity and juvenile sentiments of mysticism . . . I became an atheist.' Yest, whatever ideological lens he looked through, he was forever in thrall aesthetically to churches, priests, and holy rites in his films.

Bergan, page 64:
Even more significantly, Eisenstein started teaching himself Japanese. (He later explained that these Japanese language studies, as had Leonardo's catalogues, helped him understand the principles of montage.) Japanese culture made a deep and lasting impression on him, particularly his discovery of Japanese graphics and writing. He also became passionately interested in the Kabuki Theatre, which he had not yet seen, and by oriental culture in general, which he felt held the secrets of the 'magic' of art.

In October 1920, Eisenstein came to Moscow directly from the front with two friends, Fyodor Nikitin, a young artist, and Arensky, the son of the composer Anton Arensky... Their conversations, according to Eisenstein, 'took a rather Theosophical turn . . . Smishlayev was trying to accelerate the growth of his carrot seedlings by suggestion . . . [and] Chekhov alternated between fanatical proselytising and blasphemy . . . I remember one conversation we had about "the invisible lotus" which flowwered unseen in the devotee's beast . . . I alone remained in possession of my wits. I was by then ready to die of boredom one minute, or to burst out laughing the next.'

Bergan, pages 67-68:
It was the beginning of an ideological struggle over what sort of art was proper to a Communist system. In Lenin's view, Art and nothing else could serve as a substitute for religion. Amid the heated debates and revolutionary intoxication of the first years of the Soviet regime, Lenin declared, 'Every artist, and everyonewho regards himself as such, claims as his proper right the liberty to work freely according to his ideal, whether it is any good or not. There you have the ferment, the experiment, the chaos. Nevertheless, we are communists, and must not quietly fold our hands and let chaos bubble as it will. We must also try to guide this development consciously, clearly, and to shape and determine its results.'

Lenin recognised the fact that the artist required creative liberty, but he declared that the regime, not the artist, should and would determine the outcome of the arts. Although he was a reasonably cultured man, Lenin was far from being a cultural revolutionary. His preferred taste was for a kind of Russian Victorianism, as was Stalin's, the difference being that Lenin did not try to impose his preferences... Unfortunately, it would not be the creative artists, exhilarated by the possibilities that the Revolution opened up for them, who would decide what a Communist aesthetic should be like; this would be defined by the politicians and ideologues.

About Eduard Tisse, who became an accomplished cinematographer who worked with Eisenstein on many films. From: Bergan, page 90:
Before shooting began in the summer of 1924, the cautious Mikhin began breaking Eisenstein in on the technical aspects of the film studio, and chose the people to work with him. He introduced Eisenstein to twenty-seven-year-old Edouard Tisse [alternative spellings: Eduard Tisse; Edward Tisse; Eduard Tissé Edward Tissé], a camerman who had distinguished himself in newsreel work during the Civil War. In 1918, Tisse shot the first Soviet feature, Signal, and a film about Soviet Latvia the following year for Vertov's Kino-Glaz group.

There is so much mystery surrounding Tisse's origins that many false statements about them have been pritned. He was said to have been born in Latvia of a Swedish father and Russian mother (or vice versa). Because of his name, people presumed him to be French, putting an acute accent on the final 'e'. Even more confusing was the fact that Eisenstein referred to him as 'The German'.

Tisse was born Kazimirovich Nikolaitis in Lithuania of Catholic Lithuanian parents; his father was Kazimir Nikolaitis, and his mother was of Swedish extraction. For some reason, the son took the name Edouard, changed his surname to Tisse, and claimed to be German. (Later, in the early 1930s, when it was extremely unpopular to be German,he explained that a mistake had been made, and that he was really Lithuanian.)

Bergan, pages 114-115:
The sequence [the Odessa Steps sequence in The Battleship Potomkin] works on so many levels: the formalistic, as expounded above, linked to Marxist dialectics -- force (thesis) colliding with counterforce (antithesis) to produce unity (synthesis) -- filmic suspense, and the humanistic... Eisenstein often professed his agreement with Goethe's belief that 'in order to be truthful you can risk an occasional defiance of truth itself.' This is well illustrated by the fact that, since The Battleship Potomkin was first shown, audiences have believed that the scenes [sic] on the Odessa Steps is a faithful reconstruction of an actual event. There was no massacre on the Odessa Steps.

When The Battleship Potomkin was shown in Atlantic City, an elderly Jew came out of the cinema distraught and weeping. The manager of the theatre, concerned, askd the Jew if he had been in Odesa in 1905 or had lost family in the massacre. The man admitted that he had been on the steps, not as a victim but as a volunteer Cossack in the Tsar's army. He explained that it had taken twenty years and one Soviet film to open his eyes to the tragedy in which he had participated. Such was the power of Eisenstein's invention.

Bergan, pages 124-125:
Before Eisenstein left Berlin, he paid a visit to his father's quiet grave in the Russian cemetery near Tegel, in the centre of which is a little Orthodox church with a bright blue onion dome. Mikhail Eisenstein's gravestone, marked with an art nouveau cross seems to be growing out of a tree-trunk, as if he had requested it that way. The inscription (in Russian) reads: 'Mikhail Osipovich Eisenstein born St Petersburg 17 September 1867; died 18 June - 1 July [old calendar] 1920.'
Eisenstein met Stefan Zweig, who described how Sigmund Freud's Wednesday Psychological Society was actually a peculiar religious sect, with essentially fanatical devotion demanded by Freud of his acolytes. Bergan, pages 142-143:
In connection with this project, Eisenstein wrote on a postcard of the Aga Khan: 'On deity. Aga Khan -- irreplaceable material -- cynicism of shamanism carried to the extreme. God -- a graduate of Oxford University. Playing rugby and ping-pong and accepting the prayers of the faithful. And in the background, adding machines click away in "divine" bookkeeping, entering sacrifices and donations. Best exposure of the theme of clergy and cult.'

...In the meantime, Eisenstein was interested in making any international contacts he coulud. During a conference celebrating the centenary of Leo Tolstoy's birth in 1928 [sic: the author meant 1828], eh met and became friendly with the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig... Eisenstein knowing that Zweig was close to Sigmund Freud, asked him about 'the great man from Vienna'. Eisenstein, an avid reader of Freud, listened as Zweig described the meetings of the Wednesday Psychological Society, which grouped Freud around a table with his followers, among them Adler and Jung.

'There was mutual suspicion and jealousy between the disciples . . . And there was Freud's even greater suspicion of them. The suspicion and jealousy of a tyrant. Merciless to anyone who tried to follow his own deviations, in the context of his own ideas which did not coincide with those of the teacher in ever respect. The surge of rebellion against the Patriarch-Father . . . The Oedipus Complex . . . is discernible in the strife within the school itself: the sons who encroach their father.'

Though his own father had been dead some eight years, Eisenstein never ceased to be fascinated by interpretations of the Oedipus complex and father-son conflicts, which he suffered in various forms, not only with Mikhail Osipovich, but with surrogates like Vsevolod Meyerhold and Josef Stalin.

Zweig offered to introduce Eisenstein to Freud if he came to Vienna, 'an almost unthinkable meeting with this tragic Wotan who stood in the gloaming of bourgeois psychology.' ["Wotan" is another form of "Odin," the chief god of the Norse/Teutonic pantheon.] Eisenstein never met Freud, but Zweig later sent him a small volume signed by 'the great Doctor of Vienna . . . It had his characteristic signature -- the capital F of his surname.'

Eisenstein once said that he believed that any one of Freud's volumes contained thousands of revolutionary film ideas, and considered that it was impossible in the twentieth century for anyone who wanted to make films or write plays of poetry to do so without reading Freud. Certainly, there is as much of Freud as of Marx in his films.

Notes about one of Eisenstein's encounters with the religion (or pseudoscience) known as Freudian psychoanalysis, from: Bergan, pages 161-162:
The sexual license in Berlin at the time was highlighted the conflicts in Eisenstein's own sexuality. Certainly, codified notes in his diaries hint at [fantasies], many of them involving Grigori Alexandrov.

Much concerned about these desires, he visited the psychoanalyst Dr Hanns Sachs, a disciple of Freud, 'a shrewd old salamander with the horn-rimmed glasses.' Eisenstein remembered that 'he had a terrifying African mask -- "a symbol of complexes" -- which hung above his small, low, patient's couch. We became great friends. He gave me a most interesting book about psychoanalysis. Essay in Genital Theory by Sandor Ferenczi, which explained a great deal of things (admittedly post factum!) whcih I had come across on my obsessive quest to penetrate the secrets of ecstasy.'

Eisenstein also visited the Institut fur Geschlechts Wissenschaft (The Institute of Sexual Science) under the directorship of Magnus Hirschfeld, where sexual 'abnormality' was analysed. The following year, in his notes for the death-cell scene for the screenplay of An American Tragedy, Eisenstein has Clyde Griffiths visited by a psychiatrist modelled on Magnus Hirschfeld.

He [Eisenstein] was particularly engrossed in the study of homosexuality, but, as he told Hans Feld, a friend, 'My observations led me to the conclusion that homosexuality is in all ways a retrogression -- a going back to the state where procreation came with the dividing of the cells. It's a dead end!' This may have accounted for his interest in pre-natal experience. Ian Christie believes, 'He as a figure that felt outside of sexuality. Something the grown-ups did.' In a sense, his erotic drawings, puns and jokes do have the element of a little boy giggling at 'rude' words. Eisenstein confided to Marie Seton, 'A lot of people say I'm homosexual. I never have been, and I'd tell you if that were true. I've never felt any such desire, not even towards Grisha [Alexandrov] though I think I must, in some way, have bisexual tendences -- like Zola and Balzac -- in an intellectual [author's italics] way.'

Presumably what he meant in reference to the two 19th-century French novelists was their ability to enter all their characters' psyches.

Bergan, page 164:
Eisenstein had formulated many of his theories before becoming acquainted with the physiologist Ivan Pavlov's work on the 'conditioned reflex'. Seven yars later, in his 'Teaching Programme for the Theory and Practice of Direction' at the State Film School, Eisenstein included the study of Pavlov 'as an adjuct to the question of expressiveness.' In an interview, Eisenstein once claimed that his three gods were Marx, Pavlov and Freud.
Bergan, pages 183-184:
[1930] On his return to Paris, Eisenstein's itinerary was as crowded as ever... He accompanied [Abel] Gance [the director of Napoleon] to the Studio de Joinville where the director was in th middle of shooting The End of the World, in which he himself took the part of the carpenter who played Jesus Christ in the Oberammargau passion play. Gance presented Eisenstein with a photograph of himself in the guise of a weeping, bloodied Christ with a crown of thorns upon his head. 'Gance tried to persuade me that he was so overcome by an ecstasy that he began speaking in ancient Hebrew.'

In Paris, Eisenstein, who 'had been examining the question of religious ecstasy as a particular aspect of pathos', spent much time browsing in the Catholic bookshops, where he bought the works of St John of the Cross, St Theresa and St Ignatius Loyola, in pursuit of the theory, if not the practice, of states of ecstasy - ex-stasis, 'stepping outside oneself.' This had preoccupied him since he had begun trying to rationalise the effects The Battlehip Potemkin had on audiences.

'Pathos is what maks a viewer leap from the seat. It is what makes him jump. It is what makes him throw up his arms and shout. It is what makes his eyes sparkle in delight, before that same feeling makes him cry. In a word, it is everything that makes the viewer "come out of himself."'

He also paid visits to the cathedrals of Reims, Chartres, Amiens and Lisieux, though, above all, he really longed to go to Lourdes, which had captivated him eve since his childhood reading of Emile Zola's novel Lourdes. 'I was fascinated by the onset of mass hysteria as crowd psychosis during "miracle cures."' He did not make it to Lourdes because his stay in France did not co-incide with the dates of the pilrimages, but he did see a copy of the grotto -- in which life-size models of the Madonna and the little Bernadette -- in Marseilles in a side street full of brothels, a perfect symbol of Eisenstein's sacred and profane temperment lying side by side.

Marie Seton explained: 'It seems to me a little fallacious for critics in the West, who are probably rationalists, to assume that individuals in a society based upon a materialist philosophy can eliminate religious influences and interests at will simply because they desire to be thoroughgoing materialists. Having no predilection towards religion myself, I was considerably jolted to discover Eisenstein's conflict between his intellectual desire to be rationalist and his emotional pull toward mysticism. I was also exceedingly aware of Eisenstein's "horsing around", for no-one could be more double-edged than Eisenstein . . . Allowing for the fact that a conflict between rationalism and mysticism is not an uncommon phenomenon, it is easy to see that Eisenstein would keep his problem to himself during that period 1918 to 1929 when a policy of active anti-religious activity was carried on by the League of the Godless . . .'

However, Seton suggested that when Eisenstein arrived in France, no longer in the environment of anti-religioius activity, in the different intellectual climate where belief in religion or adherence to atheism was solely a matter of personal disposition, Eisenstein, for the first tim ein his adult life, was able more openly to express this side of himself. Perhaps, even more so than Buñuel [Catholic/atheist film director Luis Bunuel], Eisenstein could say, 'Thank God, I'm an atheist.' [By this, the author apparently means that Eisenstein felt attraction toward both positions: both atheism and religiosity/belief in God.]

On he secular side, Eisenstein was frequently seen at Shakespeare & Co, Sylvia Beach's celebrated bookshop

Bergan, pages 190-191:
On May 8, 1930, Eisenstein and Tisse sailed for New York... Eisenstein's arrival in New York was welcomed by a fanfare of studio publicity, as well as an anti-Communist and anti-Semitic campaign to have him deported. 'This internationally notorious communist agitator is now here, undoubtedly preparing to let loose upon America more of that destruction which has flooded the rivers of Bolshevik Russia with the blood of the murdered. And that aims at shedding more blood throughout the world wherever communism can plant its agents,' was how one Hollywood journalist expressed it.

Major Frank Pease, a self-styled 'professional American patriot', led the campaign against Eisenstein's presence in America, denouncing him as part of a 'Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy to turn the American cinema into a Communist cesspool. Why allow Eisenstein in, this red dog and sadist?' At Major Pease's instigation, the Fish Committee,the forerunner of the post-war UnAmerican Activities Committee, visited Hollywood later in the year in order to investigate Communist infiltration of American cinema.

Eisenstein, secure in the backing of his liberal and left-wing friends and supporters in America, and feeling confident that his Paramount contract would act as a safeguard, took the attacks with a certain amount of equanimity.

Bergan, page 198:
As late as 1946, [Sergei] Eisenstein noted Disney 'as an example of the art of absolute influence -- absolute appeal for each and everyone, and hence a particularly rich treasure trove of the most basic means of influence.'

...Eisenstein and the twenty-nine-year-old [Walt] Disney seemed to have got on well [when they met in 1930], and they corresponded for some time afterwards. (There is another photo taken at the same time, with Eisenstein standing, his arm around Disney's shoulders, staring down at the figure of Mickey Mouse.) Eisenstein did not live long enough to discover that Disney later became an anti-Semitic, racist, union-bashing, anti-Communist right-winger.

About Eisenstein's never-filmed film idea The Glass House and the eventually-filmed Sutter's Gold, both of which were intended to be Eisenstein's first film made with a Hollywood studio. From: Bergan, pages 204-205:
[Circal 1930] While searching for an idea acceptable to Paramount... Eisenstein wrote a synopsis of The Glass House, which included a number of sketches, for Paramount. Montagu explained its theme. 'People live, work and have their being in a glass house. In this great building it is possible to see all around you; above, below, sideways, slanting, in any direction, unless, of course, a carpet a desk, a picture or something like that should interrupt your line of site . . . People do not see, because it never occurs to them to look . . . Then suddenly, something occurs to make them look, to make them conscious of their exposure...'

Among the characters living in the building are two young lovers, a laundress, a clerk in a shoe store, a wife and her husband who beats her, a policeman, a poet, 'Christ or a technician', a leading nudist, bootleggers, and a prade of robots. From the incoherent, fragmentary, plotless, episodic synopsis, it would be difficult to blame Paramount for rejecting it. Though Eisenstein was worldly in many ways, he was a babe in Hollywood, and Montagu does not seem to have understood the mentality of the studio bosses any better.

A different case was Sutter's Gold, based on Blaise Cendras' novel L'Or, which Eisenstein had acquired the novelist's permission to film. It was the story of John August Sutter, a Swiss immigrant in 1839 who founded his New Helvetia settlement in California in 1839 and discovered gold there in 1848. [The gold was discovered by Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) who were building the mill. The Mormons were pivotal in starting the Gold Rush of 1849 which began at Sutter's Mill.] Eisenstein wanted to show 'the destruction caused by the discovery of gold on his Californian estates...' [Much more about the plot and plans for a Sutter's Gold film, pages 205-208.]

More about Sutter's Gold, the film project that Eisenstein originally developed, but which was ultimately directed by Mormon film director James Cruze. From: Bergan, page 208:
In 1936, Universal Pictures made Sutter's Gold, a conventional film directed by James Cruze, starring Edward Arnold. It cost $2 million, was a terrible flop, and almost sank Universal. In the same year as the American version, the Austrian Luis Trenker directed and starred in The Emperor of California (Das Kaiser von Kalifornien) in Nazi Germany after Universal had turned them down. Trenker portrayed Sutter as a visionary German nationalist who heroically rejects 'degenerate' American capitalism.
About Eisenstein's film Bezhin Meadow, from: Bergan, page 287:
The desecration of the church is one of the great set-pieces in cinema, in which the earlier visual metaphors -- at their most extreme in October (Kerensky = mechanical peacock) -- have given way to more ambiguous compositions. On one level, the audience is enouraged to sympathise with the peasants robbing the church of its relics, squabbling over an icon, sacrilegiously trying on vestments, heretically laughing at the statuary -- while Eisenstein's profound admiration and knowledge of religious art creates a parallel revulsion at the vandalism. A young girl is framed in a mirror as if in a picture of the Virgin Mary, a young child is a cherub, a statue of the crucified Christ is held as in a Pieta. (Bunuel attempted a similar effect with his evocation of Leonardo's Last Supper enacted by a group of beggars in Viridiana in 1961.)
Bergan, pages 331-332:
Ivan the Terrible is the peak of Eisenstein's achievement, fulfilling his ambitions of a synthesis of all the arts -- a gesamtkunstwerk in the Wagnerian sense -- a film opera combining music, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, literature and dance...

Ivan the Terrible, which should be seen as a single work, with its unifying and continually developing plot, characters, themes, and pictorial style, assembles all of Eisenstein's preoccupations, obsessions, and motifs of his films, drawings and writings, so that his final film is his most personal. The simultaneous attraction and aversion to religious rites and the aura of the church; the themes of regicide and Oedipal patricide, the exercising power, whether for good or evil; martyrdom and sado-masochism; fraternalism bordering on the homo-erotic, and the existential isolation of the individual -- all are in evidence.

Each of these strands is woven into a tapestry of haunting images: the tenebrous church and chambers through which people move in conspiratorial groups; the vast shadow of the Tsar projected on the wall, a symbol of his overweening power; the Tartar prisoners tied tothe walls of Kazan... In profile, [Ivan's] pointed beard lowers into the frame, while in the background thousands of people, literally behind and below him, weave their way towards him across the snowy countryside, stopping to kneel and pray.

Bergan, pages 339-342:
On September 4 [1946], the Central Committee [in Communist Russia] issued a statement attacking a number of Soviet film-makers, including Ivan Bolshakov, the first Minister of Cinema... The Committee's main reprimand was reserved for Leonid Lukov's LThe Great Life Part II, the first part of which had been released in 1940 and, like Ivan the Terrible Part I, had won the Stalin Prize. '...The director Sergei Eisenstein, in Part Two of Ivan the Terrible, has revealed his ignorance in his portrayal of historical facts, by representing the progressive army of Ivan the Terrible's oprichniki as a gang of degenerates akin to the American Ku Klux Klan: and Ivan the Terrible, a strong-willed man of character, as a man of weak will and character, not unlike Hamlet . . . Workers in the arts must understand that those among them who continue to take an irresponsible and flippant attitude to their work may easily find themselves overboard as progressive Soviet art forges its way ahead, or find themselves withdrawn from circulation . . . the Party and the State will continue to inculcate good taste in the people, and high expectations of works of art.'

It was clear, given Stalin's later conversation with Eisenstein, that these were the dictator's own opinions of the film...

On the evening of February 25, 1947, Eisenstein and actor/Supreme Soviet member Cherkassov were summoned to the Kremlin for a meeting at 11 p.m... Stalin, Molotov and Zhdanov were at the back of the study... As recorded by Eisenstein in his diary immediately afterwards, the following grimly comic encounter took place:

Stalin: (to Eisentein) How is your heart?

Eisenstein: I Much better, Comrade Stalin.

Stalin: You look very well. You wrote a letter. The answer has been somewhat delayed. I thought of replying in writing, but then decided it would be better to talk it over, as I am very busy and have no time. I decided after considerable delay to met you here. I received your letter in November... Have you studied history?

Eisenstein: More or less.

Stalin: More or less? I too have a little knowledge of history. Your portrayal of the oprichnina is wrong. The oprichnina was a royal army. As distinct from the feudal army, which could at any moment roll up its banners and leave the field, this was a standing army, a progressive army. You make the oprichnina look like the Kux Klux Klan...

Zhdanov: Ivan the Terrible comes across as a neurasthenic.

Molotov: There is a general reliance on psychologism; on extraordinary emphasis on inner psychological contradictions and personal experiences...

Stalin: Ivan the Terrible was very cruel. You can depict him as a cruel man, but you have to show why he had to be cruel. One of Ivan the Terrible's mistakes was to stop short of cutting up the five key feudal clans. Had he destroyed these five clans, there would have been no Time of Troubles. And when Ivan the Terrible had someone executed, he would spend a long time in repentance and prayer. God was a hindrance to him in this respect. He should have been more decisive.

Molotov: The historical events should have been shown in the correct interpretation. Take Demyan Bedny's play The Knights for example. In that play, Demyan Bedny made fun of the conversion of Rus to Christianity, whereas the acceptance of Christianity was a progressive event at that particular historical period.

Stalin: We are not, of coruse, particularly good Christians. But it is wrong to deny the progressive role of Christianity at that stage. It had great significance, as it marked the point where the Russian state turned away from the East and towards the West. Recently liberated from the Tartar yoke, Ivan the Terrible was very keen to unite Russia as a bulwark against any Tartar invasions. Astrakhan had been subdued, but could at any point attack Moscow. As could the Crimean Tartrs. We cannot scrap our history. Now, critisicm is useful. Pudovkin followed our criticism and made Admiral Nakhimov into a good film.

Eisenstein biographer Ronald Bergan reflects on a visit to the filmmaker's grave, in the epilogue to his biography. From: Bergan, pages 351-352:
I'm standing at Eisenstein's grave in the Novodevichy cemetery, the Pere Lachaise of Moscow... Some of the gravestones are covered entirely by a snow shroud. I find it strange to be in a predominantly atheist cemetery where crosses and other religious symbols are rare. Nevertheless, I am fascinated by the tradition of having either a bust of the deceased on the tomb or a likeness sketched on the stone...

Carved into a large, black granite stone, vaguely shaped like the prow of a ship (Potemkin?), is a picture of a youngish serious-looking Eisenstein n profile... Across the bottom in bold block cyrillic letters, is one word: EISENSTEIN. There is no epitaph, though Eisenstein had suggested 'I lived, I contemplated, I admired.'

Bergan, page 353:
So there I sat in Eisenstein's [library]... encircled by his choice of books... There are also more cryptic sequences of books. It was Eisenstein's wry comment on different articles to art, life and religion to place Stanislavsky's An Actor Prepares, considered the Bible of the theatre, beside the real Bible. Next to it are Poulain's Back to Ecstacy and Loyola by Degraisse d'Horizon, the former on the excesses of religion, and the latter the more practical theologian whose 'Spiritual Exercises', a system of rules, prayers and self-examination, echo Stanislavsky's similar approach to acting, while Diderot's The Paradox on Actors establishes a more rational context.
Bergan, pages 354-355:
I also came across a... drawing he [Eisenstein] did in Alma Ata in 1942... In the same place at the same period, he drew Tsar Ivan on one side of a page and, on the reverse, a caricature of G.K. Chesteron's Father Brown, the antithesis of the fanatical priests in Eisenstein's films.

Search Adherents.com

Custom Search
comments powered by Disqus

Webpage created 1 June 2005. Last modified 3 November 2005.
We are always striving to increase the accuracy and usefulness of our website. We are happy to hear from you. Please submit questions, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. to: webmaster@adherents.com.