Publication Information: Book Title: Eisenstein Rediscovered. Contributors: Ian Christie - editor, Richard Taylor - editor. Publisher: Routledge. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1993.
Introduction: Rediscovering Eisenstein
Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires. William Blake 1
How does Eisenstein's reputation stand today? Ostensibly it is secure. He ranks among the acknowledged founding fathers of cinema, with at least one title in most lists 'the greatest films ever made', while the Odessa Steps sequence from The Battleship Potemkin must be almost as widely quoted and parodied as the 'Mona Lisa'. 2 Whenever film teaching and theory are discussed, his name is invariably invoked-even if only to warn against the dangers of both enterprises. But behind, or perhaps because of, these tokens there is also an undeniable ambivalence. This was well expressed by Richard Roud's editorial note in his Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, where every line of praise sounds qualified:
That Eisenstein is one of the most important figures of world cinema can hardly be questioned; but except for Strike and some of those 'rushes' from Que Viva Mexico!, his lack of humanity becomes more disturbing with every passing year. A man of science? Yes. A great theorist of film practice? Of course. The first great teacher? Well, given his lack of followers, one has doubts. 3
Roud and many others, it seems, would like to question the whole edifice of Eisenstein's reputation, to argue that-despite undeniable local successes-it was all built upon a series of massive mistakes: Soviet Communism, the doctrine of montage, the notion that science or theory have any place in art. It is as if they have only been prevented from toppling Eisenstein from his pedestal, like the tsar's statue in October, by the power of the myth or, to borrow Benjamin's term, 'aura' that surrounds him. 4
Will that 'aura' survive the collapse of the Soviet state which created and sustained it? Quite apart from Western empiricist mistrust of Eisenstein's intellectualism and systemic aspiration-the director Lindsay Anderson diagnosed him as 'compulsively an intellectual'!-there is a different
current of hostility within the Russian dissident tradition. 5 For Solzhenitsyn's Convict X 123, Ivan the Terrible amounted to a 'justification of political tyranny. …A mockery of the memory of three generations of Russian intelligentsia', while Eisenstein was 'an arse-licker, obeying a vile dog's order'. 6 Nadezhda Mandelstam recalled her husband's distaste for 'the specious glitter of the then fashionable Eisenstein with his mechanical splendours' in her memoir of the inter-war period. 7 And more recently, hostile references to Eisenstein pepper the writings of Andrey Tarkovsky. 8 None of this is surprising. In a culture dedicated to inner resistance, neither Eisenstein's many public humiliations nor his acts of personal bravery were likely to be credited against the canonic status of his films.
Indeed the period of glasnost saw a rising tide of impatience and recrimination. Few of the classic Soviet film-makers escaped condemnation at some point as 'Stalinist', and in Naum Kleiman's contribution to this book there is an echo of the defence that he and other scholars had to make against such irresponsible allegations. 9 Despite Eisenstein's steadfast refusal of triumphalism-and it should be recalled that both Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible would have been profoundly elegiac had they not suffered censorship-there remains a vague implication of complicity between tyrant and victim. 10
Even before the terms of a post-Soviet Russian culture have emerged with any clarity, it has long been obvious that Eisenstein's achievement demanded to be seen in a new, more sophisticated totality than his 'Soviet' persona allowed. There is even perhaps a useful reinterpretation to be made here of the identification with Leonardo which Eisenstein himself professed. Just as we have to disentangle the historical Renaissance Leonardo from the 'genius' and technological visionary promoted by Italian Fascism, so the 'little boy from Riga' who grew up in Russia's Silver Age needs to be distinguished from the 'Master of Soviet cinema' who became a vital ambassador for, as well as prisoner of, Stalin's regime. 11 Both artists emerged from highly traditional cultures to face the challenge of new scientific values. Both eagerly embraced the new paradigms, while also retaining much of their heritage: hence no doubt the lack of any simple relationship between the theory that both so passionately professed and their brilliant, fragmentary and essentially intuitive pictorial practice. 12
Certainly we must now question the familiar verdict attributed to Shklovsky that 'the books Eisenstein wrote were the films he did not make'. Even if planning major studies like Direction and Method helped ease his desperation after the loss of, first, Que Viva Mexico! and then Bezhin Meadow, it is clear that Eisenstein had already defined his goal and distinctive method. While still in Mexico, he wrote in a letter to Maxim Strauch:
Although I have deftly adjusted to 'armchair' work in a Pushkin-like kibitka-my own kind of thinking gyroscope!-I still feel a terrible need to settle down and finally consolidate the theoretical organism. Yes, and what's more, I'm doing a great deal of drawing!
Actually, the filming, theory and drawing are done in 'relays' so as to keep going at all costs. 13
Despite the traumas of the following eighteen years, he succeeded as few others of his generation did in 'keeping going'. Teaching, writing and drawing were undoubtedly easier to practise when film production became a high-risk affair of state, but they never simply 'replaced' film-making, as is clear from the stream of concrete film projects which he continued to formulate. The fact remains that Eisenstein's unique enterprise was as difficult to accept for his Soviet contemporaries of 1935 and the late 1940s as it is for many today. 14
The exhibition Eisenstein: His Life and Art was organised as a deliberate challenge to the images of Eisenstein that make him seem remote, dogmatic, naive; a victim of the same familiarity that has bred snobbish contempt for those two great near-contemporaries he was proud to call friends, Chaplin and Disney. 15 Alongside the celebrated films, it laid equal stress on what has previously seemed marginal to his main achievement-private drawing, theatre work, friendships, collecting, travels-and revealed how much, even now, remains unexplored in the legacy of this most famous of film-makers and compulsive autobiographer. For Eisenstein became the first and most persuasive expert on 'Eisenstein'. There is scarcely any aspect of his career and life on which he did not first comment, often with a wit and apparent candour that has inhibited dissent. But to make progress in a world which certainly does not regard Eisensteinian precepts as axiomatic, scholars have to look beyond or behind the erudite self-analysis of 'one's own scholarly self to gain other vantage points. 16 Hence the origin of this book in a conference commemorating Eisenstein's '90th birthday', with participants from a dozen countries and, thanks to glasnost, younger Soviet scholars gaining their first international platform. 17 In addition to the scholars present, Tatyana Gomolitskaya, daughter of Sergei Tretyakov, was a welcome guest who brought vivid first-hand memories of Eisenstein as enfant terrible of the early Soviet theatre and avid collector of both detective stories and risqué jokes. The conductor Alan Fearon talked about how his experience of restoring the original music for Potemkin and October had given him a new respect for this almost forgotten collaborator of Eisenstein's. And finally, the playwright Richard Crane and director Faynia Williams read from their kaleidoscopic play based on Eisenstein's life and work, Red Magic, later performed at the Edinburgh Festival and in London.
It was an occasion to assert simultaneously the 'wholeness' of Eisenstein
and the striking diversity of approaches, lessons and influences that his legacy embraces, with a particular emphasis on neglected contexts and the importance of texts only now being published. Consideration of what he planned but did not achieve, as a number of contributors stress, can be just as revealing as the apparently 'finished' works. In light of this continuing process of rediscovery, what follows here by way of introduction is a condensed stocktaking of work in progress and work still remaining to be done which will eventually re-establish the 'mythic' Eisenstein of the Comintern and Cold War years on firmer historical and analytic ground.
HOW LONG (AND FAST) IS A PIECE OF FILM?
Eisenstein's completed films at least may seem to pose no problem of accessibility. In Britain and the United States, as in most developed countries, all seven features, as well as Time in the Sun and the Bezhin Meadow reconstruction, are currently in commercial distribution. After early censorship skirmishes, they have remained more or less continuously available since their first appearance, and all are now also on home video. But how complete and authentic are the available versions?
From empirical research such as Kristin Thompson's, reported here, much more is now known about the vanguard role played by Eisenstein's films in creating a world-wide market for the early Soviet cinema. 18 This success also contained the seeds of future problems, since the foreign returns to the Soviet state-in a rare conjunction of the economic with the political-were so great that pragmatic expediency soon governed their international distribution. Before this, Eisenstein's first feature, The Strike, had won early recognition at the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, but was little seen at home and not actually distributed abroad until after Eisenstein's death, by which time preservation material had been secured by the Soviet archive, Gosfilmofond. 19 Although the original titling seems to be lost, the fact that it was never submitted for prewar foreign censors' approval seems to have preserved an essentially complete and common version. 20
With the subsequent silent films, on which Eisenstein's fame mainly rests, matters are more complex. As Thompson confirms, Germany was by far the most important market for Potemkin and, with hard currency and film stock both in acutely short supply, it must have seemed expedient to sell the negative directly to the German distributor, Prometheus. 21 There it was edited to meet the censor's demands, so that the material which was eventually regained from Germany to become Gosfilmofond's main source reflected these changes and the 1925 Soviet 'original' was effectively lost. When Kleiman came to restore the film in the 1960s, using as additional sources an early copy which had survived at the Institute of
Cinematography, VGIK, and one sent by Eisenstein with Leyda as a gift to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he discovered that Eisenstein had almost certainly used his Berlin trip of 1926 to re-edit the film while complying with the censor's requirements. So, while the MoMA-based restoration remains the most complete, there are still important textual cruxes to be explored (including those which Kleiman could then not broach for political reasons, such as a Trotsky quotation). 22 Also missing from all release versions to this day is the original red stencil tinting of the ship's flag, which Eisenstein considered vital to the film's impact on audiences. 23
October was to follow a similar pattern, after being caught in the crossfire of Trotsky's final challenge to Stalin. Montagu, who probably knew Eisenstein better than any foreigner but was constrained by pro-Soviet loyalties, wrote laconically of October being 'slashed to ribbons in response to political changes'. 24 The film's co-director Grigori Alexandrov, meanwhile, was quoted in 1963 describing a visit by Stalin to the cutting room 'just before the film's première on the tenth anniversary of the Revolution in 1927', at which he allegedly 'asked for cuts of several important scenes totalling…approximately 3000 feet'. 25 Apart from the date given for Stalin's intervention, this is roughly compatible with Eisenstein's published claim in late December 1927 to be working on 'two films: Before October and October. 13,000 feet in all'. 26 The longest version known today is approximately 9200 feet.
As with Potemkin, the original negative appears to have been sold to Germany to earn much-needed hard currency for new production, but does not appear to have returned. In addition to four differing positives held by the Soviet archive, a few cut sequences survived until the 1960s, when Kleiman considered inserting these into a 'research version' for limited circulation. This modest ambition was overtaken by Alexandrov's proposal for a new sound version to mark the 'Jubilee' of the Revolution in 1967. Once again, more complete material was found abroad, this time a 16mm print in Britain. 27 Alexandrov was able to add sequences of the Mensheviks and of Lenin and the Central Committee. But his version, originally furnished with a voice-over commentary as well as extensive sound effects and music, proved little short of disastrous and was modified. Close examination of what was finally released-which became the new international release version-shows that Alexandrov made numerous minor cuts in a vain effort to make the film more like a conventional narrative.
But October resists such 'normalisation'. Quite apart from the political reasons for its lacunae, Eisenstein effectively discovered the potential of metaphoric or 'intellectual' montage while working at intense pressure on its editing. He was inspired to contemplate a filmic analogue of Marx's Capital, and many sequences such as the 'gods' and Kerensky's entry into
the Imperial apartment bear witness to this new formal interest, doubtless at the expense of narrative material already filmed. 28 More than almost any other major film, October is essentially uncompleted, as was noted by contemporary Soviet reviewers; and even after the political forces which shaped and constrained it can be openly explored, it remains highly enigmatic. 29 As Tsivian's important study here of a variant script shows, it also permits more readings than Soviet-authorised orthodoxy has so far allowed, including the marked influence of Russian Symbolism as mediated through Blok and Bely and evidence of the erotic complexity of Eisenstein's genius. 30
The General Line poses an immediate issue of identity with its alternative title, The Old and the New, adopted for the film's delayed release in late 1929. Were there in fact two fundamentally different films? And which of these survives today? Again, the evidence so far available is scant and opinions differ. Seton states bluntly that changing agricultural policies required a fresh start and a new scenario, 31 while Barna quotes Eisenstein on the film's 'shattered vertebrae and broken spine', adding without any further source that 'of the original conception there remained only the first three reels, and the agitation scene in the second part'. 32 Leyda, however, casts doubt on whether the film was radically changed when production resumed after October. 'Putting together the available evidence, I should say that when the crew returned to The General Line in Spring 1928, there was no more than further shooting on the long-before determined story.' 33 But he goes on to indicate the more probable reason for the film as it stood in early 1929 excluding much that had been shot in both periods of filming. Perhaps because of the exceptional demands of October, Eisenstein had developed an unusually free approach to 'composition' by editing:
in the cutting-room, there was, of course, the always painful whittling process that reduced twice too much material to a normal running length of film. Here, as in both Potemkin and October, Eisenstein had to throw away almost as many ideas as the best ones that the finished films retained. 34
One instance of what was discarded from the earlier period of shooting is an episode that featured the Constructivist artists Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova as 'foreigners', apparently visiting the Soviet countryside by aeroplane. 35 A rather different element also now missing is the image of Leonardo's 'Mona Lisa' which Seton claims was juxtaposed with a sleeping peasant woman in the evocation of the 'old' village-surely a case of post-October intellectual montage? 36 At least one copy had hand-coloured fireworks accompanying the bull's 'wedding', in succession to the red flags of the 'Potemkin'. 37 In fact the completion of The General Line coincided with an explosion of teaching, theory and polemic on Eisenstein's part, much of which seems to have left some trace on the film. 38
Thus it may be necessary to reinterpret Shklovsky's account of Eisenstein hastily assembling a 'carnivalesque film on abundance' to divert the bankers who came to see why the production was so far behind schedule. 39 Was this perhaps more than a temporary expedient, marking the point at which an intended simple, didactic film became the riot of fertility symbolism and Utopian magic that Stalin saw in February 1929 and that largely survives today? For, although most changes to the film have conventionally been attributed to Stalin's intervention in February 1929, it is not clear that this resulted in more than an elaborate search for 'the correct end'-which eventually replaced the Chaplinesque original and introduced Andrei Burov's Constructivist 'vision' of the new collective farm. 40 Even the emblematic change of title seems to have been a cautious move by the producers Sovkino rather than an order from Stalin and the film was in any case withdrawn from distribution in 1931 (as were many other Soviet films of the previous decade) before being pillaged for a 1932 documentary. 41
What this account suggests is that probably neither a 1926 Urtext nor the actual late 1929 Soviet release version still exist, because the former was never completed and the latter partially dismembered. On balance, it would seem that we have only The General Line as it was finalised in the first six months of 1929. But there remain important differences between the versions of this currently available, noted here by Myriam Tsikounas, which must stem from the prints originally sent abroad in 1929 or, more recently, from the partial reconstruction undertaken by Kleiman using a Belgian print. 42
The 'new' history of early cinema points to a radically different understanding of textual stability throughout the silent period. 43 Because individual copies of films could be and were easily altered for many different reasons in the course of their circulation, it makes little sense to search for a unique original or authentic version of each production. Films routinely existed in multiple versions, with opportunities for modification occurring at all stages from the producing studio to the point of exhibition. Synchronised sound drastically reduced, without wholly eliminating, the scope for such changes. Today, it is certainly possible to seek the longest or the earliest version of a silent film, but this may not represent the final wishes of the maker(s) or indeed what any actual audiences saw. 44 To trace the reasons for variation, on the rare occasions when this is possible, is to come closer to understanding the complex workings of a system that was in some ways less akin to mass production than is now widely supposed.
Soviet silent cinema belonged to this general international regime, but has also been subject to some highly specific circulation factors. For Eisenstein's silent films, four distinct processes of textual variation can be identified:
1 politically motivated alterations before and after domestic release;
2 foreign distributors' changes, as demanded by local censorship, but also arising from translation, projection practice and commercial judgement;
3 Eisenstein's own revisions when the opportunity or need presented itself;
4 deliberate 'modernisation', especially when synchronised sound was added (including 'step-printing'). 45
It is the last of these, together with many generations of 'duping' from positive material, that has rendered most of the widely available prints (and consequently the videos made from them) of Eisenstein's silent films so inadequate. Equally damaging is the widespread use of inappropriate projection speeds. While no 'correct' speed can be claimed with confidence-since this was a matter of widespread variation and controversy in the silent period-the 16 or 18 frames per second often regarded as 'silent speed' today is undoubtedly too slow for many of the montage rhythms and tropes to cohere. 46 Eisenstein discovered how damaging this could be when he witnessed Potemkin shown more slowly than he at least was used to at its London première in 1929, allegedly in order to synchronise with Meisel's music, and the audience laughed at the rearing stone lions. 47 Recent experience has shown that the impact of restored versions, shown at an appropriate speed under proper cinema conditions, is nothing short of revelatory. 48
An important step towards realising this goal has been the revival of interest in Edmund Meisel's original music for Potemkin and October. Whereas Prokofiev's contribution to Nevsky and Ivan has long been acknowledged, Meisel has remained no more than an obscure footnote to Eisenstein's early career, with only seriously deficient scores surviving. The restoration and performance of his two major scores by Alan Fearon has made a strong case for reassessing the original success of Potemkin as a more equal partnership between film and music than might have seemed possible-and for wondering if October would have fared better had Meisel's score been properly synchronised and more widely performed. 49
Meisel, it transpires, broke decisively with the 'pot-pourri' tradition of film music and launched boldly into a musical architecture that responded to the challenge of Eisenstein's non-narrative montage construction. His Gerauschmusik, or 'noise music', deploys often ironic leitmotivs and quotations against a background of rhythmic ostinati (supported by a large percussion section) and massive dynamic contrasts, all couched in the Modernist idiom of the 1920s. 50 Only the young Shostakovich's 1929 score for New Babylon rises as completely to the challenge of the late Soviet montage idiom, with its sardonic play on 'Belle époque' operetta to underline the tragedy of the Paris Commune. 51 With authentic performances, it is now possible to appreciate how much the response to Meisel's
music must have shaped Eisenstein's idea of sound-image counterpoint. For in performance with the film, if not so obviously on the page, it interacts with Eisenstein's images to make plausible the otherwise Utopian concept of a 'single denominator' which would combine the visual and the auditory. 52
It was inevitably with Meisel that Eisenstein planned to demonstrate how synchronised sound-on-film could be used non-naturalistically. Unfortunately the detailed plans he had prepared to post-synchronise The Old and the New in London came to nothing, and indeed probably could not have been realised with the limited sound technology of the period. 53 But Eisenstein's faith in the potential of natural sound and music to become as malleable and meaningful as film images clearly stemmed from what he had already learned through Meisel. And we may wonder if The Old and the New can be considered in any way complete without its intended soundtrack that would have combined natural sound, musique concrete and musical 'typage'. 54
The saga of Que Viva Mexico! has been extensively researched, but mainly in terms of the politics and personalities involved. Although Eisenstein was never able to edit his cherished Mexican footage, surprisingly little attention has been paid to what can be discerned from the mass of surviving film material. While controversy has continued over Seton's intervention to make Time in the Sun-claiming to follow Eisenstein's own editing plan-Leyda patiently assembled all the remaining material into a 'study version' of the Mexican project, based on the assumption that Eisenstein would in fact have created the film in the course of editing it, as he had always done previously. 55 This unique opportunity to examine the raw material for an Eisenstein film seems so far to have prompted no further study of his compositional practice beyond the suggestions offered in Leyda's commentary titles.
After the loss of the Mexican footage and other frustrated projects of the early 1930s, Bezhin Meadow was completed in rough-cut by the end of 1936, before being finally banned in March 1937. Its material is believed to have been destroyed during the battle for Moscow in 1941, but the hope of discovering a hidden print still haunts Eisenstein scholars. 56 Meanwhile, the reconstruction that was made from surviving single frames in 1967 by Kleiman and Yutkevich gives at least a partial impression of this most elaborate production. But the intense, hieratic impression conveyed by these frozen images and the music subsequently added needs to be supplemented by other information about the production, most of which we owe to Jay Leyda, as David Stirk and Elena Pinto Simon explain in their contribution here. 57
The uncertainties about the films of Eisenstein's last decade stem largely from that period's climate of terror and secrecy. In the case of Alexander Nevsky, we know from Eisenstein himself that the original scenario
continued after Nevsky's defeat of the Germans at Lake Peipus to show him first paying tribute to the Khan in order to buy time for military preparations, then dying before reaching his home. But Eisenstein was told that the scenario should end with the triumph of Lake Peipus and, in a phrase often attributed to Stalin, that 'such a fine prince could not die'. 58 We owe to Shklovsky the further anecdote of the 'missing reel' from Alexander Nevsky. The story is that, when a hasty Kremlin preview of the film was arranged while Eisenstein slept at the cutting room, one sequence was accidentally omitted and could not later be inserted for fear of upsetting Stalin. 59 This is supposed to have included a fight on the bridge at Novgorod which resulted from the ordinary people challenging the merchants' decision not to resist the Teutonic invasion-a sequence that would surely have met with Stalin's approval? Shklovsky's anecdote carries 'poetic' conviction, but is not entirely convincing in technical detail, although Leyda and Voynow reproduce stills from such an episode which is not in any known version of the film. 60
A much larger issue is the web of supposition still surrounding Ivan the Terrible and its legendary third part. We know that Eisenstein enlarged his original plan for a two-part film early in the production process, and that a full 'literary script' for three parts was published in advance, as had been the Soviet custom. According to Seton, only Parts I and II were actually shot; but Leyda and Voynow claim, more plausibly, that material for all three parts was shot simultaneously, not least because many of the same sets and props were needed. 61
Part I appeared in 1945, already differing somewhat from the published scenario, with the childhood prologue detached. When Part II was eventually released in 1957, the prologue had become a subjective flashback, and it was apparent that the film covered considerably less ground than indicated in the Part II scenario. Was this in fact Eisenstein's own conception of Part II? And, if so, was it the first version which he had completed in 1946 before his heart attack? Or was it, as Leyda and Voynow assert, 'a roughly corrected cutting of Part II' also made in 1946, for which Eisenstein 'lacked the strength to make the new sequences that were needed'? 62 They go on to state categorically that by mid-1946, 'there was no talk of or plan for Part III: all materials for it, including four edited reels, had, by then, been destroyed'.
Two further Ivan fragments have since come to light: the Knight Staden's interrogation (a fully dubbed and edited sequence) and several shots of Mikhail Romm's screen test to play Queen Elizabeth I in a Windsor Castle scene. Both belong to the original scheme for Part II, which leaves open the possibility that other sequences from this larger conception known to have been filmed-including the great Last Judgement confrontation between Ivan and the 'Tsar of Heaven', familiar from stills-could yet be unearthed. 63 Other recent discoveries in the
ex-Soviet archives encourage such hopes, but it must also be admitted that disappointingly little scholarly attention has so far been paid to earlier expansions of the Eisenstein canon, such as the discovery of his filmed insert, Glumov's Diary, for the 1923 theatre production Enough Simplicity for Every Wise Man. 64 Nor indeed has the rich legacy of well-developed projects been extensively explored; and Håkan Lövgren's valuable study of the Pushkin project here indicates how revealing these can be in the case of a film-maker who managed to realise publicly so few of his ambitions. 65
Much remains to be done, even with that most familiar part of the Eisenstein legacy. A useful first step would be to identify the published Eisenstein 'scripts' as merely transcriptions from whatever material has been to hand, rather than allowing them the dubious status they still enjoy as works of reference. 66 More valuable would be an international census and 'genealogy' of versions of the films in circulation, which would enable scholars to identify which copies they are using and compare these with others. And with the Russian archives now more able, in theory at least, to co-operate with other archives on restoration, may we not hope to see eventually an Eisenstein film-text 'variorum' collection? The principles that should guide such work were proposed as long ago as 1972 by Ivor Montagu, in an exemplary report he prepared on Potemkin copies held by the National Film Archive in Britain: 'as in Shakespearean scholarship, the wisest recension would be to synthesize everything probable from all copies, giving due weight to intuition and poetic fitness.' 67
'THIS MAY ALL BE PRINTED SOME DAY'
Eisenstein knew that his reputation as a writer would be almost entirely posthumous. Although he published numerous articles throughout his career, only two books actually appeared during his lifetime. The first of these was Leyda's collection of his essays in English translation, The Film Sense in 1942; the second was the literary scenario of Ivan the Terrible in 1944. 68 As Kleiman has reminded us, the official Soviet verdict on Eisenstein remained strongly negative for nearly a decade after his death. None of his films after Potemkin could safely be mentioned while Stalin lived, and his theoretical work was dismissed as the meanderings of a 'muddler '. 69
The first Soviet collection of his essays appeared in 1956, an early harbinger of Khrushchev's 'Thaw'. When the second part of Ivan was released in 1957, the way was now clear for a more substantial monument to his extraordinary gifts as an art historian, philosopher, teacher and polemicist. Hence his widow Pera Attasheva's project for a Selected Works and, given the unpredictability of official policy, the need to realise this speedily. 70
Since neither of the major book-length projects, Direction and Method,
was in readily publishable form when Eisenstein died, the strategy of the Selected Works was to 'sample' these as an interim measure. And since there was no existing biography, or the scope to write one at that juncture, the remarkably frank memoirs which Eisenstein had started while convalescing in 1946-7 were pressed into service as an impromptu autobiography, to become Volume 1. Therein lay the root of a future problem. For to assemble the free-association pattern of Eisenstein's 'immoral memoirs' into a more or less chronological sequence involved (literally) cutting up the original typescript and discarding material that would not fit this format. 71
It was only when the Eisenstein Archive materials were taken into the Central State Archive for Literature and the Arts (TsGALI) after Attasheva's death in 1965 that Naum Kleiman began a new collation. Gathering all the material not used in the published version, he discovered that Eisenstein had often indicated where an already published article should be dropped into the expanding structure of the memoirs, sometimes in a revised form. Meanwhile the covers of notebooks had been found, papers and inks compared, and the order of composition could now be used to deduce how Eisenstein planned his 'Portrait of the Author as a Very Old Man', which turned out to be also the portrait of an epoch and its generation. 72
Unfortunately, just at the point when Kleiman had arrived at a new, expanded structure for the memoirs and succeeded in getting this published under Eisenstein's chosen polyglot title YO! Ich selbst in an East German/Austrian edition in 1984, Marshall's English translation of the now-superseded 1964 text appeared. 73 That this should have made no reference to the scholarship of the intervening twenty years was all the more deplorable since a 1978-80 French edition had already made considerable use of the revised ordering and contents. 74 Only now, in 1993, is an English translation of YO! imminent, nearly thirty years after the first Russian edition. 75
Similar delays and omissions have dogged the publication of the writings as a whole. According to Kleiman's estimate, the Russian Selected Works contains no more than about a quarter of Eisenstein's known writing. A further twelve volumes have long been contemplated to replace the published six and even these would still not include the VGIK lectures and director's working notes. Nor would they deal with the extensive diaries or Eisenstein's letters, selections from which could greatly expand the current range of Eisenstein studies and confirm much that has remained speculative and rumoured, judging from the wit and candour of what little is so far available. 76 Ultimately, Kleiman estimates, twenty volumes would be needed, but the likelihood of this being achieved in the foreseeable future after the collapse of the Soviet system must be low.
Meanwhile, a steady stream of articles, notes and correspondence has appeared in Soviet journals since the early 1950s and many scholars have
benefited from access to hitherto unpublished manuscripts under the guidance of Kleiman ('Imitation as Mastery' and 'A Few Personal Reflections on Taboo', making their first appearances in English here, are good examples of this process at work). 77 Publication of this material abroad in translation has not kept pace and the overall picture is complicated by significant national differences of approach. Two major 'selected works' series, in France and West Germany, set new standards of selection and annotation and included previously unavailable material before both came to a premature end. 78 Now the Italian and British series, still in progress, have built on this example and are actively helping to redraw the map of Eisenstein's writings, while each following different organisational principles. 79 Alongside these, the lively variety of Leyda's Calcutta series and Albera's two volumes in French have filled important gaps in our knowledge of, especially, Eisenstein's later views on visual art, cinema and psychology. 80
These developments make a reassessment of Eisenstein's intellectual and critical work pressing and, with some difficulty, possible. From the response to the first volume of the new British edition, it seems clear that many non-specialists still have real difficulty distinguishing stages and contexts in his writing and recognising how its chronology vitally governs what could be said as well as the external prompting and inner development of his thinking. Thus it is still not uncommon to find polemical statements of the late 1920s and obligatory ones of the 1930s, quoted as triumphant proof that ultimately he 'was wrong about everything'. 81 Leyda, who did so much to create the first Western image of Eisenstein as a theorist, remarked ruefully, but perhaps also rather naïvely, on how
his vision of film as a synthesis of all the arts and sciences, instead of convincing his colleagues of his determination and devotion to his art, had the effect of dividing them from him; and it is from the other side of this barrier that the Eisenstein portrait formed and hardened. 82
How, it may be wondered, could Eisenstein's colleagues and later filmmakers not be daunted by such a prospectus? And for as long as his theoretical work was disguised or justified as practical 'teaching', how could it fail to be misconstrued? 83
With all the political inhibitions that Leyda faced in editing the first and most influential of his essay collections, The Film Sense (1942) and Film Form (1949), it is scarcely surprising that he stressed the more conservative aspects of Eisenstein's immense range. In 1964, when he compiled Film Essays and there was reason to believe the major works would soon appear in translation, Leyda's concern was still with filling gaps in the biography of Eisenstein the director-teacher. Thus we have Eisenstein as the admirer of Griffith, Chaplin and Ford (although few would realise the peril even these innocuous enthusiasms caused when they were expressed). But consider
another essay, written between 1946-8, in which he mentions inter alia Welles's Citizen Kane, Wilder's The Lost Weekend, Leisen's Lady in the Dark, Montgomery's Lady in the Lake, Hitchcock's Spellbound and Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death, in addition to Surrealism and Sartre. 84 Such a range of references was no doubt made possible by the wartime Allied presence in Moscow which brought films, magazines and conversation from abroad, but it also confirms that Eisenstein's isolation from cinema beyond the USSR was far from voluntary. As Albera observes, this essay also develops some ideas similar to those which appeared contemporaneously in France when the backlog of American wartime films began to arrive. 85
If the constraints on Eisenstein the film-maker and viewer are still underestimated, there is even greater unwillingness to recognise that from a very early stage his intellectual and speculative interests had a momentum of their own, increasingly independent of his film projects. The fact that his studies undoubtedly provided some consolation amid the aborted projects and productions of the 1930s did not necessarily mean they embodied the same ideas or impulses. Instead it is necessary to trace how the 'theoretical organism' born of Eisenstein's kaleidoscopic interests and influences of the late 1920s progressed to become the 'building to be built' of his last decade-a unique work of research, synthesis and introspection on the fundamental sources of human expression.
As Grossi shows here, the direction of this study was not unprecedented: in many ways it followed directly from the Russian literary-scientific tradition which was to have a belated yet profound effect on social sciences and cultural studies in the West. 86 Eisenstein was a near contemporary of Shklovsky, Vygotsky, Tynyanov and Bakhtin; he had close intellectual relations with the first three of these, and twice he planned lecture courses on the psychology of art at the request of the neuro-psychologist Luria. 87 As other contributors to this book make clear, Eisenstein's actual achievements in cultural semiotics and the theory of art demand to be taken seriously. 88
His studies, however, were never merely academic and, as I have suggested elsewhere, there is a demonstrable convergence between Eisenstein's scientific work and his personal quest. 89 Two linked themes which recur frequently in his writings over twenty years are the semantic potential of 'montage' and the non-narrative or 'musical' import of film. These are most obviously brought together in the concept of counterpoint which serves as a bridge between silent and synchronised-sound cinema. Indeed Eisensteinian montage, when it is not caricatured as a kind of conjuring trick, is often understood as an elaborate counterpoint of signification. Music, meanwhile, comes to stand for what lies beyond verbal signification, for what is perceptible, though ineffable. In Non-Indifferent Nature, he writes of 'the musical line of landscape begun by Potemkin'; and
he analyses the 'Odessa mist' sequence in that film in terms of 'a type of “postpainting” passing into a distinctive type of “premusic (proto-music)”'. 90 As Eisenstein pursues these themes in his later writings, where they stand for the 'specificity' of film, it seems that he may in fact be seeking to locate the place of the film-maker in the machinery of cinema, to identify the scene of creation, and thus confirm his own identity as an artist on the cusp of the era of Constructivism-engineer or magus? 91 In effect, he shared Leonardo's belief that science was necessary, but by no means sufficient 'to transform the mind of the painter into the likeness of the divine mind'. 92
'I NEVER LEARNED TO DRAW' 93
Eisenstein's drawings have long been prized by initiates, but the rarity of exhibitions and lack of any representative anthology of reproductions have held back recognition of their crucial importance. There has also been the same unwillingness, as with the writings, to grant them due autonomy. On the evidence of the 1988 exhibition, graphic expression provided the most intimate and uncensored record of Eisenstein's emotional life-it is tempting to say on both a conscious and an unconscious level. And in the later writings, it is the motif of drawing that gives greatest insight into his complex processes of self-analysis. 94
Eisenstein drew constantly for all but about six years of his life. The directors Josef von Sternberg and Grigori Roshal were among many later witnesses of this compulsive, almost automatic, activity. 95 Sternberg recalled how Eisenstein 'always had paper and pencil in front of him', while Roshal described how work colleagues gathered up the drawings so prodigally abandoned. 96 As a child, Eisenstein filled notebooks with ambitious caricatures, strip cartoons and fantastic compositions. The earliest of these preserved (by his mother) date from 1913 when he was 15 and already publishing his drawings in the school magazine, which he also edited. 97 They contain a fascinating array of imagery, based variously on the animal stories of childhood, topical events and the 'pure pleasure' of metamorphosis and incongruity. There are meticulously drawn animals paying court to the Tsar of the Universe, a chicken wooing a pig in party dress, animals queuing for admission to the circus and performing an opera. Political sophistication appears early. Germany and Britain fence with each other across the Channel in a Punch-style cartoon, while a sinister figure surrounded by policemen is captioned 'Not an important criminal, but a British Minister!' And narrative makes its appearance with strip cartoons of a bear's adventures and of traditional summer holidays at Trouville.
By 1917 he was selling his sophisticated political cartoons, now signed with the punning pseudonym 'Sir Gay', to leading Petrograd newspapers. 98
According to Seton, this was also when he became interested in Leonardo, no doubt encouraged by his own developing graphic skills, which led him to Freud's study and an 'explosive' identification with Leonardo's famous 'childhood memory' of being struck in the mouth by a bird's tail, or at least Freud's controversial diagnosis of this as a sign of the artist's repressed homosexuality.99 Then the final throes of the war and the revolutions of 1917 rescued him from civil engineering studies (also from the possibility of pursuing his discovery of Freud as far as Vienna), and offered a welcome escape into the theatre. 100 Between 1918 and 1921, it was primarily his design ability that took him from the amateur fringe to the heart of a theatre undergoing its own revolutionary upheaval amid the chaos of the Civil War. 101
The drawing which had begun as an only child's precocious response to the books and journals around him, and increasingly compensated for the loss of family life after his parents separated (allowing him to fantasise a 'normal' family and attack the father he blamed for the divorce) would not resume until 1930. 102 However the adolescent drawings that have been preserved provide us with important evidence of what would later distinguish Eisenstein as a film-maker, when another unexpected juncture launched him on that career.
In the memoirs he makes a telling connection between childhood delight in the vitality of line drawing, the linear contour as 'the trace of movement', and mise-en-scène considered as the 'lines of an actor's movement in time', which points to an essential continuity between childhood caricature and the markedly graphic dynamism of the silent films. 103 There is also ample evidence of an apprenticeship in observation, condensation and 'pars pro toto' caricature which would become the basis of his later 'typage'. 104 Although this drew on theories of expression which had wide currency in the Russia of Eisenstein's youth, and would later acquire an ideological dimension-opposing the fiction of the actor's disguise with the physiological reality of the 'ordinary person'-its successful use depended upon the cultivated ability to recognise and isolate 'social and personal biography condensed into physical form'. 105 We see this on a truly social scale in the great panoramic drawing of 150 Petersburg 'types', but also in more personal terms in the drawing of an inordinately fat man with a ludicrously thin servant. These are proto-typage figures, as well as cruel caricatures of his hated father and a family servant.
The adolescent drawings amount to a laboratory in which Eisenstein first perfected his skill with visual metaphor. His exuberant animal drawings initiated a lifelong 'zoomorphism', which delighted in animal-human comparisons and would yield many of the most striking images of his films, from the agents provocateurs of The Strike to the tsar-eagle metaphor of Ivan. 106 Nor was this a facility merely for isolated comparisons. A parody of conventional encyclopedia illustrations showing man's evolutionary
descent, done in reverse and titled 'People of the 21st Century', looks forward to the structure of the agents provocateurs sequence and perhaps even to more abstract conceptions like the 'gods' sequence in October. 107 And was the adolescent drawing of a transparent house a distant source of his later Hollywood project The Glass House? 108
The fact that there are almost no drawings from the period 1924-30 suggests that for Eisenstein film-making and drawing fulfilled what was essentially the same desire in different ways, so that one could not easily substitute for the other. True, there were many preparatory drawings for Alexander Nevsky-he was fascinated by the image of the Teutonic knights in their sinister heraldic helmets-but only for Ivan the Terrible among all his completed films was there any quantity of actual design and mise-en-scène sketches (which may be explained by the fact that he acted as his own designer on this production). From his equally intensive involvement in theatre as a designer and director between 1917 and 1923, there are literally hundreds of drawings in as many styles as the kaleidoscopic Soviet theatre of that period embraced-by turns Cubist, Cubo-Futurist, Constructivist, commedia dell'arte, pantomime, American 'dime novel' style and Gogolian grotesque. 109 But although these gave full rein to his love of allusion and caricature, they constituted graphic design, with the distractions of colour, texture and implied volume, rather than the 'pure' line drawing, or 'ascetic search for form', that continued to fascinate him.
It was during his fourteen months in Mexico, recalled in the memoirs as 'paradise regained', that Eisenstein experienced some kind of epiphany which started him drawing again with an intensity which would continue for the rest of his life. Mexico's montage of the primitive, the sensual and the religious seems to have reconnected him with whatever was lost during the emotional traumas of his childhood, or repressed during adolescence and youth.
He responded to the Mexican primitivism that Diego Rivera had synthesised 'from the bas-reliefs of Chichen-Itzá, through primitive toys and decorated utensils, to José Guadalupe Posada's inimitable illustrations for street songs'. 110 Direct contact with this raw material and with 'the astonishingly pure linear structure of the Mexican landscape itself prompted a return to 'the correct linear fashion' of the unbroken, usually closed, line tracing an abstracted calligraphic image. In fact there is a 1931 portrait by Gabriel Ledesma which shows Eisenstein's features and form as a plan of the hacienda of Tetlapayac where, according to Seton, he found 'the place I had been looking for all my life'. 111 Here indeed is a 'map of the heart', a record of his identification of self with place.
Mexico licensed him to revel in religious iconography and ritual kitsch, sometimes exaggerating its intrinsic latent sensuality, as in the 'Jesus Polychrome' and 'Gilded Madonna', elsewhere mingling it with the equally erotic imagery of the bullfight to produce such emblematic montage compositions as an 'Adoration of the Matador', 'Crucified Bull' and the
Figure 5 'Paradise regained': Eisenstein posing with Lina Boytler at the Tetlapayac hacienda.
specifically titled 'Synthesis: Eve, Europe, Jesus, Torero'. 112 The suite of variations on a theme became established as Eisenstein's basic drawing strategy in Mexico, and among those preserved are a Judas and Gethsemane group, a Samson and Delilah, and two scandalously, though hilariously, blasphemous series: one offering suggestions for commercialising the Christian sacraments, the other starring Veronica as the patron saint of photographers and printers. 113
Central to this period were the many drawings based on the motif of Duncan's murder, which is portrayed as a joint undertaking by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, as if following Leskov's 'Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk' rather than Shakespeare. 114 Eisenstein had actually designed a 'Cubo-
Figure 6 Castration, represented as decapitation, recurs in many of Eisenstein's variations on The Death of King Duncan', May-June 1931.
Futurist' Macbeth for the Moscow Proletkult Theatre in 1921-2, but his prodigious variations on the murder theme in (mainly) 1931 represent at once the most 'purified' and the most disturbing of all his closed-line drawings. The dramatic kernel of the Macbeth/Duncan series is the Macbeths' simultaneous guilt and exultation at the murder and their lust for power. Some sequences emphasise the savagery of the killing, its gruesome absurdity and Lady Macbeth's active participation, even Duncan's acquiescence, in it. Others concentrate on the erotic satisfaction of the Macbeths; and yet other grotesque and ironic suites explore anachronistic (a post-coital cigarette!) and stylistically allusive variations. 115
These remarkable drawings shed considerable light on the peculiar relationship between the analytic and the affective in Eisenstein's sensibility. They reveal a passionate intellect restlessly, obsessively trying to solve the equations of sexual difference. The king/father is shown as passive or complicit in his assassination; while the ensuing accession to power is
portrayed in frankly erotic (albeit ironic) terms. Here Eisenstein's well-attested interest in the Christian mystics' pursuit of religious ecstasy takes profane form as he seeks the link between pathos and ecstasy. 116
Did Mexico also make possible Eisenstein's fullest exploration of his hitherto repressed sexuality? This would not be surprising, if only because Tetlapayac provided more personal and social freedom than he enjoyed at any other time in his life (bearing in mind that he lived mostly with his mother and old nanny in Moscow). Apart from the story Seton recounts about his deliberate attempt to embarrass Upton Sinclair by sending a trunk packed with scandalous drawings to be found by United States customs, it is from this period that most of the known erotic drawings date. 117 One at least of these creates an extensive tableau of male coupling around a central figure identifiable as a self-portrait. It is pornographically explicit, yet also playful and clearly referential in a variety of ways-the vulture biting a penis could be a mocking allusion to Freud's notorious analysis of Leonardo's dream. 118
Yet the catalogue-like 'showing of acts' cannot simply be treated as evidence of Eisenstein's sexual activity in Mexico or anywhere else. The dominant motif of the drawing in question is castration, which links it directly with the recurrence of decapitation in such contemporaneous suites as 'Salome' and 'Ten Aspects of the Death of Werther', not to mention 'Samson and Delilah'. Whether or not Eisenstein went beyond graphic fantasy and play-acting in Mexico to explore the 'unacted desires' of the homosexuality he had previously mistrusted ('a retrogression…a dead-end', according to Seton's report) cannot yet be established with any certainty. 119 If he did, it is unlikely that any evidence would have been revealed by Russian scholars, however liberal, in view of the Russian homophobic tradition which the Soviet era crudely reinforced and criminalised. While evidence is appearing of early liaisons with women, there is now a growing consensus among gay commentators that Eisenstein was indeed homosexual and may even have become the victim of blackmail after Mexico. 120 We may never know how his experiences there affected what was certainly an ambiguous sexuality, but the 'unresolved' Oedipal conflict running through most of his subsequent projects is apparent: most obviously in Bezhin Meadow and Ivan the Terrible, but also the Pushkin project (discussed here by Lövgren) and, in different ways, both Alexander Nevsky and the Tamerlane episode of Ferghana Canal. 121
The artist Jean Chariot, who watched him drawing in Mexico 'very quickly so as not to disturb the subconscious elements', recalled that he planned to analyse the drawings to discover 'what had happened in this release of “stream of consciousness”'. 122 His discussion of drawing in the memoirs comes in a chapter titled ironically 'How I Learned to Draw-A Chapter about Dancing Lessons', in which he recalls failing as dismally to learn formal dancing as he did academic still-life drawing. 123 But he later
discovered that he could embroider the foxtrot as fluently as his improvised line danced on paper. Instinctively rejecting what could be taught, his method in all creative work was to let loose a 'capricious flood' of images, words or drawing, then seek ways of shaping or analysing the torrent. 124
The analysis of his own drawings took several forms. One strand has only come to light recently, with the publication of 'A Few Personal Reflections on Taboo', in which Eisenstein starts by noting the injunction against creating images shared by many religions. 125 From the presumed identity of naming and being, he passes to the idea of depiction as a magical act: the ability to 'capture' a likeness depends upon the subject's consent-and there are coded references here which imply specific (sexual?) relationships: 'I remember that it was the same on at least three other occasions (L., V. and E.). The moment the image was captured on paper, the subject submitted psychologically.' 126 He then sketches a distinction between women's 'objectivisation' of their (male) loved ones' thoughts and words, compared with men's 'externalisation' or projection on to, for instance, the heroine of a novel or film-or into a drawing. This leads to a complex reflection on the psychic transaction involved in drawing:
We do however remember what it means to 'know' one's wife in the biblical sense. It does not just mean to fuse with her. But, from the position of an admirer-to possess her.
You can only imagine another person at the second stage. After the first stage in which you mimic the model. You reproduce her subjectively in yourself in order to return her once again to objectivity, as an image on paper.
It is only when this process of mutual penetration-getting inside the model and accepting her within you-is achieved that the image will come on paper. 127
If this text clarifies the 'talismanic' aspect of Eisenstein's drawing, we find the theme of 'mutually penetrating objects in painting and drawing' as early as 1932 in a notebook entry which also introduces the metaphoric concept of 'protoplasm' in relation to both his own and Disney's drawing. Just as protoplasm is the basis of all biological life, so 'non-anatomical' drawing offers the 'truly appealing theme [of] the coming into being of the human form from plasma'. 128 The 1941 drafts for an unfinished essay on Disney continue this exploration of the appeal of the 'plasmatic' in Disney's early animation: the infinite flexibility of figures, their interchangeability with natural objects, and ability to collapse and reanimate at will. 'The very idea…of the animated cartoon is like a direct embodiment of the method of animism. …And thus, what Disney does is connected with one of the deepest traits of man's early psyche.' 129 For
Eisenstein, Disney's mastery and depth of appeal are little short of overwhelming:
I'm sometimes frightened when I watch his films. Frightened by the absolute perfection in what he does. This man seems to know not only the magic of all technical means, but also the most secret strands of human thought, images, feelings, ideas. Such was probably the effect of Saint Francis of Assisi's sermons. 130
Disney, he concluded, represents 'a complete return to a world of complete freedom…freed from the necessity of another primal extinction'. 131
From which it is a short step to Eisenstein's preoccupation with the 'return to the womb', which Lövgren sees as the cornerstone of his psychology of art. 132 It may be significant that Hanns Sachs was among the Freudians particularly interested in the Mutterleibsversenkung or 'womb complex', and it was he who first wrote about Eisenstein and met him in Berlin in 1929. 133 In a striking note from 1932, Eisenstein brought together the motifs of ecstasy, drawing as 'creation' and imagined pre-natal experience:
This is the graphic equivalent to the sensation of 'flight' among ecstatics: an identical uterine sensation of gyroscopicness and the identical phylogenetic pre-stage-the floating of the amoebic-protoplasmic state in a liquid environment. 134
'How I Learned to Draw', nearly fifteen years later, ends with an evocation of 'paradise…the happiest period of our life, that blessed age when… we dream in the warm wombs of our mothers'. By then he had added to the technique of graphic that of autobiographical free-association as a means of reproducing that primal pleasure. 135
THE BUILDING TO BE BUILT
Drawing preserved a link with childhood, with the paradise from which his parents' divorce expelled the young Eisenstein. It absolved him from the responsibility of language, obedience to the word of the father-was this why he fought so hard against the union of image and speech in sound film; why his books remained unfinished?-and it offered direct access to the pleasure of creation. It could be confessional, therapeutic, experimental and speculative, none of which the public nature of cinema, especially in its increasingly censored, ceremonial Soviet form, could ever permit.
Amid the bitter personal disappointments and political horrors of the late 1930s, he redefined the 'theoretical organism' first mentioned in Mexico in the form of an allegorical drawing, 'The Building to be Built', which was intended to 'picture my whole future opus'. 136 The image is of a classical temple, in which 'the expressiveness of man' rests upon a
foundation of 'dialectic method' and supports a pediment of 'the philosophy of art', crowned by the pennant of 'film method'. Thus theory and practice are linked as expressions of the same human drive, with film achieving the new synthesis of the arts, as Eisenstein declared in his essay on the production of Die Walküre in the same year: 'Men, music, light, landscape, colour and motion brought into one integral whole by the single piercing emotion, by a single theme and idea-this is the aim of modern cinematography.' 137 Despite its Marxist structure, this temple also evokes the architectural symbolism of Freemasonry and the spiritual evolutionary doctrine of Theosophy, recalling the influence of these movements on Russian Symbolism, which was indeed the culture in which Eisenstein grew up, however hard he, like many others, later tried to cast its ideals in 'materialist' terms. 138 Thus, for instance, we find the mystical theme of the search for collective immortality which runs through much Symbolist philosophy expressed by Eisenstein:
Of all the living beings on earth we are alone privileged to experience and relive, one after the other, the moments of the substantiation of the most important achievements in social development. More. We have the privilege of participating collectively in making a new human history. 139
In the centre of the temple, 'Montage appears as a door to the understanding of the image'. There is the implication of a secret, or mystery, beyond the door, only to be revealed by an initiation into 'montage'; that linking of the primitive with the transcendental, which Yampolsky explores here in his essay on mimesis, and which Eisenstein traced back to the origins of human society in Non-Indifferent Nature. 140 Nor is this the only drawing in which a whole philosophy is compressed: there is 'EX-TASIS' from Mexico; and the very last cycle, 'Les Dons', a haiku-like series about the ephemerality of nature and its 'gifts'. 141 The importance of these and other graphic works to any understanding of Eisenstein's distinctive synthesis of traditions and philosophies makes serious study of the drawings a high priority.
NOSTALGIA FOR THE FUTURE
Already in 1988, when the symposium which led to this book took place, the Soviet system that Eisenstein knew had changed beyond recognition. From the perspective of 1993, it has all but disappeared and there is a corresponding danger that the 'official' culture of the Soviet era will now be repudiated en bloc amid the massive waves of disillusion sweeping the former Soviet empire. Eisenstein will no doubt incur fresh charges of 'collaboration' with the tyranny which oppressed him and yet made possible his art; and yet it also seems likely that the impetus for a truly
Figure 8'LesDons', 19 December 1947: 'GraBhalm' (sic., 'Grass blade') and Butterfly'.
international study of his legacy, established during the transitional years of glasnost, will continue. The 1990 Venice Biennale conference expanded the range of approaches begun at Oxford and there are encouraging signs that scholarly relationships which cut across boundaries of continent, tradition and language will take Eisenstein studies into a new era of improved access to materials and franker debate about its many themes that have a resonance for both the present and the future. 142
For the study of Eisenstein's work in all its interrelated forms cannot-should not-be a passive affair conducted exclusively within the academy. It offers a continuing challenge to received ideas in history, philosophy, politics and sexuality; and in an era suspicious of two-way traffic across the bridge between 'theory' and practice, it offers important models and insights. Not the least important aspect of the 1988 exhibition and conference in Britain was a parallel series of workshops for young people held in Oxford, which took Eisenstein's call to 'have the vision' as their motto. These and educational events held around the exhibition in London and Manchester confirmed Eisenstein's lasting importance as a pedagogic stimulus. 143
He may also offer a new 'window on Russia', at a time when its cultural
history stands in urgent need of reinterpretation. 144 The television images of Soviet statues toppling in August 1991 will have recalled for many most immediately the demolition of the tsar's statue in October, which inaugurates that film's elaborate deconstruction of the symbolism of power. Eisenstein was no simple apologist for Lenin or Stalin. Indeed the many accusations of heresy directed against him-first by his colleagues in the LEF group, later by Stalin's apparatchiks and posthumously by Western Marxists-are perhaps the surest proof of his essential originality and independence.
It was the Revolution that first freed him from the conformism of bourgeois culture, set to follow in his father's footsteps as an 'obedient little boy from Riga'. Then the liberated theatre of Proletkult and Meyerhold drew him to the Revolution, until film beckoned as a more efficient medium of propaganda. But although he initially identified cinema with the challenge of building communism-Dreiser found him in 1928 'more communistically convinced' than any other artist he met in the Soviet Union-it was in fact cinema that led him to the philosophy and history of art. 145 For in cinema he found-combined-a stage, a canvas and a laboratory beyond any artist's dreams. Henceforth, for him at least, theory and practice would be indissoluble, while the furtherance of the materialist dialectic would join with his personal vocation in a 'joyful science' suffused with the ecstasy of discovery and creation. Aumont has rightly termed this synthesis a 'theoretical tour de force', which also conscripted the Stalinist theme of 'unity' for Eisenstein's quite un-Stalinist purposes. 146 Like Galileo, he found an accommodation with absolutism uniquely appropriate to these times.
Certainly it goes against the grain of most contemporary readings of the Russian Revolution, which routinely trace a uniformly falling graph. As we survey its brightest talents exported, silenced, murdered or reduced to 'internal exile', the continuing commitment of a battered survivor is hard to credit. After the extirpation of the LEF-Constructivist movement which had most closely shared his hopes and values (even while criticising his experimental exuberance and refusal of purism), Eisenstein found himself increasingly isolated. One by one, he lost his mentors, colleagues and friends (they were often all three)-Bely, Mayakovsky, Vygotsky, Tretyakov, Babel, Malevich, Meyerhold. Yet he could write in 1940:
The future does not need to be predicted.
It's right here with us. Coming into being. Being born. Being made. It's presently a matter for our hands. But already it's starting to work in reverse. It's breaking into the sphere of relations. Problems of consciousness. Morals. Ethics. Activity. The superstructures are cracking. The new. The unprecedented. Classlessness is entering into them! 147
This could almost be by the 'futurian' poet Khlebnikov. 148 It echoes that
moment when modernist revolt combined with revolutionary millenarianism to produce the clarion call of the early Soviet era. In doing so it recalls the earlier materialist utopianism of the 'god-builders' who, before Lenin's denunciation, had included Lunacharsky, Eisenstein's protector during the 1920s. 149 Nor is this incompatible with claiming Eisenstein as an heir to the Russian Symbolists who ushered in that uniquely mystical and moral Modernism that we still too often consider distinctively 'Soviet'. For above all Eisenstein's visionary zeal pays tribute to the essential syncretism of Russian culture, orientated towards the common good and the future.
It was this impulse, essentially humane and Utopian, that led him along similar paths to those of Bakhtin and Tynyanov. This generation of communist scholars, pace Solzhenitsyn's scholar-convicts, did not disgrace the Russian intelligentsia. 150 Rather they kept its ideals alive in dark times, adding fresh insights to its already powerful analysis of the Western cultural tradition and, in the case of Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible, creating an expression of the age as complex and resonant in its own terms as Pushkin's Boris Godunov. 151
There can be little doubt that his work, grasped in its totality, will long outlive the collapse of the system that made it possible. Indeed, the continuing study of Eisenstein as an international and inter-disciplinary enterprise, together with his profound influence on succeeding generations of truly experimental film-makers, should serve as a beacon for the future that he could not predict but tirelessly worked to create out of his profound understanding of the past. As Samuel Palmer wrote of Blake, 'the Interpreter': 152
In him you saw at once the Maker, the Inventor; one of the few in any age…