Sergei Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict
Sergei Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict tells the dramatic story of one of world cinema’s towering geniuses and principal theorists. Ronald Bergan details Eisenstein’s life from his precocious childhood to his explosion onto the avant-garde scene in revolutionary Russia, through his groundbreaking film career, his relationships with authors and artists such as James Joyce and Walt Disney, and his untimely death at age fifty. Eisenstein’s landmark films, including The Battleship Potemkin and Ivan the Terrible, are still watched, admired, and taught throughout the world.
Drawing upon material recently released from the Soviet archives after the breakup of the USSR and from Eisenstein’s personal letters, diaries, and sketches, Bergan shines a new light on the influence of Eisenstein’s early life on his work, his homosexuality, and his keen interest in the West. This book is the definitive biography of an influential director who saw film as the synthesis of all the arts and whose work displayed a passionate and profound grasp of art, science, philosophy, and religion.
living up to the first syllable of his name, as ‘a picture of great ideological significance.’ The Soviet Culture Bulletin added, ‘Its greatness lies in its profound and earnest social thematics.’ In 1932, Ermler and Yutkevich collaborated on Counterplan for which Shostakovich wrote the score. The theme was the foiling of a sabotage attempt in a steel plant, and the film was the showpiece of the celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of the Revolution. It took its text from one of Stalin’s
MGM for Viva Villa, the biopic on Pancho Villa which was begun in Mexico by Howard Hawks at the hacienda in Tetlapayac, but finished by Jack Conway in Hollywood. But Eisenstein, after seeing (and liking) the film, could recognise none of his material. However, there were scenes that had been influenced by his aborted film, such as where honey is spread over a prisoner’s face to attract ants. Soon after his return to Moscow, he received a letter from his Mexican friend Augustin Aragon Leiva.
incomprehensibly fails to mention her once in his published memoirs (she is referred to intermittently in the diaries), Pera was his guardian angel, and probably the most important person in his life and beyond. Actually, at the time of the marriage, they were less close than they had been two years previously, but it happened to coincide with the strengthening of the laws against homosexuality. It was convenient for Eisenstein to marry and Pera wanted to protect him from the rumours, but she
minor Award of Honoured Art Worker. It was a formal statement of his position in the Soviet film industry in 1935. It was clear which way the tide had turned. On the night of the awards, when Eisenstein made his entrance, Shumyatsky rose to greet him, and said, ‘Sergei Mikhailovich, let us kiss.’ They embraced and kissed three times. Then Shumyatsky said, ‘Sergei Mikhailovich, I hope that this was not the kiss of Judas.’ Eisenstein replied, ‘Not at all. It was the kiss of two Judases.’35 The
which Robert Donat rescues Countess Marlene Dietrich from execution by the Bolsheviks.) In 1937, Eisenstein had written: ‘The aspiring film director could derive enormous benefit from studying the change of levels, the interplay of details in close-up, the glimpses of the behaviour of heroes and episodic characters, the type-casting and crowd scenes in long shot that unfold on the grandiose canvas of the Battle of Borodino in Tolstoy’s War and Peace.’26 (There had been two silent film versions