Special thanks to Sensesofcinema.com
b. January 23,1898, Riga, Latvia
d. February 11, 1948, Moscow, USSR
by Dan Shaw
Dan Shaw is Professor of Philosophy at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, USA, edits the print journal Film and Philosophy and is co-editor, with Steven Jay Schneider, of Dark Thoughts: Philosophic Reflections on Cinematic Horror (2003, Scarecrow Press).
filmography bibliography articles in Senses web resources
With Eisenstein, you confront a demonic, baroque visual theatricality, helplessly adhering to the confused theories of his writing on film. And he was quickly in decline…There are those who still acclaim him, but his influence is now very hard to detect.
– David Thomson (1)
When I took film classes in the late 1970s, the official line was that the history of film reflects a constant struggle between realism and expressionism. The contrast could be traced all the way back to the Lumières and Méliès, and in classical theory to its canonical expression in the writings of André Bazin and Sergei Eisenstein. I dutifully read both volumes of What is Cinema? and the two collections of Eisenstein essays edited by Jay Leyda, Film Form and Film Sense. It being the 1970s, Eisenstein was in the ascendancy and I was most fond of such masters of montage as Nicolas Roeg, Francis Ford Coppola and Sam Peckinpah. So David Thomson's sour evaluation in his influential A Biographical Dictionary of Film (which first came out in 1975) was all the more challenging.
Almost three decades later, and in lieu of a somewhat more traditional filmic biography, I here attempt to answer that challenge by defending Eisenstein's theories as well as his craft. It is true that his cinematic practice grew out of his theorising, but that was only natural for a Marxist engineer who came to the cinema to express his ideological fervour. The son of a Jewish architect, he studied to be an architect himself and, after distinguished service in the Red Army as an engineer, joined the theatre as a painter and designer. He soon became director of the Moscow Proletkult, an avant-garde theatre that rejected the naturalistic methods of Stanislavsky in favour of Vsevolod Meyerhold's biomechanical approach to acting, which was based on Pavlovian reflexology. Thus began the director's lifelong fascination with the question of how audience responses can be aroused in the theatre, and in film.
As an intellectual, Eisenstein adhered to the Hegelian view of artistic greatness:
…the idea satiation of the author, his subjection to prejudice by the idea, must determine actually the whole course of the art-work, and if the art-work does not represent an embodiment of the original idea, we shall never have as result an art-work realized to its utmost fullness. (2)
Indeed, it was his prior theoretical commitments that led young Sergei to explore, invent and embrace all the expressive possibilities of montage.
Crucial to understanding what Eisenstein was striving for cinematically is his seminal 1931 essay “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form”. Just as the conflict of classes drove history – with the bourgeoisie as thesis clashing with the proletariat as antithesis to yield the triumphant progressive synthesis of the classless society – so too (famously, in Strike!) shot A of the workers' rebellion being put down is juxtaposed with shot B of cattle being slaughtered and the synthesis yields the symbolic meaning C, that the workers are cattle. This technical innovation (which Eisenstein dubbed “intellectual montage”) resulted from his studies of Kuleshov's famous experiments (which demonstrated that the meaning of any shot is contextual) and of Japanese ideograms (where two separate symbols can be juxtaposed to create a third meaning, e.g. child + mouth = scream, white bird + mouth = sing) (3). Less famously, in that same essay, Eisenstein distinguished between ten different types of dialectical conflict at the level of shot composition alone, many of which are utilised in the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin (1925).
While Eisenstein was proudest of his “invention” of intellectual montage in the parallel bloodbaths in Strike! (1924), what most endures about his work is his mastery of the editing techniques he identified as metric, rhythmic, tonal and overtonal in “Methods of Montage”. In his view, editing involved the audience more than the passive reception of information from static and lengthy shots; that as viewers we actively come to the symbolic realisations of intellectual montage, and are driven into a Pavlovian frenzy by the dynamism of the rhythms of the Odessa Steps, or the rat-a-tat of the machine gun in October (1927)
It was Eisenstein's hope to harness that frenzy for revolutionary purposes, fond as he was of quoting Marx's dictum that the point is not to understand history but to change it. In “The Structure of the Film”, the director embraced Lev Tolstoy's version of the expression theory: a real work of art “arouses the complex of those feelings that gave birth to the composition” (4). In so doing, masterpieces like Battleship Potemkin (which was based on the successful mutiny 20 years earlier) can achieve an affect that, in Eisenstein's words, “sends the spectator into ecstasy”. Reverting to the Greek etymology of ecstasy “ex-tasis – literally, 'standing out of oneself', which is to say, 'going out of oneself', or 'departing from his ordinary condition'”, he set the bar high for true art. For Eisenstein (as for Marx, and Brecht, and Godard), art should raise class-consciousness and transform the viewer, ideally causing the audience to take up arms against their sea of troubles as soon as they leave the theatre. Unfortunately, it was easier for the same editing techniques to sell capitalist commodities than to engender the revolution that would lead to their extinction.
Truth be told, Thomson made a few good points in his critique of Eisenstein, the most telling of which was that such extensive (and often symbolic) editing didn't give rise to the emotional pathos the director sought. Rather, it had a distancing effect that resulted from the need to see the whole sequence in order to interpret (and respond to) the individual shots. Thomson is unfair, though accurate, when he criticises the lack of identifiable protagonists in Eisenstein's early films, because that was part of the ideological message. According to Marx, World Historical Individuals don't change history (as Hegel contended); economic conditions change as capitalism develops, and the people must of necessity rise up when their living conditions become intolerable. The people, not particular persons, were intentionally made the protagonists, and Eisenstein's meticulous avoidance of the cult of the individual was a dramatic problem he recognised in later writings, addressed in The General Line (1929) and Alexander Nevsky (1938) and succumbed to totally in Part I of Ivan the Terrible (1942). Unfortunately, the writer-director was never capable of creating a believable individual character other than Vakulinchuk in Potemkin. Though he is granted little screen time as a common seaman who helps lead the mutiny, the sympathy generated by his death attests to the extent to which our identification with individuals is at the heart of much of our cinematic pleasure.
But to say that Eisenstein's influence is no longer felt, and to attempt to debunk the British Film Institute's canonisation of his work (which claimed back then that the artistic foundations of the medium were laid by the triumvirate of Griffith, Chaplin and Eisenstein) was unduly harsh of Thomson. Every great action film depends on the principles of rhythmic montage that the Russian formalists forged. Shooting events from multiple perspectives has been incorporated in many films since (e.g. when Jeanne Moreau jumps into the Seine in Truffaut's Jules and Jim), echoing the sequences in Potemkin where the sailor breaks the dish and in October where the dead white horse falls off the drawbridge. The careers of Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, Nicholas Roeg, Francis Ford Coppola and Oliver Stone (to name just a few), and much of the dynamism of the music video scene, would have been inconceivable without Eisenstein's ground-breaking experimentation. In Alexander Nevsky, he was one of the first directors to cut a film to the rhythm of pre-existent music, and not just have the music played or composed to match the film. Many of the most memorable sequences in film history (e.g., the final climax of The Godfather, with Al Pacino renouncing Satan at his son's baptism as his henchmen simultaneously enact multiple murders at his behest) would never have been shot had the Easy Riders and Raging Bulls of the 1970s not studied Eisenstein at length in the film schools of the 1960s.
You can learn a lot about a writer from his critical preferences (it is no surprise that Thomson didn't have much use for Hitchcock either). They indicate how he defines excellence in the artistic medium in question. In the battle between expressionism and realism, David Thomson was (and is) clearly in the latter camp. His holy triumvirate, Jean Renoir, F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang (at least his Hollywood career), were favourites of André Bazin as well, because both critics adored long takes, unobtrusive editing and linear narratives driven by individual protagonists. Bazin argued that long takes and deep focus also activate the viewer, as he or she is forced to scan the frame, detecting in-shot symbolism and interesting details of the mise en scène. By contrast, intellectual montage bludgeons us with its blunt messages. There is some force to this objection. Even Eisenstein himself was fond of describing his approach as “Kino-fist” (to distinguish his work in Strike! from Dziga Vertov and the Kino-Eye group) (5). But I am still moved by the technique, and it can be put to elegant, complex and thought-provoking use (the match cut from the thigh bone rising to the space ship in free fall in 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of my favourite examples). Furthermore, and despite my admiration for Fritz Lang, the claim that his work has had a more abiding influence on cinema than Eisenstein's is patently absurd.
As an expressionist with a fascination for Pavlovian reflexology, Eisenstein's greatest formal innovations stemmed from his experiments in montage and its relationship to biomechanics. He tried various editing patterns, discovering that, for example, film cut metrically to the beat of a typical heart has a profound impact on us precisely because it mirrors our biorhythms. He learned how to whip his viewers into a frenzy (much easier then than now) by using such simple tricks as making the shots shorter and shorter to build to a climax (see the end of the crop duster sequence in North by Northwest for a definitive use of accelerated montage). His films were composed of an astronomical number of shots, a necessity when, say, you are trying to capture the power of a machine gun by cutting as rapidly as it fires bullets. But the shower scene from Psycho would not exist were it not for Eisenstein's inspired lead in. I can imagine the 20th century equivalent of the Austrian emperor in Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984) telling Eisenstein (or Hitchcock) that there were “too many shots”. In fact, Eisenstein was forced to abandon much of his most frenetic editing because of charges of formalism levelled against Potemkin and October. His attempt to rein in those formalist tendencies resulted in The General Line, which was totally disavowed by Stalinist censors (for its individualistic, Griffith-like sentimentalism) and renamed Old and New.
Que Viva Mexico
Que Viva Mexico
As a result, Eisenstein fled to Hollywood, where he languished for some time, beginning a film version of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy funded by Upton Sinclair, who quickly fired the clearly unsuitable émigré. He then (in 1931–32) embarked on an ill-fated South-of-the-Border documentary called Que Viva Mexico (Orson Welles wasn't the first auteur to stall his career in the Tropics), shooting over 100,000 feet of film stock in more than a year before giving up in disgust. Upon his return to Russia, his first undertaking, Bezhin Meadow, also fell afoul of the censors, and again had to be abandoned. Desperate to return to the good graces of his superiors, Eisenstein responded with Alexander Nevsky, his most conventional, Hollywood-style epic. Stripped of most of the creative editing resources that formerly dominated his style, the images took on a posed and static quality (a vice that emerged in spades in Ivan the Terrible). Though his eye for visual design had not abandoned him (the armour of the German knights is priceless), the whole point of this State-sponsored epic seemed to be that the people of Rus would have withered before the Teutonic onslaught had it not been for the resilience of one man, his eponymous hero. No wonder Stalin loved it.
Eisenstein's work exhibits all of the strengths and weaknesses one would expect of a Renaissance Man that loved to quote Goethe and was most deeply influenced by Pavlov, Mayakovsky, Marx and Freud. In trying to subjugate all the elements of the film to its driving idea, he (like other intellectual directors such as Stanley Kubrick) created cold epics that generate more adrenaline than genuine feeling for the plight of the workers (Vakulinchuk's funeral is a notable exception). Bent on finding a scientific approach to his art, he generally ended up reducing his human characters to cogs in a revolutionary machine. As a propagandist (as Thomson has rightly observed) Eisenstein lampooned the bourgeoisie with naive and unconvincing stereotypes more suited to vaudeville or the circus, which soon were more likely to induce ridicule than revolutionary fervour.
In Thomson's view, Eisenstein started to decline almost immediately: Strike! was his best work, and it was all downhill from there. Why he undervalues Battleship Potemkin is beyond me, for it is clearly Eisenstein's masterpiece, a true work of art universally acclaimed throughout the world in 1926 and ever since. Its tight, 86 minute running time is jam packed with almost 1350 shots (the 195 minutes of Griffith's Birth of a Nation contained only 25 more shots!). The film also shrewdly depicts several brilliant Marxist insights (e.g. the link between Orthodox religion and State oppression). Strike! is more frenetic but less effective than Potemkin, and it now gives one the impression that the director was throwing everything in but the kitchen sink. The effect is centrifugal rather than cumulative; what he called a “montage of attractions” often had insufficient associative force between the separate cells to add up to something more than a kinetic jumble of parts. But, oh, what parts!
Both the structure of Potemkin and its use of Eisenstein's signature cinematic techniques are much more obviously under the director's control. Solidly located within a five section linear narrative, sequences build in a dramatically cumulative fashion in which montage techniques contribute to shaping coherent wholes rather than unravelling them. Dynamic passages contrast with lyrical ones, like the overtonal fog montage that opens part three. Such a structure is crucially missing in October, which, as a memorial to the Russian revolution on its tenth anniversary, was too big a project that got way out of hand. Many of Eisenstein's fancier attempts at symbolism either fizzled (intercuts of a sphinx during the drawbridge sequence) or were too blunt (the head of the Provisional Government paired with a mechanical Golden peacock). But certain shots still linger in the memory (like the long draping hair of the dead woman demonstrator as the drawbridge rises) and whole passages can be taken for documentary footage by the uninitiated.
Yes, the sheer cinematic glories of his most impressive work still shine over three quarters of a century later. The parallel editing sequence between humans and animals being slaughtered that concludes Strike! is still compelling. Though it has been analysed to death, the Odessa Steps sequence has often been imitated (e.g. in De Palma's version of The Untouchables ) but never duplicated. The “God and Country” montage from October, where Christian iconography is reduced by stages to pagan mythology, is one of the most astounding examples of associational editing in cinematic history. And even the climactic battle in Alexander Nevsky is made periodically gripping by shot composition alone, despite the circus-like accompaniment composed by Prokoviev, the absence of crisp metric and/or rhythmic montage, and the artificiality of the ice floes.
If he was inept with individuals, Eisenstein exhibited an epic mastery of crowds and crowd movement that has perhaps only been surpassed by David Lean and Akira Kurosawa (the German hordes going from a thin line to a looming presence over the horizon of ice in Nevsky reminds me of Lean). Nowhere have the masses seemed to more convincingly rise up than in the set pieces from Potemkin and October. Unlike the frequent depictions of mob violence that reflected the reactionary suspicion of the masses and mass movements that was rampant in the Hollywood of the 1920s and 1930s (see, for example, Fury [Fritz Lang, 1936]), the people are shown to be heroic, and shrewd judges of character (they mob the bourgeois racist that yells “Down with the Jews” in Potemkin). If authority figures in the traditional regime are mere caricatures, the proles are noble and reliable, at times straining credulity just as far in the other direction.
By the time the first part of Ivan the Terrible was released in 1945, Eisenstein was a mere shadow of his former self, still struggling with Part 2 of Ivan and plagued with the chronic heart condition that would kill him less than three years later. Worse yet, the static iconography of his final film seemed to sanction Ivan's tyranny (and, by implication, Stalin's), and the second part of the trilogy he envisioned (but failed to complete) was never released in his lifetime.
As a propagandist, none of Eisenstein's efforts are as viscerally effective as Triumph of the Will, where Leni Riefenstahl demonstrated that many of his cinematic innovations could be put just as easily in service to fascism as to Communist liberation. In that sense, charges of formalism from his contemporaries were accurate, if ideologically misconstrued. One could say that Eisenstein was too much of an artist to make a good ideologue. His cinematic art will long outshine the work of the Nazi propagandists who learned so much from him.
by Helen Grace
(Bronenosets Potyomkin, 1925, USSR, 75 mins)
Dir: Sergei Eisenstein; Writer: Sergei Eisenstein and Nina Agadzhanova Shutko; Cinematography: Eduard Tisse; Original music: Edmund Meisel and Dmitri Shostakovich; Editor: Sergei Eisenstein; Art Director: Vasili Rakhals
The Odessa Steps - Battleship Potemkin
Cast: Ivan Bobrov (Sailor), Beatrice Vitoldi (Woman with Baby Carriage), Nina Poltavseva (Woman with Pince-nez), Julia Eisenstein (Odessa Citizen), Grigori Aleksandrov (Chief Officer Giliarovsky), Aleksandr Antonov (Vakulinchuk), Vladimir Barsky (The Captain), Sergei Eisenstein (Ship Chaplain), Aleksandr Levshin (Petty Officer), Mikhail Gomarov (Sailor)
Helen Grace works in photography & multi-media and teaches visual culture at University of Western Sydney. She edited Aesthesia & the Economy of the Senses (1996), is the co-author of Home/World: Space, community & marginality in Sydney's West (1997) and co-editor of Planet Diana: Cultural Studies & Global Mourning (1997).
Independent filmmakers, restricted to limited exhibition outlets in a world of media conglomeration, can take heart from the fact that Battleship Potemkin, one of the most renowned films in the history of cinema and containing perhaps the best known sequence in the medium's entire history, was initially seen only by small audiences of film society aficionados and trade unionists. In this sense, it represents one of the most successful instances of niche marketing the world has ever seen.
The stories of its circulation are almost as mythical as its subject matter: it was banned as subversive in England and its circulation was highly restricted in the US, even before the implementation of the Hays Code. In the US, it was seen by small groups of filmmakers and critics, and in one enticing account of a screening in the New York apartment of Gloria Swanson, it was projected onto one of Gloria's satin sheets, when the absence of an available screen threatened to disappoint the eager but select audience.
At such a screening, David O. Selznick saw the film and wrote with great enthusiasm to his boss at MGM that a print should be obtained because it would be "very advantageous to have the organisation view it in the same way that a group of artists might study a Rubens or a Raphael". It was, he thought, "unquestionably one of the greatest motion pictures ever made" (this in 1926!) and the firm "might well consider securing the man responsible for it".
Battleship Potemkin is the film which brought Eisenstein, always a citizen of the world, to world attention. This fame both protected him - up to a point - and brought him to the constant attention of the authorities, involving him in a cat and mouse game for his entire professional life.
Although it has become an orthodoxy in the West to emphasise the repressive conditions under which artists, writers and filmmakers worked in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, it is worth remembering that Eisenstein's experiences in the West were equally, if not more, frustrating creatively. Unfruitful episodes in Hollywood & Mexico left Eisenstein back in the Soviet Union with a nervous breakdown and a damaged reputation.
Selznick, his original Hollywood promoter, found his screenplay, based on Dreiser's American Tragedy, "the most moving script I have ever read", but nonetheless rejected production support on the grounds that it would be too expensive to make and besides, would offer nothing but "a most miserable two hours to millions of happy-minded young Americans".
Back in the Soviet Union, the needs of the masses were being catered for in similar fashion, though it was not so much the absolutism of the economic imperative which determined decisions but an imperative more contestable: sotsialnye zakaz (the social command). This policy delivered a series of (still) popular Stalinist or socialist-realist musical comedies, adapted by Grigorii Aleksandrov, Eisenstein's former co-worker, from Hollywood slapstick with elements of (Soviet) jazz and Russian popular culture thrown in.
Eisenstein himself moved on from the enthusiasm and dynamic energy of the early films to further achievements on grander themes, and devoted a large part of his life to teaching and writing. He left behind not only a body of extraordinary films, but also a body of writing on cinema and art which is unsurpassed.
Battleship Potemkin was conceived as part of a cycle of myth-making films intended to tell the story of the Revolution. Although that cycle was not completed, it is possible in retrospect, to view Strike (1924), Battleship Potemkin (1925), October (1928) and possibly The Old and The New (1929) as episodes, more successful perhaps than Pudovkin's The End of St Petersburg (1927). The latter instead combines several of the moments of this historical narrative into one film with brief flashes of Bely's Petersburg for good measure.
Battleship Potemkin commemorates the failed 1905 uprising, though technical constraints meant that only one aspect of the revolt - the Potemkin mutiny - was finally dealt with. Considerable debate about the historical veracity of the treatment has taken place, and although this contestation of the myth has sought to deny that the film bears much relation to what really happened, serious examination of the historical incident has only been able to establish that there is confusion about what occurred. In general, however, there is more similarity than difference between what has been accepted as the historical story and Eisenstein's treatment of it.
Eisenstein's film is structured around five episodes, introduced by intertitles: (1) Men and Maggots; (2) Drama on the Quarterdeck; (3) An Appeal from the Dead; (4) The Odessa Steps; (5) Meeting the Squadron. These episodes coincide, in large part with historical memory of the event, and Eisenstein used one of the actual participants of the mutiny as an actor and historical advisor on the project.
The mutiny certainly did begin when rotten meat was taken on board and the sailors refused to eat the soup which was subsequently made from it. The drama on the quarterdeck occurred; Vakulinchuk was killed in the ensuing struggle with officers, his body was laid in state on the shore at Odessa and the people of the city, where insurrectionist activity was also occurring, came to see it. This incident stirred up further unrest which was violently suppressed by the military in the city. The Potemkin fired shots and the rest of the Russian fleet was brought in to subdue the ship, but no return shots were fired. One other ship joined the Potemkin in mutiny, but later ran aground. The Potemkin left Odessa and the sailors eventually sought asylum in Romania. Eisenstein's narrative ends on the relative victory of the fleet's passing the ship without firing, rather than the less heroic story of the Potemkin's subsequent tribulations and isolation.
This decision serves to identify the symbolic significance of the mutiny in the later historical mythmaking which both led to the Revolution and also led in turn to the Revolution's being reconstituted itself in more heroic terms. The Odessa steps massacre in the film condenses the suppression, which actually occurred in the city into one dramatised incident, and this remains one of the most powerful images of political violence ever realised.
This power is achieved by the principle of conflict in montage: the juxtaposition of images of innocence against images of violence (the child trampled, the mother's appeal to the soldiers, the mother with the pram [all individualised, or at least rendered as distinct types] against the mass of the soldiers, rendered not as separate bodies but as graphic patterns of lines and shadows in inexorable movement), the contrasts between long, depersonalising shots of soldiers and close-ups of citizens, contrasts between shots from below (the perspective of the citizens - that of panic) and above (the perspective of the soldiers - control and overview). It is maternal feeling which represents humanity in the scene and masculine military discipline which represents inhumanity.
The Odessa Steps sequence has been much copied (Woody Allen, Brian de Palma, the odd Australian indie film). Seventy-five years on, it is advertising rather than cinema which most regularly resorts to these techniques. However much the speech of the movies has since changed, it is still a pleasure to view again a film which, without fully knowing it, wrote the grammar of cinema.
Historical Narrative in The Battleship Potemkin
"What are a few maggots?"(1) asks Richard Hough in his book, The Potemkin Mutiny. He answers with the powerful story of the 1905 mutiny of the sailors of the Potemkin in their struggle against the repressive officers of the Russian Imperial Navy. In 1925, the Soviet government commissioned Sergei Eisenstein to direct a film commemorating the events of the 1905 revolution. Due to time constraints, he had to limit his film to just the Potemkin mutiny. His depiction of these events, in his film The Battleship Potemkin, has many significant differences with the historian's perspective that Hough offers in his book. Contrary to the belief of many modern critics, the actual historical events and details are impossible to determine beyond a reasonable doubt, but "there is no dispute on the main events, and their sequence."(2) However, although Hough and Eisenstein differ, they both offer legitimate perspectives. Even if the events are agreed upon, "one and the same event may be incorporated in a work...in different guises: in the form of a dispassionate statement or in that of a pathetic hymn."(3) Eisenstein is creating a narrative film, and Hough purports to write a history, but both are stories of the event with an intended audience and an intended effect. The small differences between the two perspectives offered by Hough and Eisenstein is significant and colors what the audience thinks of the mutiny and how they identify with it.
The mutiny on the Potemkin began after the ship took on some rotten meat. The men complained when they saw the meat hanging out on deck. The doctor was called, and determined that the meat was perfectly fine. The men were clearly not convinced, as they did not eat the borscht made with that meat at the next meal. When the captain and higher officers found out about this refusal, roll was called on the quarterdeck. Some men were chosen to represent those who refused to eat the borscht. The guard was called, and were told to bring a tarpaulin. The first mate gave orders to fire, but the guard did not, and the men mutinied. They took control of the ship and went to Odessa, where insurrectionist activity was also occurring. Three civilians were established as liaisons to the on-shore revolutionary parties. One of the men who died in the mutiny, Grigory Vakulinchuk, was put in state on a quay in the Odessa harbor. The people of the city went to see his body, and the area became a hotbed for the revolutionary factions in the city. The military in the city violently cracked down on the insurrectionists, and the Potemkin replied with some gunfire. The rest of the Russian fleet arrived, still in the control of the authorities, to subdue the Potemkin. The fleet and the Potemkin made one pass at each other, but neither side fired a weapon. Another ship, George the Conqueror, joined the Potemkin in revolt briefly before running itself aground. The Potemkin had many troubles, and after many tribulations, eventually turned herself in to the Romanian government, and the sailors were given asylum in Romania.
Many modern day film critics assume that historians have deduced the actual concrete events of the Potemkin mutiny down to small details and thus assume that Eisenstein's creation "owes more to mythmaking than to historical fidelity,"(4) but their attitudes refuse to acknowledge their distance from the subject and the confused nature of the event. James Goodwin claims that Eisenstein "confused the historical record....The massacre on the Odessa Steps was often attributed by critics to Eisenstein's creation and he did little to correct that impression."(5) David Bordwell says that the film "takes great liberties" with historical fact. Andrew Sinclair says, "Eisenstein's version departs from the facts for the purposes of propaganda and art."(6) However, these perspectives assume a certain historical record and leave relatively little room for historical uncertainty and conflicting primary sources. Hough makes a detailed report of the events, but he acknowledges the uncertainties that underlie his narrative. He says that the Potemkin mutiny "must surely be among the most inaccurately recorded events in naval history....descriptions of the event written by the same eye-witness on different occasions are at variance in detail."(7) Surely if the primary sources disagree with each other one latter day film critic cannot determine exactly what happened and make a judgement upon the historicity of the film. Hough says of the creation of his history, "Where there are conflicting reports I have done my best to reconcile them, and, where necessary, to keep a reasonable balance between supposition and probability."(8) He has done the research, consulted the primary sources, acknowledged the uncertainty of his endeavor, and then offers us his best perspective on the events, working entirely from his sources and reconciling them as best he can. Eisenstein had Konstantin Feldman, a student agitator who functioned as a liaison from the shore revolutionaries, as an actor and historical advisor. He also had the explicit sanction of the Soviet government to create this movie and thus access to all of the historical archives of the government. Bordwell even admits that "Eisenstein was proud of his research into records and mutineer's memoirs."(9) These facts indicate that both Hough and Eisenstein have legitimate reasons for their perspectives on the "reality" of 1905 irrespective of the general critical condemnation of Eisenstein's account. The two accounts agree on the major facts, and the differences between the two accounts represent alternative interpretations of the information available.
One of the major differences between The Battleship Potemkin, and Hough's account is the amount of time related by each. Although both works begin with the rotten meat, the film ends after the Potemkin has made one pass of the fleet with no shots being fired. Hough continues the narrative until after the sailors had given themselves up to the Romanians. Eisenstein's "early ending" has been much commented upon and prompted him to write an essay entitled Constanta (Whither The Battleship Potemkin')(10) in 1926. In this essay he says that he stopped "the event at this point where it had become an asset' to the Revolution" and by this creates the story of the Potemkin as "an objectively victorious episode, the harbinger of the triumph of the October Revolution."(11) Eisenstein wanted the story of the Potemkin to be seen as a "dress rehearsal" for the 1917 revolutions, as Lenin did when he wrote "without the dress rehearsal' of 1905, the victory of the October Revolution in 1917 would have been impossible."(12) To convey this meaning Eisenstein does not alter the facts of the story, he merely considers what happened after the confrontation with the fleet to be irrelevant. To end the story with the sailor's surrender to the Romanians would have indicated failure, to continue the story through the revolution of 1917 would have made for too long a movie, but to end the movie with the morale building victory over the fleet created the right feel for Eisenstein. Hough wanted to look at the event of the mutiny, so he continued the story until the mutineers were off the boat and followed them briefly into their post-Potemkin lives. The effect of this is that Eisenstein's audience would come away feeling much better about the revolution and proud of the mutineers, whereas the readers of Hough's book will come away with "an anecdote, albeit a sublime and tragic one, about a 'wandering ship.'"(13)
The two accounts have a very different view of individuals in the mutiny. Hough tries to acquaint us with all of the individuals and their characters, in however brief a time. The events are seen to occur because of the actions of individual people for the most part, with the mass mind merely reacting to the prodding of individuals. After the end of the armed mutiny against the officers, Hough says, "considered in their total, the problems facing Matushenko could send the mind reeling."(14) He considers the mutiny to be Matushenko's responsibility, and the problems are facing him, and not the entire mutinous crew of the Potemkin. He is the face of the revolution. On the other hand, Eisenstein's history of the event is a collective one, with little individuation of characters. We know very few of the characters by name from Eisenstein as compared to those that Hough tells us. Eisenstein names Captain Golikov, Dr. Smirnov, Chief Officer Gilyarovsky, Matushenko and Vakulinchuk. This is very few names on a boat with a crew of over 700, not to mention all the people on shore who played a large role in influencing events. Hough acquaints us individually with many more people, even when they are only mentioned in a cursory fashion. He names and describes Josef Dymtchenko, one of the Deputy Chairmen of the Committee, as "a good-natured, sentimental peasant, broad shouldered and muscular."(15) This description individuates Dymtchenko in our minds, even though he is not important to the story and, in fact, is not mentioned so extensively again. Eisenstein never names people like Dymtchenko, and the role that individuals do play in his version is much less. Although Vikulanchuk is named and is seen making individual decisions, as when he makes the decision to call out to the firing squad not to kill their brothers, he is merely seen as an instigator, and the revolution soon becomes collective. In Hough, the individuals instigate or fight the masses having a revolution, but in Eisenstein the mass of people have the insurrection, and the individuals are of secondary importance. Eisenstein's movie creates a greater sense of collectivism than Hough's account.
Another major example of difference in the works creating meaning for the viewer is in the perspective from which each story is told. Hough gives us an omniscient perspective that proposes to know what all of the characters are thinking and feeling. Eisenstein limits his perspective to the 'good" characters in the film. We never see the admirals of the fleet plotting their counterattack. We know it must be coming, but until the ships arrive in sight of the Potemkin, we don't see them. Also, when the Cossacks start their massacre, that is the first time that we have see them, and there are no shots from their perspective. The camera never chases the people down the steps, but, in longer shots, is always looking across the steps or up them. Hough tells us about Kokhanov, the general in charge of Odessa, and his decision to "order a sotnia of Cossacks from the Cathedral Square, where they were bivouacked, to quell any further disorders, "(16) and also about the Cossacks were "held back in a state of frustration from breaking up demonstrations on Tuesday."(17) Hough gives us a look into the minds of all of the figures in the events of 1905. The fact that Eisenstein tells the story purely from the perspective of the positive characters makes the audience more willing to identify with them. He tries to get the audience to live through this historical moment as he believes that "Living through an historical moment is the culminating point of the pathos of feeling oneself part of the process, of feeling oneself part of the collective waging a fight for a bright future."(18) Eisenstein is trying to celebrate the Potemkin mutiny, which means that he focuses on the victories won by the mutineers in spite of their opposition, and not so much on the evil perpetrated by the authorities. He certainly includes atrocities, the Odessa steps massacre among them, but his primary objective, as seen through his use of time, is to celebrate the power of the mutineers. Hough's account let's us in on the workings behind the scene of all sides of the action. We still sympathize with the insurrectionists, but that is because the looks behind the scenes at the reactionary forces do not present a flattering picture. The authorities are shown to be malevolent and incompetent. However, one feels less part of the rebellious movement, and instead feels more pity towards it.
The two accounts offered by Eisenstein and Hough on the Potemkin mutiny in 1905 are both historically viable interpretations of evidence. However, the way in which this information is conveyed is different in the two stories. These differences creates differences in the meaning of the episode for the audience. The viewers of Eisenstein's movie will tend to come away with the feeling that the mutiny was a collective effort that served as a valuable prelude to the 1917 Russian Revolution, whereas Hough's readers are more likely to feel that the mutiny was a failed attempt by revolutionary individuals to create a revolution from the warships of the Russian Imperial Navy, even though they were justified in rebelling against a repressive and incompetent officer class. The fact that this difference in view exists may lead to some film critics to dismiss Eisenstein's work as pure propaganda, but that is an incorrect assumption given the uncertain nature of history, especially that of revolutionary events.
1. Hough, Richard, The Potemkin Mutiny, 1960, Hamish Hamilton Ltd, London, p.11.
2. Hough, p.9
3. Eisenstein, Sergei, The Battleship Potemkin, 1968, tr. Gillon R. Aitken, Lorrimer Publishing Limited, London, p.13.
4. Bordwell, David, The Cinema of Eisenstein, 1993, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, and London, England, p.62.
5. Goodwin, James, Eisenstein, Cinema, and History, 1993, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, p.58.
6. Sinclair, Andrew, History, in Eisenstein, The Battleship Potemkin, 1968, p.6.
7. Hough, p.9.
8. Hough, p.9
9. Bordwell, p.62
10. Eisenstein, Sergei, Constanta (Whither The Battleship Potemkin'), 1926, in S.M. Eisenstein, Selected Works, 1988, ed. and tr. Richard Taylor, BFI publishing, London, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, p.67-70.
11. Eisenstein, Sergei, The Twelve Apostles, in Notes of a Film Director, 1945, ed. R. Yurenev, tr. X. Danko, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, p.29, as quoted in Bordwell, p.63.
12. Lenin, V.I., The Lenin Anthology, ed. Robert C. Tucker, 1975, Norton, New York, p.555-6, as quoted in Goodwin, p.57.
13. Eisenstein, Constanta (Whither 'The Battleship Potemkin'), p.67.
14. Hough, p.37
15. Hough, p.54.
16. Hough, p.70.
17. Hough, p.70.
18. Eisenstein, The Battleship Potemkin, p.16.
J.V. Stalin: The Discussion with Sergei Eisenstein on the Film Ivan the Terrible
One of the consequence of the anti-Stalin campaign initiated by the CPSU in 1953 has been that a number of facets of Stalin's interventions on cultural questions are virtually unknown in the Communist movement. It is a telling commentary on this state of affairs that Paresh Dhar in his review of Asok Chattopadhyaya's book Martiya Chirayat Bhabana - Silpa Sahitya Prasanga (in Bengali) can write that 'what is most striking is that by a special research work, Asok has unveiled Stalin's numerous involvements with art and literature of which we never heard before', (Frontier, May 24th, 1997).
This discussion took place between Stalin, Zhdanov and Molotov from the political leadership of the CPSU(b), and S.M, Eisenstein and N. Cherkasov at the end of February, 1947. It was an integral part of the attempt by the Bolshevik party in the post-war period to raise the artistic level of Soviet culture and to eliminate weaknesses in ideological and political content.1 Prior to the discussion the Central Committee of the CPSU(b) had on September 4th, 1946 taken a decision on the film Glowing life. Parts of the decision which bear on Ivan the Terrible are cited here:
'The fact of the matter is that many of our leading cinema workers - producers, directors and scenario writers - are taking a lighthearted and irresponsible attitude to their duties and are not working conscientiously on the films they produce. The chief defect in their work is failure to study subject matter... Producer Eisenstein betrayed ignorance of historical facts in the second series of Ivan Grozny, depicting Ivan Grozny's progressive army, the oprichniki, as a gang of degenerates reminiscent of the American Ku Klux Klan. Ivan Grozny, a man of strong will and character, is shown as a spineless weakling, as a Hamlet type...
'One of the fundamental reasons for the production of worthless films is the lack of knowledge of subject matter and the lighthearted attitude of scenario writers and producers to their work.
'The Central Committee finds that the Ministry of Cinematography, and primarily its head, Comrade Bolshakov, exercises inadequate supervision over film studios, producers and scenario writers, is doing too little to improve the quality of films and is spending large sums of money to no useful purpose. Leading officials of the Ministry of Cinematography take an irresponsible attitude to the work entrusted to them and are indifferent to the ideological and political content and artistic merits of the films being produced.
'The Central Committee is of the opinion that the work of the Ministry's Art Council is incorrectly organized. The council does not ensure impartial and
business-like criticism of films for production. It often takes an apolitical attitude in its judgement of film and pays little attention to their idea-content. Many of its members display lack of principle in their assessment of films, their judgment being based on personal, friendly relations with the producers. The absence of criticism in the cinema and the prevalent narrow-circle atmosphere are among the chief reasons for the production of poor films.
'Art workers must realise that those who continue to take an irresponsible, lighthearted attitude to their work, may well find themselves superfluous and outside the ranks of progressive Soviet art, for the cultural requirements and demands of the Soviet theatregoer have developed and the Party and Government will continue to cultivate among the people good taste and encourage exacting demands on works of art.' (Decisions of the Central Committee, C.P.S.U.(b) On Literature and Art (]946-1948), Moscow, 1951, pp. 26-28.)
1. An earlier criticism of the films of Eisenstein (Strike, The Battleship Potemkin, October, and The General Line) was published in 1931: I. Anissimov, 'The Films of Eisenstein'. This has been reprinted in Bulletin International, 64-67, April-July 1983, pp. 74-91. (In French).
We were summoned to the Kremlin at about 11 o'clock [In the evening - Ed.]. At 10.50 we reached the reception. Exactly at 11 o'clock Poskrebyshev came out to escort us to the cabinet.
At the back of the room were Stalin, Molotov and Zhdanov.
We entered, exchanged greetings and sat around the table.
Stalin. You wrote a letter. The answer got delayed a little. We are meeting late. I first thought of giving a written answer but then I decided that talking will be better. As I am very busy and have no time I decided to meet you here after a long interval. I received your letter in November.
Zhdanov. You received it while stilI in Sochi.
Stalin. Yes, yes. In Sochi. What have you decided to do with the film?
We are saying that we have divided the second part of the film into two sections, because of which the Livonsky March has not been included. As a result there is a disproportion between the different parts of the film. So it is necessary to correct the film by editing the existing material and to shoot mainly the Livonsky march.
Stalin. Have you studied History?
Eisenstein. More or less.
Stalin. More or less? I am also a little familiar with history. You have shown the oprichnina incorrectly. The oprichnina was the army of the king. It was different from the feudal army which could remove its banner and leave the battleground at any moment - the regular army, the progressive army was formed. You have shown this oprichnina to be like the Ku-Klux-Klan.
Eisenstein said that they wear white cowls but we have black ones.
Molotov. This does not make a major difference.
Stalin. Your tsar has come out as being indecisive, he resembles Hamlet. Everybody prompts him as to what is to be done, and he himself does not take any decision... Tsar Ivan was a great and a wise ruler, and if he is compared with Ludwig XI (you have read about Ludwig XI who prepared absolutism for Ludwig XIV), then Ivan the Terrible is in the tenth heaven. The wisdom of Ivan the Terrible is reflected by the following: he looked at things from the national point of view and did not allow foreigners into his country, he barricaded the country from the entry of foreign influence. By showing Ivan the Terrible in this manner you have committed a deviation and a mistake. Peter Ist was also a great ruler, but he was extremely liberal towards foreigners, he opened the gate wide to them and allowed foreign influence into the country and permitted the Germanisation of Russia. Catherine allowed it even more. And further. Was the court of Alexander I really a Russian court? Was the Court of Nicolaus I a Russian court? No, they were German courts.
The most outstanding contribution of Ivan the Terrible was that he was the first to introduce the government monopoly of external trade. Ivan the Terrible was the first and Lenin was the second.
Zhdanov. The Ivan the Terrible of Eisenstein came out as a neurotic.
Molotov. In general, emphasis was given to psychologism, excessive stress was laid on internal psychological contradictions and personal emotions.
Stalin. It is necessary to show the historical figure in correct style. For example it was not correct that in the first series Ivan the Terrible kissed his wife so long. At that period it was not permitted.
Zhdanov. The film is made in the Byzantine style but there also it was not done.
Molotov. The second series is very restricted in domes and vaults, there is no fresh air, no wider Moscow, it does not show the people. One may show conversations, repressions but not this.
Stalin. Ivan the Terrible was extremely cruel. It is possible to show why he had to be cruel.
One of the mistakes of Ivan the Terrible was that he did not completely finish off the five big feudal families. If he had destroyed these five families then there would not have been the Time of Troubles. If Ivan the Terrible executed someone then he repented and prayed for a long time. God disturbed him on these matters... It was necessary to be decisive.
Molotov. It is necessary to show historical incidents in a comprehensive way. For example the incident with the drama of Demyan Bedny Bogatyp. Demyan Bedny mocked the baptism of Russia, but in reality acceptance of Christianity was a progressive event for its historical development.
Stalin. Of course, we are not good Christians but to deny the progressive role of Christianity at that particular stage is impossible. This incident had a very great importance because this turned the Russian state to contacts with the West, and not to an orientation towards the East.
About relations with the East, Stalin said that after the recent liberation from the Tatar yoke, Ivan the Terrible united Russia in a hurried way so as to have a stronghold to face a fresh Tatar attack. Astrakhan was already conquered and they could have attacked Moscow at any moment, The Crimean Tatars also could have done this.
Stalin. Demyan Bedny did not have the correct historical perspective. When we shifted the statue of Minin and Podzharsky closer to the church of Vasily Blazhenova then Demyan Bedny protested and wrote that the statue must be thrown away and that Minin and Podzharsky must be forgotten. In answer to this letter, I called him 'Ivan, do not forget your own family'. We cannot throw away history...'
Next Stalin made a series of remarks regarding the interpretation of Ivan the Terrible and said that Malyuta Skuratov was a great army general and died a hero's death in the war with Livonia.
Cherkasov in reply said that criticism always helped and that after criticism Pudovkin made a good film Admiral Nakhimov. 'We are sure that we will not do worse. I am working on the character of Ivan the Terrible not only the film, but also in the theatre. I fell in love with this character and think that our alteration of the scenes will be correct and truthful'.
In response to this Stalin replied (addressing Molotov and Zhdanov) - 'Let's try?'
Cherkasov I am sure that the alteration will be successful.
Stalin. May god help you, - every day a new year. (Laughs.)
Eisenstein. We are saying that in the first part a number of moments were successful and this gives us the confidence for making the second series.
Stalin. We are not talking about what you have achieved, but now we are talking about the shortcomings.
Eisenstein asked whether there were some more instructions regarding the film.
Stalin. I am not giving you instructions but expressing the viewer's opinion. It is necessary that historical characters are reflected correctly. What did Glinka show us? What is this Glinka. This is Maksim and not Glinka. [They were talking about the film Composer Glinka made by L. Arnshtam. The main role was played by B. Chirkov.] Artist Chirkov could not express himself and for an artist the greatest quality is the capability to transform himself. (Addressing Cherkasov) - you are capable of transforming yourself.
In answer to this Zhdanov said that Cherkasov was unlucky with Ivan the Terrible. There was still panic with regard to Spring and he started to act as a janitor - in the film In the Name of Life he plays a janitor.
Cherkasov said that he had acted the maximum number of tsars and he had even acted as Peter Ist and Aleksei.
Zhdanov. According to the hereditary line. He proceeded according to the hereditary line.
Stalin. It is necessary to show historical figures correctly and strongly. (To Eisenstein). You directed Alexander Nevsky. It came out very well. The most important thing is to maintain the style of the historical period. The director may deviate from history; it is not correct if he simply copies from the historical materials, he must work on his ideas but within the boundary of style. The director may vary within the style of that historical period.
Zhdanov said that Eisenstein is fascinated by the shadows (which distracts viewers from the action), and the beard of Ivan the Terrible and that Ivan the Terrible raises his head too often, so that his beard can be seen.
Eisenstein promised to shorten the beard of Ivan the Terrible in future.
Stalin. (Recalling different actors from the first part of the film Ivan the Terrible) Kurbsky - is magnificent. Staritsky is very good (Artist Kadochnikov). He catches the flies excellently. Also: the future tsar, he is catching flies with his hands! These type of details are necessary. They reveal the essence of man.
...The conversation then switched to the situation in Czechoslovakia in connection with Cherkasov's participation in the Soviet film festival. Cherkasov narrated the popularity of the Soviet Union in Czechoslovakia.
The discussion then touched upon the destruction of the Czechoslovakian cities by the Americans.
Stalin. Our job was to enter Prague before the Americans. The Americans were in a great hurry, but owing to Koniev's attack we were able to outdistance the Americans and strike Prague just before its fall. The Americans bombed Czechoslovakian industry. They maintained this policy throughout Europe, for them it was important to destroy those industries which were in competition with them. They bombed with taste.
Cherkasov spoke about the album of photographs of Franco and Goebbels which was with Ambassador Zorin at his villa.
Stalin. It is good that we finished these pigs. It is horrifying to think what would have happened if these scoundrels had won.
Cherkasov mentioned the graduation ceremony of the Soviet colony in Prague. He spoke of the children of emigrants who were studying there. It was very sad for these children who think of Russia as their motherland, as their home, when they were born there and had never been to Russia.
Stalin. It is unfortunate for these children. They are not at fault.
Molotov. Now we are giving a big opportunity to the children to return to Russia.
Stalin pointed to Cherkasov that he had the capacity for incarnation and that we have still the capacity to incarnate the artist Khmelev.
Cherkasov said that he had learnt a lot while working as an extra in the Marine Theatre in Leningrad. At that time the great master of incarnation Shaliapin acted and appeared on stage.
Stalin. He was a great actor.
Zhdanov asked: how is the shooting of the film Spring going on.
Cherkasov. We will finish it soon. Towards spring we are going to release Spring.
Zhdanov said that he liked the content of Spring a lot. The artist Orlova played very well.
Cherkasov. The artist Plyatt acted very well.
Zhdanov. And how did Ranevskaya act! (Waves his hand.)
Cherkasov. For the first time in my life I appeared in a film without a beard, without a moustache, without a cloak, without make-up. Playing the role of a director, I am a bit ashamed of my appearance and I feel like hiding behind my characters. This role is a lot of responsibility because I must represent a Soviet director and all our directors are worried: How will a Soviet director be shown?
Molotov. And here Cherkasov is settling scores with all the directors! When the film Spring was called into question, Cherkasov read an editorial in the newspaper Soviet Art regarding Spring and decided the film was already banned. And then Zhdanov said: Cherkasov saw that all the preparations for Spring had perished so he took on the role of a janitor. Then Zhdanov spoke disapproving of the critical storm which had come up around Spring.
Stalin was interested to know how the actress Orlova had acted. He approved of her as an actress.
Cherkasov said that this actress had a great capability of working and an immense talent.
Zhdanov. Orlova acted extremely well. And everybody remembered Volga-Volga and the role of the postman Orlova had played.
Cherkasov. Have you watched In the Name of Life?
Stalin. No, I have not watched it, but we have a good report from Kliment Efremovich. Voroshilov liked the film.
Then that means that all the questions are solved. What do you think Comrades (addresses Molotov and Zhdanov), should we give Comrades Cherkasov and Eisenstein the opportunity to complete the film? - and added - please convey all this to Comrade Bolshakov.
Cherkasov asked about some details in the film and about the outward appearance of Ivan the Terrible.
Stalin. His appearance is right, there is no need to change it. The outward appearance of Ivan the Terrible is fine.
Cherkasov. Can the scene about the murder of Staritskova be retained in the scenario?
Stalin. You may retain it. The murder did take place.
Cherkasov. We have a scene in which Malyuta Skuratov strangles the Metropolit Philip.
Zhdanov. It was in the Tver Otroch-Monastery?
Cherkasov. Yes, is it necessary to keep this scene? Stalin said that it was necessary to retain this scene as it was historically correct.
Molotov said it was necessary to show repression but at the same time one must show the purposes for which it was done. For this it was necessary to show state activities on a wider canvas and not to immerse oneself only with the scenes in the basements and enclosed areas. One must show wide state activity.
Cherkasov expressed his ideas regarding the future of the altered scenes and the second series.
Stalin. How does the film end? How better to do this, to make another two films - that is second and third series. How are we planning to this?
Eisenstein said that it was better to combine the already shot material of the second series with what was left of the scenario - and produce one big film.
Everyone agreed to this.
Stalin. How is your film going to end?
Cherkasov said that the film would end with the defeat of Livonia, the tragic death of Malyuta Skuratov, the march towards the sea where Ivan the Terrible is standing, surrounded by the army, and says, 'We are standing on the sea and will be standing!'
Stalin. This is how it turned out and a bit more than this.
Cherkasov asked whether it would be necessary to show the outline of the film for confirmation by the Politburo.
Stalin. It is not necessary to present the scenario, decide it by yourselves. It is generally difficult to judge from the scenario, it is easier to talk about a ready product. (To Molotov.) You must be wanting to read the scenario?
Molotov. No, I work in other fields. Let Bolshakov read it.
Eisenstein said that it was better not to hurry with the production of this film.
This comment drew an active reaction from everybody.
Stalin. It is absolutely necessary not to hurry, and in general to hasten the film would lead to its being shut down rather than its being released. Repin worked on the Zaporozhye Cossacks Writing Their Reply to the Turkish Sultan for 11 years.
Molotov. 13 years.
Stalin (with insistence) 11 years.
Everybody came to the conclusion that only a long spell of work may in reality produce a good film.
Regarding the film Ivan the Terrible Stalin said - That if necessary take one and a half, two even three years to produce this film. But the film should be good, it should be 'sculptured'. We must raise quality. Let there be fewer films, but with greater quality. The viewer has grown up and we must show him good productions.
It was discussed that Tselikovskaya acted well in other characters, she acts well but she is a ballerina.
We answered that it was impossible to summon another actress to Alma-Ata.
Stalin said that the directors should be adamant and demand whatever they need. But our directors too easily yield on their own demands. It sometimes happens that a great actor is necessary but it is played by someone who does not suit the role. This is because the actor demands and receives the role while the director agrees.
Eisenstein. The actress Gosheva could not be released from the Arts Theatre in Alma-Ata for the shooting. We searched two years for an Anastasia.
Stalin. Artist Zharov incorrectly looked upon his character without any seriousness in the film Ivan the Terrible. He is not a serious Army-General.
Zhdanov. This is not Malyuta Skuratov but an opera-hat.
Stalin. Ivan the Terrible was a more nationalist tsar, more foresighted, he did not allow foreign influence in Russia. Peter Ist opened the gate to Europe and allowed in too many foreigners.
Cherkasov said that it was unfortunate and a personal shame that he had not seen the second part of the film Ivan the Terrible. When the film was edited and shown he had been at that time in Leningrad.
Eisenstein also added that he had not seen the complete version of the film because he had fallen ill after completing it.
This caused great surprise and animation.
The discussion ended with Stalin wishing them success and saying 'May god help them!'
They shook hands and left. At 00.10 minutes the conversation ended.
An addition was made to this report by Eisenstein and Cherkasov:
'Zhdanov also said: 'In the film there is too much over-indulgence of religious rituals.'
Translated from the Russian by Sumana Jha.
Courtesy: G. Maryamov: Kremlevskii Tsenzor, Moscow, 1992, pp. 84-91.
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