Eisenstein Rediscovered

By Ian Christie; Richard Taylor | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

Eisenstein's Pushkin project

Håkan Lövgren

Looking at Eisenstein's career from the time of his Mexican-American adventure of 1931-2 to his last film, Ivan the Terrible in the 1940s, we find-with one ambiguous exception-a discouraging succession of planned, half-realised and completely aborted projects. Film projects were initiated, then abandoned for lack of official support; sometimes the shooting was started; and in one case several versions of the film were actually finished, only for the whole project to be abruptly cancelled. Set-backs and reversals of this sort came to play an ever greater role in Eisenstein's artistic life after the undoing of his Mexican film. Stalin's telegram to Upton Sinclair in November 1931, which declared that Eisenstein had lost his comrades' confidence and was regarded as a traitor who had deserted his country, effectively signalled the end of his American sojourn as well as the beginning of a period of hardship that unquestionably hastened his death. When Soviet representatives failed or refused to purchase the Mexican footage from Sinclair and have it sent to Moscow, the director lapsed into serious depression and had to be hospitalised in August 1933. To my mind, Eisenstein never really recovered from the loss of Que Viva Mexico!

Although he was not a man to complain about his own situation, these frustrations obviously had to find some outlet. Two drawings made on the same sheet in September 1939 graphically illustrate his state of mind. 1 The top one depicts a man blowing his head off with a gun, with the caption (in English) 'That's how I do feel'. The bottom one shows a mysterious one-eyed creature banging his head against the wall of a tower with the caption 'ALSO'. This last drawing recalls one of a ram-like rendition of Pushkin that Eisenstein made some time later in connection with his Pushkin project, The Love of a Poet.2

It was toward the end of the 1930s that Eisenstein's interest in Pushkin focused on the poet's biography, on his fate as an original artist at logger-heads with artistic traditions and, above all, on a collision course with representatives of the highest power in autocratic tsarist society. It is my conjecture in this chapter that Eisenstein's intense interest in Pushkin's biography-in the tragic inevitability of an artist's demise under oppression

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