Eisenstein’s Ivan : sensory thinking from Machiavelli to Disney

Professor Joan Neuberger (University of Texas at Austin) gave the final CamCREES seminar of the 2015 Lent term.  She spoke about the film cycle Ivan Groznyi (Ivan the Terrible) and the particular influence Walt Disney and his work had on its director and screenwriter Sergei Eisenstein.  This post explores the University Library’s Eisenstein holdings, including a book of his drawings.

Sergei Eisenstein (the anglicised version of Eizenshtein is used here), the subject which started off the first seminar of the 2014 Michaelmas term, reappeared in more detailed focus as the subject of the last of the 2015 Lent term seminars.  This time, it was his work on Ivan Groznyi which was under examination.  Eisenstein, the screenwriter as well as director, planned three films on Ivan the Terrible.  Only the first two were ever produced, and only the first of these released in his lifetime.  Professor Neuberger talked about interpretations of Eisenstein’s Tsar Ivan before moving on to Disney’s influence on the films and the film-maker.


Cover and internal page of Eisenstein’s screenplays for the first two Ivan Groznyi films (415.d.94.41)

The Ivan Groznyi cycle provides an endlessly rich source of material for debate on a number of fronts, not only as an extraordinary example of film-making.  Political and personal parallels, for example, between Ivan and Stalin (or Napoleon, or Machiavelli’s Prince) are often emphasised.  Ivan’s identity as “the Terrible” is another area much debated – is he groznyi through and through or does he become groznyi at a specific point?  This point was one which, Professor Neuberger explained, Eisenstein seemed to answer in his own notes, that there was a change and that the change came through desire for revenge – in order to have revenge, Ivan had to become as ruthless and predatory as those in his sights.

Disney and Eisenstein knew each other, meeting in person during Eisenstein’s time in the United States.  Professor Neuberger talked about Eisenstein’s notes and essays, particularly those in recently published works such as Metod  (Method; 415:3.c.200.457-458), on his philosophy of film in general and on Disney in particular.  Of all film-makers, Disney was the one Eisenstein felt most perfectly achieved what the medium could offer – the pre-logical fluidity of form, for example (going back to the point above about Ivan’s own change), which saw characters and items shift seamlessly into something often totally different.  The Library holds two English-language editions of Eisenstein’s writings on Disney (at CCB.56.253 and 1992.9.2138).  A Russian modern edition is on its way, and earlier Russian sets by Eisenstein (this 6-volume Soviet set, for example) include at least some parts of his deliberations.


Eisenstein’s sketches (top left and right) for Ivan over the coffin of his wife, with a still from the film production below.  From Risunki (S404:27.b.9.5)

Among the University Library’s Eisenstein holdings are two books of his own drawings.  One is specific to his time in Mexico (Meksikanskie risunki Eizenshteina, S404:27.b.9.14), the other is more general.  Risunki (Drawings, S404:27.b.9.5) contains sketches from various stages of Eisenstein’s life and work, including a section on theatre scenes and one on drawings for films.  The illustration to the right comes from the book’s section of drawings for the Ivan Groznyi cycle.  The page shows two sketches of Ivan standing over the coffin of his wife, deliberately elongated and angular in his grief and rage.  These are joined by a photo from the production, showing a moment from that scene with Eisenstein and his cameraman watching closely.  The actor playing Ivan embodies as closely as possible the cartoon, his arms thrown sharply up, while the dark clothing and pointed beard he wears add emphasis and angles to the shape of his body.

The Ivan Groznyi films are the main subject of several books in the Library, including Professor Neuberger’s own guide, one in the KINOfiles film companions series (2009.8.6335).  The most recent Ivan Groznyi book in the catalogue is in fact French (Éric Schmulevitch’s Ivan le terrible de S.M. Eisenstein, 415:3.c.201.201), but the remainder are in Russian or English.  Among these are several items held by the Music Department, which relate to the scores Sergei Prokof’ev composed for the two films.  A list of all these items can be seen here.

RGALI, the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, holds Eisenstein’s papers (details, in Russian, here).  The University Library owns, at the time of writing, over 50 items for which Eisenstein is listed as author.  Only two predate 1948, the year of his death.  The earlier of these is, rather bizarrely, the German translation of the screenplay of his silent film Staroe i novoe (Old and new; CCB.54.163).  The second, a 1944 book, is in fact the screenplay of the first two Ivan Groznyi films (415.d.94.41).  The cover of this book and the opening page of part 2 make up the first illustration of the page.

A full list of material by Eisenstein in the Library can be seen here.

Mel Bach

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