Eisenstein’s Flight


EISENSTEIN Soviet Film Director
GRIFFITHS American Film Director
SINCLAIR American Socialist Writer
SINCLAIR’S brother-in-law
SHULSKY Paramount Studios executive
CITIZEN American Patriot
VOICE B imgres

WAITRESS (Shouting orders): Eggs – sunny-side up. Eggs – once over easy

EISENSTEIN But why not here? I like the way people eat in a place like this. There’s no ritual….

WAITRESS (shouts) One cream cheese toasted rye bagel.

EISENSTEIN Eating here is so…..

WAITRESS Three muffins English.

EISENSTEIN ….. so naked (Belches)
SHULSKY Ridiculous. Can’t have a press conference here. No …. no…. American public get the wrong idea….. Think you were some kind of bum. Come on – let’s go.

The Astor Hotel… important people. Paramount Studios is proud to present you….. internationally known film maker….. Look impressive ….. new suit and necktie.

Here we are. You’re on your own.
EISENSTEIN Everything. The whole city. Harlem – hear negro women sing the blues. Coney Island – smell the sea and eat cotton candy. I want to interview D.W. Griffiths. I’ve got to visit the inside of Sing Sing prison. I want to feel the dollar machine vibrating in Wall Street…

REPORTER 1 In a few words, Mr. Eisenstein, what is your theory of montage?

EISENSTEIN Easier in pictures. Here’s what it’s not: picture of iron then picture of steel – that’s just a progression of images – predictable. Now picture iron followed by stone – conflict – horseshoes on cobblestones – convicts’ hammers smashing rocks. Sparks – energy dialectic – new idea from the clash of old ones. That’s montage. Remember: Eisen/Stein — iron/stone.

REPORTER 1 On behalf of WYQB, New York’s premier radio station, welcome to the city. What do you find most exciting about American motion pictures?

EISENSTEIN Radio. Very appropriate. The use of sound. That’s what I find exciting. I came here to learn about the talkies. To steal Yankee experience.

REPORTER 1 Mr. Eisenstein, why is it there are no comedies in your country? Have the Soviets killed laughter?

EISENSTEIN I’ll tell them that when I get back – they’ll fall about laughing. Special Soviet laughter – completely silent.
REPORTER 1 Now you’re over here – how do you see your life inside the Soviet Union?

EISENSTEIN See it? I’d have to make a film – a film of me filming. But I can’t direct it – I’m too busy trying to be a film maker. And I couldn’t be in it for the same reason. (Cuts off protest from REPORTER)
Okay okay think about this: if it hadn’t been for Freud and Leonardo, if it hadn’t been for Marx and Lenin, and if it hadn’t been for the invention of moving pictures, I would have been a decadent aesthete with inverted tastes and a refined wit – a Russian Oscar Wilde.

REPORTER 1 Mr. Eisenstein, I understand your latest picture was banned in France as Bolshevist propaganda. Would you like to comment on that?

REPORTER 2 (Preventing EISENSTEIN from replying to REPORTER 2): Sir, I quote from an article carrying your name: “The American picture industry is dominated by the dollar.” “Pictures are made in America to make a few people rich at the expense of millions.” Are these your idea of our country?

EISENSTEIN I was invited to this country by Paramount Studios to make an American motion picture. The film banned in France was a Soviet film – about the collectivisation of land in the Soviet Union. It says nothing about land here – that’s the business of Americans…

REPORTER 1 It sure is mister. And we don’t need any Bolshevik…

REPORTER 2 Mr. Eisenstein, why are you determined to visit the inside of Sing Sing prison?
EISENSTEIN This city is on fire with electricity: advertisement signs, elevators, flashing road signs, non-stop subway trains, telephones everywhere, tickertapes…. An electrified city. I want to go to Sing Sing to see the electric chair – it’s the end of the process. I’m interested in death – the American way.

REPORTER 1 A last question, sir. When will you be meeting D.W. Griffiths?

EISENSTEIN Later, later. When I’ve done something…. American. I can’t meet with the great man straight off the boat.
GRIFFITHS Death Mr. Eisenstein? Sure I think of that. But you? Thirty one you say. A chicken, sir, a chicken. When I was your age it was all before me. I wasn’t a genius yet – just plain Mr. David Griffiths. Hadn’t made a single picture. Lost count now — several hundred — most of them crap one-reelers — shot inside a week. That’s how I learned the business. Had to be in shape: cold showers, boxing. Hygiene. You don’t have a cold? I like to be careful.
Care for a drink? No? Wise man — not before breakfast eh? Alcoholism is a curse. Scourge of the nation — a disease. That’s my next picture — “The Struggle” — the fight against temptation. But first I got to persuade a certain lady to contribute a measly fifty thousand bucks to my …… genius. I got a week to bring her round. A lousy fifty thousand. Three million is what I need. What couldn’t I do then. Show universal corruption. Prohibition. Picture it — affecting the lives of every American from the meanest bum to the president, a million speakeasies, organized crime spreading tentacles, huge panorama of graft and kickbacks, illicit still, protection rackets, interstate bootlegging, gang warfare,…… But the lady doesn’t have three million. So it’s “The Struggle” by Mr. Zola. Good, but small, small. Should’ve been Dickins not Zola. Ah — I’d give up drinking to see the motion pictures Dickens would have made.
Well, Mr. Eisenstein, you’ve been here a year now. I recall reading something about you wanting to make a real American picture for Paramount. What happened?

EISENSTEIN A whole year out of the Soviet Union. All over America. Been to Wall Street and seen the crash — dollars plunging off skyscrapers. Listened to black people making music of indescribable feeling. Been to Hollywood. Met Chaplin, Disney, Flaherty — that was worth something. Met all the stars there — mind emptying. Met people of awesome stupidity who play miniature golf all day. Met people who’d never heard of Lenin, people who asked me if Trotsky would write a scenario for them, people who… What I haven’t done is make them a picture.
I gave them “Sutter’s Gold.” What was wrong with it? A new kind of Western — that’s what it would have been. The birth of California. The whole state in a frenzy of gold dust. Drama — murder — fire — riots — a trial.

GRIFFITHS Sounds okay to me.
EISENSTEIN Not to them.
(Mimics SHULSKY)
So the editors think he’s a Russian genius. So?
Editors are cutters — schneiders — people with scissors. Outside scissors, they’re dumb. What do they know? Do they know production? Shooting schedules? Location budgets? Grosses? Distribution? Publicity? Editors? Bullshit. Movies are dollars — not scissors.
(Disclaims melodramatically.)
“People die / facts are covered in the dust of history / legends are forgotten…..”
What kind of crap idea of California is that?
(Returns to own voice.)
I’d worked it our very carefully. All the external shots could have been down within fifty miles of Paramount Studious. But no, it was:
(Mimics SHULSKY)
I’m sorry it’s a three million dollar movie, Mr. Eisenstein — a three million dollar picture. We can’t run to that right now.

GRIFFITHS So they gave you the old “It’s a three million dollar movie’ line. They did the same to me when….

CITIZEN (About to dictate.)
Here’s the next one — from American Defender, Marblehead, Mass. to the head of Paramount Studios: If your Jewish clergy haven’t the guts to tell you and you haven’t the brains to know better or loyalty to this land which has given you more than you ever had in history, to prevent you importing a cut-throat red dog like Eisenstein, then let me inform you that we shall have him deported STOP We want no more red propaganda in this country STOP What are you trying to do — turn the American cinema into a communist cesspool STOP You won’t build any Bolshevik temples here STOP
I’ll nail that Bolshevik son of a bitch if I have to go out there myself….

GRIFFITHS And you didn’t give up?

EISENSTEIN No I didn’t. They wouldn’t take a poetic Western from me? Very well then, I’d give them gritty reality. Came to New York and got Dreiser’s blessing for a film of “American Tragedy.” I knew Paramount had been interested in it for years.

GRIFFITHS That’s right — had a go at it myself.

EISENSTEIN I know. And what’s more their blue eyes boy Lubitsch couldn’t handle it. And what did they do?
SHULSKY Hello. Mr. Eisenstein? Good news. Everybody here at Paramount is absolutely crazy about your script. Very exciting. It’s the best thing the studio’s ever received. No shit — really. But there is one thing — something we got to consider — the ending. It’s a bit…. Unclear. We’re going to have to re-write it, you know — change it a bit.
No no — don’t get me wrong. It’s a fantastic ending. The murderer getting strapped into the electric char, shutters banging down, the blue electric flash. It’s great. But the whole thing leaves you feeling kind of sorry for the guy. I mean you show he’s guilty — all the evidence at the trial. How come you make him so sympathetic? I mean — for Chrissake — are you trying to say he’s innocent?
Murdered by society?
You can’t be serious Mr. Eisenstein. How can you make a whole country guilty of murder. That’s not real. Look: the studio gets a lot of complaints — there’s all sorts of…. Patriotic people out there. All you have to do is change the part where….

GRIFFITHS (Becoming drunk.) Hey — what did you expect — this is America. People aren’t going to pay to see some sort of tragedy like that. You should’ve changed the ending.

EISENSTEIN (Close, to himself.) Propaganda for illusions. That’s what they want. Simple-minded dreams.
(Laughs.) Reality! I swam into this world through the blood of the revolution. The revolution against cruel oppression and stupidity. October 1917 is reality. History is reality. Civil war is reality. I shall not betray reality. Just the opposite I’ll destroy art. Silence the lying voice of the siren. Snatch off her mask and go for her throat.

GRIFFITHS You got to change any damn thing that’s necessary. When I opened “Birth of a Nation” in Hollywood it wasn’t called that — it was called “The Clansman.” Traveled across America with that picture — watching folk bite their nails and pop their eyeballs at the screen in every small town theatre from California to New York. Sure was a well liked picture when we got there.

EISENSTEIN And a terrifying one — for negro people. The Ku Klux Klan chilled my blood — satanic creatures in white masks from the Spanish Inquisition. Menacing triangles — cruel eye slits. You made a celluloid moment to the Ku Klux Klan.

GRIFFITHS The Clan? When I made that movie the Clan didn’t mean beans. Now the Clan’s got millions in it. Nothing like the Clan in Russia? The Cossacks maybe — chasing the Jews around. But I suppose the Bolsheviks have got rid of them?
The Bolsheviks. They invited me to Russia — do you know that? “Birth of a Nation” made a big impression on your people. Yes sir, the chief Bolshevik himself, Mr. Lenin, invited me. And now you’ve got Mr. Stalin.
Sure you won’t have a drink. Look, screw Paramount. Were better off without them. You want to go to Mexico, right? There’s a lot of people who like Mexico. Fix yourself a deal — get some private money. (Laughs.) Some rich benefactress. Fifty thousand bucks. That’s all you need. If you can get any more than that — let me know the trick……..

SINCLAIR Welcome to my home, Mr. Eisenstein.

EISENSTEIN My privilege — Mr. Sinclair. Your writings are much respected in the Soviet Union.

SINCLAIR Thank you.
(Introducing.) My wife…. And her brother who is looking forward to being with you in Mexico. Now, I believe we share an antipathy to alcohol — some fruit juice?

EISENSTEIN With me in Mexico?

SINCLAIR Ah yes, let me explain. The backers of this venture — represented here by my wife — feel that their interests — and indeed your own — would be safeguarded if her brother here were to visit with you occasionally and report on your progress.

EISENSTEIN The contract?

SINCLAIR Yes, quite. Perhaps you should read it, dear.

MRS. SINCLAIR (Reads, slowly at first, then more rapidly.)
Agreement between Sergei M.Eisenstein of Moscow, Russia and myself, Belle Sinclair, of Pasadena, California; whereas Eisenstein wishes to go to Mexico to direct the making of a Mexican Picture; and whereas we wish to finance said picture, therefore Eisenstein agrees to devote himself for a period of six months to accomplish same, and agrees not to make any Mexican Picture for all pictures made by him in Mexico, all positive and negative prints, and all stories and ideas in said picture, will be the property of ourselves as sole owners to be marketed in any manner we desire.
(Increasingly garbled.) In consideration…. We agree to put up fifty thousand dollars….. pay Eisenstein ten percent …. From the lease of sale ….. on the basis of Eisenstein’s desire….. to direct according to his own ideas…. Mexican Picture should be… promise that the picture will be non-political… worthy of his reputation and genius.

EISENSTEIN There’s no mention of free distribution within the Soviet Union.

SINCLAIR That’s correct. But — why not?
(Slowly as if writing.): I am pleased to modify the above to provide for the Soviet Government to have said picture for distribution within the Soviet Union.

EISENSTEIN (Released.): “Desires to be free,” “His own idea of what a Mexican Picture should be.” Wonderful!
(Laughs.): “Worthy of his reputation and genius” Wonderful, wonderful…..

PORTER That’s all the equipment loaded, sir. They told me to give you this — it just arrived — from Pasadena.

(Opens envelope and reads): Unfinished business here STOP Sovking urgently insist knowing your exact whereabouts STOP

CITIZEN (Far): I’m sending you the enclosed document — Eisenstein-Hollywood’s-messenger-from-all-hell- to you because it contains essential information for all American patriots….

EISENSTEIN (Still reading): Apparently permission to remain out of Soviet Union still pending STOP

CITIZEN For your own good read it. Then act. Act to stop the showing of his films — they are viscious pacifist propaganda. Act to get Eisenstein and his kind out of Hollywood for good.

EISENSTEIN Please rectify situation with Sovkino immediately STOP

CITIZEN America doesn’t need an international Judas polluting its motion picture industry with Bolshevik filth.

EISENSTEIN Essential for whole enterprises that you have correct alien status STOP Sinclair Pasadena STOP

CITIZEN (Close): I tell you congressman, this is just the beginning. Now what we’ve got to do is get Hollywood to make a new American picture for us. The Clan got five million from “Birth of a Nation.” We could double that.

EISENSTEIN (Playacting): Esteemed comrade Joseph Stalin, yes I am still away from the Soviet Union. No, I did not make any films in capitalist America. Yes, I did try. And failed.

CITIZEN No no no. The Civil Liberty shitheads and their red cronies are running scared. All we’ve got to do is show the House what it’s really like out here.

EISENSTEIN Correct, at no time have I betrayed the cause of the revolution. No, I am not a reactionary or a revisionist.

CITIZEN Show them how the whole of Hollywood is riddled with red corruption.

EISENSTEIN This is right: a Mexican film in collaboration with a Socialist writer you yourself approve of. Yes, of course, all I learn here will be at the service of the state. Another six months.

CITIZEN Let’s get it right out front. Make those bastards stand up in public and say whether they’re Bolsheviks and traitors.

EISENSTEIN Thank you Oh Leader of the People.
Thank you approved Socialist writer.

MRS. S’S BRO Prison. For the love of Christ we haven’t been in this country twelve hours and we’re in some stinking jail.

EISENSTEIN (Unconcerned): Mexico is full of Messiahs. Do you know that the Aztecs thought Cortez was the…..

MRS. S’S BRO The let us cross their lousy border into this…. this shit-hole…..

EISENSTEIN Yes, and we’re not even filming it.

MRS. S’S BRO I don’t believe it. I don’t believe I’m being locked up here. We’re less than a mile from the United States of America and they don’t have a phone. I demand attention. I’m a U.S. citizen and not some Wetback thief.

EISENSTEIN And I’m a Soviet citizen. Which makes me a dangerous Bolshevik fleeing from the United States spreading subversive propaganda.

MRS. S’S BRO (Shouting): Mexican peasants. They’re shit stupid and ignorant.
EISENSTEIN They probably think you’re a Socialist spy.

MRS. S’S BRO What are they jabbering about out there?

EISENSTEIN They’re saying they are going to release us….
…. as soon as they find the one that has the key. So, you’ll be free soon. You can go back to Pasadena.
(Close): And I can fly over Mexico in a film. I’m ready. Naked into Mexico.

EISENSTEIN (Directing): That’s better. But the movement of the peasants — it’s too ragged. I want it more coordinated, more stylized. I want a fluid image…. of chaos.

VOICE A (Low, vigorous): Make your images for the people. The masses are simple, illiterate. Let them see their history spread out before them in simple outlines. Forget about artistic beauty and …..

MRS. S’S BRO Mr. Eisenstein. Mr. Eisenstein I really have to talk to you….

EISENSTEIN (Directing): No. Need more confusion. Panic. Blind fear. They must run outwards — in all directions at once — away from the axes.

VOICE B (High, mocking): Forget about beauty and you’re lost. Fill you picture with harmony, beauty, aesthetic perfection. Only through them can you show how Mexico is unbalanced, grotesque, inhuman.

EISENSTEIN (Directing): The axes — they must fall so that they….

MRS. S’S BRO (Shouting): Mister Eisenstein. I’m not going to stand around here for ever waiting…..

EISENSTEIN (Directing): The axes must fall in unison. I don’t want individual murders. The killing is a social act.

MRS. S’S BRO Mr. Eisenstein I have to tell you there is a serious concern about you in Moscow. You’ve been out here filming for six months now. They require assurances about your project. Mr. Stalin himself has expressed dissatisfaction with….

EISENSTEIN Them please send the great leader of the people a cable for me. Tell him a letter explaining my movement is on its way.

MRS. S’S BRO Very well. I’d also like to report back to Pasadena on your filming here. But the shot you’re doing now — it doesn’t seem to be in the script you gave us.

EISENSTEIN I gave you a scenario not a script. It’s there: scene from the days of the dictator Diaz. It’s before the revolution — the peasants are slaves to the landowners. There is a revolt. It’s put down by hired killers who use axes…..

MRS. S’S BRO But it says Diaz and the Aztecs. Where are the Aztecs?

EISENSTEIN The Aztecs sacrificed human beings.
(Patronizingly as to a child): The film makes a visual connection — in the mind of the viewer — between dictatorship and human sacrifices….

VOICE B Yes, at the center — the poetry of death. That is what matters.

VOICE A I detest the poetry of death and fancy metaphors for human destruction. So do the masses. Decadent shit — all of it.

MRS. S’S BRO Looks to me like what you’re saying in this scene is political. Don’t see how else I can explain it to….

EISENSTEIN Don’t explain anything to them. When I cut the film — then they’ll understand it’s meaning. For the moment tell them I’m filming a metaphor for human sacrifices.

VOICE A No metaphors. No eternal human sacrifices. There’s only history and now. Real historical forces, real oppression, real poverty. The literal truth. Paint that for the people.

VOICE B The people. The people live inside lies. The greater the pain, the more stupid and passionate the lie.

VOICE A The revolution was no lie. Marx was no lie.

VOICE B (Laughs): The cruelest is the lie of the messiah. Marx dressed as the god of Quetzlcoatl rising like the sun over the heads of the masses? Why is there always one who will save them, redeem them, promise them a paradise inside the hold of this stinking ship.

EISENSTEIN (Directing): Shoot the whole scene again. This time with the camera in the middle of the crowd….
EISENSTEIN (Close): The axes have come and gone. Pieces of descending metal trapped on celluloid. My mind is the film. Shooting its own movement Flying over the surface of things. A vulture in the Mexican sky. Devoured and starved by a vision of the dead fighting the living on the striped serape of Mexcio. Desert bones reborn inside a jungle. Inside the film the ecstasy of Mexico’s pain deriding, mocking, laughing at the final end.
Ah my sleeping friend of the hacienda, my simple peasant comrades. Without you nothing. You set me free to fly into my fate. I am an ape with wings. I am your clown. Your artist. Do I now draw pictures for you? Pictures from the book of Europe. Five thousand miles from Moscow I draw: the ride of Valkyrie, the death of Duncan, Lady Macbeth, Salome — ah how you loved Salome — dancing for the head of the Baptist. Oscar Wilde in Mexico.

SINCLAIR (Close to projector): I can’t make head or tail of it. First mountains, then forests, jungles, desert, Aztec ruins, more mountains,……

MRS. S’S BRO Travels all over the place. Made his headquarters in a hacienda outside Mexico City. Place is full of the usual Mexican peasants and revolutionaries. Lot of Mexican hugging and kissing…..

EISENSTEIN (Distant and unreal): A giant carnival head moving slowly through wild delirium of the fiesta. Unmoving — a smile of stone amid laughing faces. The great carnival of the dead….

SINCLAIR No- it doesn’t make any sense. Mile after mile of film — no theme — no story — no connection to the script…

MRS. S’S BRO What else? Yeah, seems to spend a lot of time drawing pictures for them. Saw some of them — crucifixion scenes mostly. Weird — kind of creepy. Sure hope his movie is better than that.

EISENSTEIN (Distant and unreal): Ten thousand peasant soldiers with their women. Always the women — soldaderas — filling the frame. They cook for the men, watch over them, guard their fragile bravery.

MRS. S’S BRO That script he gave us don’t mean a thing. He said you’d understand after he’d cut up the film.

MRS. SINCLAIR So he’s planning to cut the material into more than one picture.

SINCLAIR There’s been no mention of anything like that. He must know the contract says Mexican Picture — singular.

MRS. S’S BRO Who’s going to believe that a bunch of naked Mexicans waving axes in the air has got anything to do with the ancient Aztecs. I don’t trust the guy….

EISENSTEIN (Distant and unreal): A storm comes. The sky splits. The army is silenced. The men huddle into their serapes. A thousand women with their children sit — exposed to the cold and rain on the flat cars. They become motionless. The wait stoically. Silently — like stone — they wait for dawn.

MRS. SINCLAIR What does it matter whether they’re naked Mexicans or Aztecs. What I find objectionable is this endless repetition — filming the same scene four five six time. He can’t decide what film he’s making and you have to bear the cross of his “genius”…….

SINCLAIR Another cross won’t break me. But why the waste of film. It’s all so messy, unplanned, full of repeats, disordered. No sense to it.

MRS. SINCLAIR Out there for a year now. And every month lately it’s “Another ten thousand to finish the picture.” He just wants it to go on and on. I’d rather die than submit to blackmail anymore. It’s time we did something.

EISENSTEIN (Distant and unreal): Night comes with a rising wind that begins to lift the dust. Along the miles of train into the dark — the fires. The fires of the soldaderas flare from the top of the cars. And in the desert — stretching into pinpoints of light — the campfires of the army — half obscured by the billowing dust.

SINCLAIR Yes, what is it we can do?

EISENSTEIN (Almost masked by projector): Half obscured by the billowing dust. The fires reflect each other — making a mirror. The smoking mirror of Mexico.

EISENSTEIN (Self-absorbed, drawing): At the very center, Christ on the cross. Seen obliquely from below…..

VOICE A Ricardo Magon in an American prison….

EISENSTEIN I don’t want to hear it. Obliquely from below — dominating and austere…..

VOICE A And Madero was murdered by Carranzo’s agents. Pancho Villa was crushed out of existence by General Pershing.

EISENSTEIN The whole frame is controlled by the downward triangle of his body….

VOICE A And Julio Mella — my comrade of the party in Cuba — was assassinated on this very spot.

EISENSTEIN (Agitated): Yet another cross. Another Christ. With the thieves on crosses making a triangle. This thief is not saved. A lowly peasant. Joined by impossible desire to the figure of Christ. Oh why? Why?

VOICE A There is no room for private art. When the masses are no longer underneath — when Mexico is free from oppression — then it will be finished. Magon dying in his prison said it. Trotsky says it….

EISENSTEIN (Jerked into attention): Trotsky? Trotsky is running for his life. A negative role in the revolution — that is what the politburo said. And no role in my negative. On orders from the leader of the people. No trace of him. Every frame of “October” scrutinized. All images of him removed. The Soviet revolution happened without Trotsky.

VOICE A People sacrificed at the stake of the inquisition — fire and iron on the flesh — that’s what Cortez brought. Hollow, played out, dead before it got here. And you draw crosses. Machines of pain.
(Spits.) Priests. The revolution will make them unnecessary — for ever.

VOICE B (Bitter laughter): The revolution? That tragic farce of intentions. Noble atrocities and blood-soaked freedom. I played no part in it. I came to no harm. I ran no danger. For me it was the gayest most diverting of carnivals. A spectacle. A fiesta of stupidity. I don’t paint revolution — I paint human sacrifices. Aztecs? No. I see an endless line of bodies — boys dying to become men — dying to make orphans — bodies ripped open on the altar of war. Loathsome generals braying over flag-wrapped coffins. Blood and flames. High in the future.


EISENSTEIN (Rapt): Yes yes a figure of flame. On the thin silent wall of the cinema. Burnt. Scorched into the eye. A film of fire. A red mural flickering on ten thousand screens into the future. And through the smoke — staring — the crucified bull of Mexico. The matadors perform their ceremony urging everything into the split second of release. The shriek of mass ecstacy — the crimson oozes to black, in the sun. In the sun — lash of the whip on the body’s surface. Swish of the whip before it hits. Searing pain melts to warm numbness — the body is lacerated. Wounds open like poppies, ruby blood flows. A red line plucked from chaos. The line gives birth: releasing the agony frozen into the walls of Mexico.
Que Viva Mexico begins:

A thousand years ago the wheel turns.
Vast ruins with eyes made from faces of stone. The circle of the sun. Faces of flesh. A woman’s breast — perfect and round. Circle of faces around the coffin. Circular dishes to feed the dead. The circular throb of sexual desire. The ocean — swing of a hammock — then oblivion.

SINCLAIR (Hitting a piece of paper): “One of many like it” — he said. It’s a gross nauseating parody. I feel sick at the thought that I’ve involved my own family in this sort…

EISENSTEIN The great wheel is broken. An army of skulls fills the screen. A procession of black hoods — monks on the road to Calvary. Crucifixion — the feet of Christ joined to the earth. Tropical forest: life — thick fecund leap-frogging itself. Human faces. Faces of girls. Faces of Mayan women. Faces of matriarchy.

MRS. SINCLAIR (Rattling paper): It looks like a crucifixion scene, except I cannot…..

SINCLAIR It is. Jesus on the cross with the two thieves. And that is his penis. Grotesquely elongated. With the end of it in the mouth of one of the thieves.

EISENSTEIN But the male principle. Cocks — insane with death — pecking each other’s eyes out. Sharp — thrusting up — a spear of human sacrifice. Inside a dead church the ancient slavery and the cruel emptiness of Spanish honour. Then rape. Revolution. Peasants buried in the sand with their heads exposed to horses hooves. The armies, the soldaderas. Death to Diaz.
The wheel returns. Sudden. Anarchic. Grotesque.
The fiesta of death! The whole of Mexico explodes.


Hooded figures with skulls of sugar: everybody eating the fruit of the dead. Skeletons pose with ties and hates, delicate fingers strumming guitars. At the end death is mocked. A young boy laughs: there is new life.

VOICES Corpses are mocked out of their beds,
Jokes from the past quicken the dead.
Cemeteries are filled with noise
of the dead being fed
and playing with their toys.
Cured by life from feeling fear,
Tell the dead what’s happened
since they left us here.
From every skull comes the sigh
I-was-like-you-you’ll be like me.


SINCLAIR Pervert. Blasphemer. Atheist. The man is evil. A Bolshevik anarchist. A Trotskyite. Enough. Enough. Cut. CUT.
Broken his promises. Tricked us. Stolen from us.
A mean little homo. It’s finished. Over. Let him cut-up this mountain of celluloid and get out of our lives.

MRS. SINCLAIR No. If he get should of it we’ll never see it again. He lives for nothing else but that wretched film. He’ll seek revenge. Stir up trouble. Defame you. Attack your name. Do you think a man like that will thank you for trying to salvage something from the mess he made?
(Prevents interruption.)
And there is the money — ninety thousand dollars. Your money — gathered from you foundation. To put a copy of your books in every major library of the world. Do you think this man’s Mexican Picture could do more for the cause of Socialism than your books?

SINCLAIR No….. that cannot be. The man is…. No, no.

MRS. SINCLAIR There are several pictures in all that mess. We must cut them out and sell each of them separately. And the rest of the thirty-five miles of endless shots of Mexican peasants, bulls, cactus plants, deserts, and ruins can be sold to the studios for atmosphere shots.

SINCLAIR (To himself): What shall I tell him? About his film. He will …. I feel sick. I am not here.

MRS. SINCLAIR A telegram must be sent. You must stall him. He must not know until it is too late for him to do any damage.


DOORKEEPER Sorry, comrade, you can’t see him yet. What? I say he’s lucky his heart attacked him when it did. Otherwise the leader of the people would have had him in Siberia by now. Or had him shot. But can’t shoot him in bed. Here, I know he’s not been shot before — I’m as good a materialist as the next bloke. This time it’s different. Come to think of it, that’s been his trouble all along. Not enough of a materialist. Too much backsliding. Revisionist grease on his bum and his brain in the clouds full of idealist poetry and operatic balls.
He’s been full of repentance — of course. Public apologies, official retraction, humiliating admissions of guilt. Saved his skin each time. In disgrace for years after he came back from abroad — right load of bear turds out there I hear. Well, this time he’s definitely done it.
Order of Lenin? So what. Siberia’s full of orders of Lenin. Oh yes, I agree, he deserved it. “Alexander Nevsky” was the only film he did properly. Pulled his finger out on that one. No arty farty monkey business. Straightforward stuff: Alexander, great hero of the Russian people smashing the kraut knights on the ice. Everybody understood it was our leader warning those Nazi arsewipes.
Couldn’t let it rest though — had to sod it up. What an opportunity — the leader asks him to make “Ivan the Terrible” — bloody epic, unlimited resources, anything he wanted…. And what does he do? I mean it’s true he had to have all that religious crap — Ivan talking to the great Czar in heaven — embarrassing, but that’s history. Did he stop there? Not comrade Sergei, oh no. I mean what did he think he was doing making Ivan — the greatest most powerful Czar of all the peoples — stand in a corner praying — while some old monk goes on for ever reading this list of all the people killed on Ivan’s orders?
Either he really is a stupid bugger — or he wants to get it in the neck.

EISENSTEIN And now we have “Ivan the Terrible” but Sergei Mikhailovitch Eisenstein. A complete disaster. A tragedy. A Soviet Tragedy….

SHULSKY …. your script of “An American Tragedy”…. that’s right….. best that Paramount Studio ever received… no shit… really. But the ending…

EISENSTEIN Ending? There’s always an ending. How can I change that? The condemned man sitting in an electric chair. A bare bulb. Darkness spreads over the screen. There is a noise of iron. A heave iron door in the room. Behind it is his mother who is singing a hymn. Suddenly the man shouts “To live. I want to live.” All over the sunlit courtyard prison, over the flowers, over the grass. But the mother? Is she still singing? Yes, I hear her. Slowly the iron door closes. The blinds and shutters of all the windows come sliding down, down, down, to the bottom of things, shutting out the sky — light — life. All sounds — grasshoppers, birds, human voices — stop. Listen! There’s silence. Can you hear? The last shutter descends. There’s blackness. Blackness and quiet for as long as I can bear it. A sharp crackle — blue light of an electric contact. I can smell it. Again quiet. Again blackness.
Was that the ending? No no no. There’s got to be a telegram. A telegram full of lies. I mean full of hope. And full of lies.

SINCLAIR Suppose I said: sqaundered money lent him personally — I who am not rich…

EISENSTEIN Will ship film via Bogdanov to Soviet Union STOP Suppose you said that.

SINCLAIR Suppose I said: stole twenty thousand feet of raw film from us and sold it in Mexico City.

EISENSTEIN Suppose you said: Please wire Bogdanov approving this proposition STOP Your statements that picture incomplete are damaging STOP

SINCLAIR Suppose I said: Sexual pervert who deliberately shipped a mass of filthy drawings into this country.

EISENSTEIN Suppose I said: cruel immoral murderous….


SINCLAIR (Shouting above noise): We don’t need Bolshevik morality. The people of the United States of America are not served by disciples of foreign intellectuals.


We’ve got to get rid of them before it’s too late.
Let them see the writing on the wall.

Gave them freedom….. shelter… didn’t send for them…. Abused the freedom…. send them back…. obscenely intelligent rats…. carrying Bolshevism and usury…. Burn their perverted pictures…. assert our birthright…. Our aryan heritage…. purify and cleanse…. Christian body of American.

GRIFFITHS We are playing to the world. Showing history lit by flashes of lightning… beyond Babel… universal language to make men brothers and end war… the dust of this century has settled and people ask about the great movies of this era…. Birth of Nation….. October….. Triumph of the Will


EISENSTEIN Wrong, wrong, wrong. That’s not the ending. I abhor Triumph of the Will….. tens of thousands tortured in his basements…. Deafened by the Babel of machine guns. There is no connection between Eisenstein and the Nazi film machine of Herr Doktor Goebbels….


Now it’s all finished. Dry leaves from the tree of failure. Ivan the Terrible twisted into the shape of tyranny screaming at his god. I have traveled on one single path. A blind comet in the Soviet sky seeing nothing. Suddenly the man breaks off and shouts “To live — I want to live.” Ivan screams in vain — I stop up my ears. I have understood nothing. Nothing about life, nothing about myself. Not left, not right, always ahead, hurrying anxious to arrive, scrambling through this world with the desperation of the dying. Childhood — youth — manhood over in a flash through a train window. Now “all sounds — grasshoppers, birds, human voices — stop.”


Mexico — you were cut into pieces and sold. You would have been my glory. My one true death. My child. What does it matter now.
Trotsky found his grave inside you. The scissors of the revolution that snipped him forever from October are buried in his head. In the shape of an ice-pick.

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