<em>¡Que Viva México!</em>For Russia’s early-20th-century avant-garde, the icon was both a symbol of an ideal national past and an inspiration for a transfigured future. Later, under the rule of Stalin, who had spent his adolescence at a Georgian theological seminary, the icon was recast: portraits of Soviet leaders greeting workers, planning industrial victories, inspecting harvests, and otherwise engaging in the construction of socialism were rendered with a pomp so extreme that, as Gyorgy Szucs notes, their perfection “enchants and disarms the viewer”! The saint is axiomatic in Socialist Realism; the figure of the so-called positive hero or heroine is the brave, steadfast, selfless, and allegorical personification of Bolshevik ideals, the embodiment of history’s “forward” trajectory.

– J. Hoberman (1)

In the early 1930s, the Soviet director and theorist, Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein, lived for fourteen months in Mexico working on his so-called lost ‘masterpiece’, ¡Que Viva México!. The recurring presence of folk, mythic and religious themes, which had always existed in his films, is brought to the fore in his Mexican work. The Mexican experience generated a conversion in Eisenstein’s work. From privileging ‘intellectual film’ in his montage hierarchy, he began to focus on the spectator’s sensual experience and emotional engagement. Mexico becomes a means for this transformation; yet this change also embodies a reanimation of a cultural history of pre-revolutionary myths and traditions, particularly the tradition of Russian icon painting. While most work on the Russian avant-garde alludes to the presence of the icon tradition as an important influence, less attention has been paid to its significance for Soviet cinema.

Richard Taylor and Ian Christie have warned against the notion that there are distinct junctures between Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet history. Taylor queries whether the institutions and practices associated with Stalinism developed “from the guiding ideology of Marxism in its Leninist interpretation” and inquires “to what extent they stem from pre-existing Russian political and other traditions” (2). More significant for my discussion is Christie’s insight that, while we know “much about the breadth of Eisenstein’s international culture”, we know almost “nothing of his immense debt to ikon painting and the popular lubok tradition” (3). It is Eisenstein’s “debt” to icon painting that this article discusses in relation to form as well as spectorial practice, a practice that he begins to theorise in his post-Mexican writings. His work is informed by the æsthetics of Russian icons, but also the tradition’s ability to unite an image-based philosophy and collective experience. The available footage of ¡Que Viva México! offers us an important example of the influence of this tradition in its mise en scène, specifically typage and composition.

The Icon and Russian Modernism

The junctures that occur in Russia at the turn of the 20th century in relation to feudal history, cultural prescience and the artistic rebirth of the avant-garde and nationalism cannot be separated from the official rediscovery of icons in 1913 at the Romanov exhibition. (4) The revival of interest in Russian icons began in the early 20th century as part of a mandate to reclaim what was perceived as the pure Slavic culture that existed before the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725). From the adoption of Christianity in 988 until Peter the Great’s accession in the late 17th century, Russia, largely isolated from Western influences, had no secular art. Desiring closer relations with the outside world, he invited to the country sculptors, artists, painters and architects, whilst also making military, institutional and cultural reforms. Many Russians felt that he had damaged, if not destroyed, an entire national heritage “of ritual, deportment and artefact, from Boyer costumes to Old Believer icons, from church rites to the wearing of beards, these needed to be discovered and past on” (5). The icon and the axe, the two objects traditionally “hung together on the wall of the peasant hut in the wooded Russian north”, are, James Billington observes, artefacts of enduring meaning in Russia. (6) In tracing the history of icons, Billington reveals that from Byzantium to modern times, the icon, along with the axe, is a symbol that has a “unique role for the Russian imagination” (7). While the axe represents material struggle, the icon signifies spiritual exaltation – it unites the people through a sense of security and higher purpose. (8)

In “The Icon and Russian Modernism”, Margaret Betz demonstrates the influence of the tradition of icon painting on Russia’s early twentieth century avant–garde, with the icon acting as “a symbol of an ideal national past and an inspiration to a transformed future life.” (9) An obvious example of this influence is Kasimir Malevich, who in the ‘O.10’ exhibition in Petrograd in December 1915, hung his painting the “Black Square” in the krasniy ugol or “beautiful corner” (10), the space traditionally reserved for the icon, and claimed this art, Suprematism, as a “new religion” (11). In fact, Billington suggests that works by Malevich such as his semi-abstract “Woman with a Rake” offer “a cleaner artistic statement of the idealized ‘heroine of socialist labour’ than official Soviet art, and a secular icon to replace the semiabstract religious image of a woman with child.” (12)

On his visit to Russia in 1911, Henri Matisse, a prominent figure for the Russian avant-garde, was astonished by the power and beauty of its icons. (13) During Diego Rivera’s visit in 1927, he claimed that Soviet painters were making a mistake in denying their Russian artistic heritage – the icon painting – this “real cultural treasure” (14). Even though the possession of an icon in Stalin’s reign could result in life imprisonment or death, the iconic elements of Socialist Realism are apparent in portraits of Soviet leaders. Socialist realist cinema, the æsthetic code desired by the Party for its “mass intelligibility” (15), powerfully represented the “allegorical personification of Bolshevik ideals” in saintly portraits of young heroes and heroines. (16) Under Stalin (Iosef Dzhugashvili), the secular Soviet icon becomes a model for mass indoctrination. Religious icons in factories and public places were replaced with images of Stalin now hung in the “red corner”, while Party members were enthroned in iconostases. An original development of the Russian icon tradition, iconostases involving an icon screen featuring a kind of religious pictorial encyclopaedia. (17) Betz argues that even today pictures of Russian political leaders still “serve a function similar to that of the icon” (18).

<em>¡Que Viva México!</em>There is almost an “uninterrupted interest in icons within Russian modernism”, argues Bojana Pejic, which can be observed from “Symbolism via the avant-garde to Socialist Realism” (19). However, little attention has been paid to the ways in which this religious artistic tradition informs and is a reactive point for Eisenstein’s work. There are many possible reasons for this neglect. The most obvious is the Soviet ideologues complete rejection of pre-Revolutionary ‘religious prejudices’. While Eisenstein is an inhabitant of modern and revolutionary times, in Mexico, considered the most religious of Latin American countries, he is entrenched for more than a year in a culture of fervent believers. Where the tradition of the icon becomes of particular significance to his work is in its gift for uniting the populace through an exalted sense of higher purpose. It prefigures Eisenstein’s drive to reclaim in his post-Mexican work the embers of shared experience – a sense of community. The Soviet system idealized a utopian collective ‘communitarian’ system, but it was one regulated and restricted by Marxist-Leninist laws. What Mexico reveals for Eisenstein is the possibility of community as a participatory trans-historical experience, where the mythic and the modern collide. (20)

Being in Mexico: Sensual Thought and Experience

Eisenstein spent 1931 and the beginning of 1932 in Mexico. While the story of his attempt to make ¡Que Viva México! is a fascinating one, it is not the focus of this article. (21) Yet it is worth noting that the proposed structure of the film he attempted to make was complex. Eisenstein’s synopsis states that the film was to include four novellas, framed by an epilogue and prologue. (22) During his travels, he became entranced by a strong Latin American trait: “the concomitant use of old and the new, sometimes at the same time” (23). Of the film he writes:

This was the history of cultural changes, but not presented vertically – in years and centuries – but horizontally: as utterly diverse stages of culture, coexisting in the same geographical area, next to each other. (24)

In Mexico, what he began to explore was nothing less than the intermingling of past and present, the nature of things, changing and eternal, and the meaning of death. This was an enormous task, but one that would allow him to pose questions about religion, sexuality and communal experience – existential questions not easily answered by Soviet solutions.

Tragically, Eisenstein never completed his film and derided Thunder over Mexico, the 1933 condensation by the independent producer of Tarzan films, Sol Lesser, calling it “pitiful gibberish” (25). Chris Robé suggests that failure to complete the film was due to multiple factors including:

[Eisenstein’s] political and aesthetic disagreements with Upton Sinclair (a key financial backer of the film) over the film’s composition; the difficulty of gaining mass distribution for the film; and Stalin’s demand that Eisenstein stop filming and immediately return home before being deemed a deserter to the Soviet Republic. (26)

Robé is one writer who has analyzed the religious themes of ¡Que Viva México!, arguing that while many critics at the time identified religion as an organizing principle within the film; few were able to acknowledge the complexity of the account partly due to the perceptions of Eisenstein as “antireligious” (27). Certainly in Eisenstein’s earlier work, religious “imagery was either cloaked or submerged by revolutionary political messages” as Soviet control “demanded that religion be portrayed in a negative light” (28). A classic example of this approach is the representation of the priest in Bronenosets Potyomkin (Battleship Potemkin,1925), who attempts to stop the sailors’ revolutionary actions. But in Mexico, Eisenstein was freed from such restrictions.

Here, Eisenstein rediscovered his childhood passion for drawing, animation and cartoons. Although we cannot underestimate how his meeting with Walt Disney in America inspired his drawing, in his memoirs he describes the resurgence of his graphic art as a “lost and newly-regained paradise”, found in Mexico. (29) But the time he spent there culminated in the resurfacing of more than just his graphic art; the experience enabled the resurgence, with renewed vigour, of his youthful love of folk tales, mythology and his adolescent fascination with religion. I am not suggesting that his religious beliefs were reborn. On the contrary, Eisenstein remains cynical about the institutions of religion and “dogmatic religious education” (30). Yet, his adolescent passion for religion, quenched in his late teens with the development of his revolutionary consciousness is never completely erased from his work. In his memoirs, he says the “religious element in my life was a considerable advantage” (31). Religious ritual, and the æsthetics and spectacle of religious traditions become a powerful source of artistic inspiration. Yet there is something more going on here. The child exists within the man. Eisenstein’s efforts to produce a ‘synchronization of the senses’ and encourage an ecstatic engagement with his films brings them through ritual, spectacle and audience engagement into dramatic analogy with the practice of mass. Eisenstein clearly addresses this relation when he states:

It is a curious fact that the rudiments of an audiovisual performance are to be found in the celebration of the liturgy in the medieval church: in its forms it is a combination of singing, of action, of the play of light and colour from stained–glass windows, of the mighty sounds of an organ, of passages from the holy scriptures, either read aloud or acted out as scenes, and accompanied by the aroma of incense – taken together, this undoubtedly possessed all the characteristics of a multi-media performance. (32)

<em>¡Que Viva México!</em>Laura Podalsky argues that many “film scholars have suggested that Eisenstein’s trip to Mexico marked a turning point in his work, and in doing so they often uncritically echo Eisenstein’s vision of Mexico as primitive.” (33) Podalsky suggests that Eisenstein “reduced rather than celebrated the aspects of Mexican culture which were incongruous to his model.” (34) We cannot deny that Eisenstein failed to comprehend all the complexities of the many different peoples he encountered. But, as Joanne Hershfield, argues ¡Que Viva México! may be regarded as “ethnography staged as fiction film, enacting what [Ella] Shohat and [Robert] Stam define as a ‘historiographical and anthropological role, writing (in light) the cultures of others’” (35). However, Hersfield also observes that if, as Inga Karetnikova and Leon Steinmetz acknowledge, “there were ‘three Mexicos’ for Eisenstein – the imaginary, the real and the remembered – then ¡Que Viva México! issurely a documentary of the first kind” – of the imaginary. (36)

Of course, Eisenstein’s memoirs involve a narrative of things remembered, imagined and real. Yet, I propose that his Mexican experience exists in both of these realms, simply due to the acknowledgement that those human experiences of the everyday and geographic encounters occur within real and semi-imaginary realms. At their most creative, these experiences can be participatory. Here, I would like to refer to a much earlier decisive piece of writing on this encounter, Annette Michelson’s seminal, “On Reading Deren’s Notebook”.

While discussing Maya Deren’s work in Haiti, Michelson uses Eisenstein’s Mexican trip as a comparative point. She remarks that, for Deren, her work of a film about ritual was “like that of Eisenstein’s Mexican-project, grounded in the sense of alienation and of a bond, newly discovered, with the colonized culture”. Michelson argues that for both filmmakers, these encounters allowed them to gain

access to a dimension of experience which was undoubtedly decisive in every later enterprise: a glimpse, widely sought but denied to many of their generation, of the meaning of community in its most absorbing and fulfilling instance: of collective enterprise grounded in the mythic. (37)

Following on from Michelson’s work, both Rachel O. Moore and Anne Nesbet have addressed the ramifications of Eisenstein’s Mexican experience on his later work, specifically his ideas regarding ‘sensual thought’. Moore notes that Eisenstein drew on ‘archaic’ beliefs to theorise about film, which was consistent with early trends in film theory at the time. The early French film Impressionists like Louis Delluc and Jean Epstein sensed that the cinema seemed to humanise the industrial, technical world, whilst the Hungarian screenwriter and film theorist, Béla Balázs, thought the cinema could again re-enchant our lives by offering us a ‘universal’ pictorial language. Eisenstein similarly believed the cinema could “reactivate the sensuous, primitive chains of meanings now lost” (38). However, Moore suggests that Eisenstein’s “contact with people in Mexico, and his seduction by the landscape, the colours, gave him the cultural experience of sensual thinking” (39). In her discussion of Eisenstein’s trip to Mexico, Nesbet further argues that Mexico enabled Eisenstein to understand that his,

attraction to primitive thinking lay in its invitation to let the community (understood in a trans-historical sense) think for you, in the discovery that ancient patterns of thought were still decipherable under the skin of the most ‘advanced’ notions of aesthetics. (40)

Nesbet argues that Eisenstein “defends a truly image based – figurative – philosophy as the most profound and relevant goal of modern thought” (41). For Eisenstein, an important idea for ‘sensual thought’ was the understanding of the power of mythology “at the intersection of ancient and modern practices of image-based thinking – a savage juncture” (42). This is the comprehension of a kind of ecstatic consummation between the abstract and the concrete, the profane and the sacred.

What I think is of most significance in Michelson’s article is her comment that what the memory of Mexico held for Eisenstein (and Haiti for Deren) was the memory of a “determinant experience”, the “memory of their encounters with the ecstatic(43). And this experience could account for what she calls a dramatic transformation of the work of later years. (44) Fuelled by his historical and anthropological reading, particularly the work of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Eisenstein became fascinated by prelogical experience and ecstasy. Indeed, Moore observes:

Eisenstein […] appears overwhelmed by his sensual immersion in Mexico, its heat, blood, and its Indian mythic presence such that Mexico appears, by his account, in a general state of extasis. (45)

What Mexico brought to Eisenstein’s attention through the simultaneous existence of ancient and modern cultures was the trans-historical, and the knowledge that the cyclic nature of time induces a re-examination of the nature of the sacred and the mythic, of mortality, death and change. In this instance, what enables ecstasy is the awareness of existence as a state of dual unity – or double consciousness.

The ecstatic always takes us out of ourselves, allows us to forget ourselves. So, to let “the community […] think for you” is to access the possibility of the ecstatic as the experience of imagined communion with a group, an experience where a loss of a sense of individuation is essential. In this environment, we have the acknowledgement of how the trans-historical enables a radical encounter of a kind of participatory, communal experience. In fact, Michelson argues that what she sees both Deren and Eisenstein doing can be understood through Georges Bataille’s concept of “a sacred sociology […] a study of social existence in all its manifestations in which the active presence of the sacred appears” (46). It is worth remembering that for so-called primitive and contemporary believers alike, what the ritual does by being endowed with the sensate and by making history stand still is to allow a glimpse of the sacred.

Interestingly, all the different novellas of ¡Que Viva México! involve representations of rituals – old and new. The Prologue is shot in Yucatán, in the ruins of the ‘Kingdom of Death’, where ritual sacrifice was historically practised. A funeral procession is the focus of this sequence; the camera follows the progress of six figures carrying a coffin past a guard of women, who wear crucifixes around their necks. The journey of the procession is interspersed with images of ancient, awe-inspiring stone gods. “Sandunga” portrays a courtship and marriage in the pre-Columbian matriarchal Tehuantepec. “Maguey” has as its focus a wedding that never takes place and there is a brief image of a funeral. We also see images of peons lining the walls of the hacienda in the morning sun. We can hear the sounds of a hymn, “El Alabado”, the Morning Prayer that the peons sing to the Holy Virgin to help them on the “newly dawning day” (47).

“Fiesta” explores the adoption and translation of Christian and Mexican rites, while drawing a correlation between the Bullfight and Christian rituals. Mass is celebrated before the fight with both the torero and the picador being blessed. The novella begins with images of the feast of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), Empress of the Americas. (48) There are images of hundreds of ritual dancers outside the Basilica de Gaudalupe, (but it is not clear if they are celebrating the feast day or another feast). The sequence is interspersed with images that include hundreds of adolescents and men, crawling on their knees up a hill towards a chapel. Beside them walk bare-chested men wearing crowns of thorns, their outstretched arms strapped to saguaro trunks. These figures enact the Stations of the Cross, and are most likely to have been shot during Semana Santa, the Easter holy week. (49) In the synopsis for “Soldadera”, Eisenstein writes of the women praying at night to their Santos (an icon of the favourite saint), and there are also images of a cock fight. Inspired by the religious rites of the Indians and the Mexican practice of Catholicism, Eisenstein bought to ¡Que Viva México! and to his later works an awareness of this ritual aspect of religion. As Robé explains, religious symbolism and ritual allow “Eisenstein’s mise-en-scène to hold in tension [a] scene’s literal meaning […] with its more abstract concept.” (50)

<em>¡Que Viva México!</em>What Bataille and the avant-garde intellectuals who formed the Collège de Sociologie were preoccupied with was, as James Clifford notes, “those ritual moments where experiences outside the normal flow of existence could find collective expression, moments when cultural order was both transgressed and rejuvenated” (51). To become a part of communal experience was to step outside the individualist constraints of modernist thinking, and to open oneself to the acknowledgment of emotive, sensual and possibly ecstatic experience. It was to engage in a semi-imaginary participatory experience of community, where meaning was collective. The experience of community that Eisenstein found in Mexico was an ecstatic one but importantly also a participatory one. This was radically different from the Soviet experiment in “Utopianism” that culminated in the “brutal reality of collectivisations” and the Stalinist system of “socialism without democracy” (52). This is not to suggest that Mexico was an ‘Eden’ free of repressions or that elements of communal existence where not enabled or occurred regardless of the Soviet system; rather, it is to acknowledge the sense of emotional and physical immersion and engagement that Eisenstein found in Mexico:

I think that it was not that my consciousness and emotions absorbed the blood and sand of the gory corrida, the heady sensuality of the tropics, the asceticism of the flagellant monks, the purple and gold of Catholicism, or even the cosmic timelessness of the Aztec pyramids: on the contrary, the whole complex of emotions and traits that characterise me extended infinitely beyond me to become an entire, vast country with mountains, forests, cathedrals, people, fruit, wild animals, breakers, herds, armies, decorated prelates, majolica on blue cupolas, necklaces made of gold coins worn by the girls of Tehuantepec and the play of reflection in the canals of Xochimilco. (53)

In the case of Eisenstein’s later work, his Mexican experience produced a reversal in his hierarchy of ‘methods of montage’. Post-Mexico, ‘intellectual montage’, which had previously been the pinnacle of the order, was usurped by the importance of emotional and sensual engagement.

Image, Icon and Ecstasy

Eisenstein argues that he works with the image that he defines as the unity of form and content, evidenced by its dynamic. The symbol is the rupture of this form and unity, and is marked by immobility.Yet, Eisenstein acknowledges that at the summit of “‘generalized image’ […] we may find ourselves, ‘approaching the symbolic’ implying that it is difficult to draw clear distinctions between the two” (54). Typage in his work is “a translation, in terms of physical appearance, of moral qualities and/or a social and political position” (55). Jacques Aumont further notes that this principle is very closely related to the concept of “global image”. After Oktyabr (October, 1928), Aumont claims Eisenstein moved away from a specifically political use of typage toward what he defines as “symbolic typage”. According to Aumont, this use of typage signifies “something much more archetypal […] transhistorical [… and] precarious” (56). This discussion is of particular significance in regard to the influence of the icon tradition on Eisenstein’s Mexican and later work.

Aumont describes the way Eisenstein construes the image in a “succession of touches”: the image is defined as “graphic design”, in the sense of drawing a reproduction of the real, but also a design of the interpretation of the content; subsequently, it must include a metaphor of the content. In addition, the image becomes “generalization: responsible for expressing […] the central idea”. Ultimately, there must be a “final ‘social’ determination, which will allow the global image to be […] a particular interpretation of the idea” (57). Importantly, Eisenstein notes that the global image is the source that unifies the filmmaker and the spectator’s experience of the theme of the film. (58) In this sense, the global image is the essence or truth of the object.

In re-evaluating the relation between the filmmaker and the spectator’s experience of the theme of an image, Eisenstein signals a shift in his thinking regarding a desire to produce a complex graphic technique of representation to encourage or communicate ecstasy in an audience. Greg Murray Smith addresses the shift in Eisenstein’s work from intellectual montage to sensual thought, specifically focussing on the relation between cognition and emotion in his writing. I wish to focus on the point where Smith discusses Eisenstein’s notion of how a chain of associations “creates not a simple stream of information but a feeling” (59). The filmmaker’s job is to narrow these associations “so that an image will effectively evoke the appropriate response in the audience” (60). Smith says that, in later work, Eisenstein rejects the idea of a direct link between “stimulus” and the corresponding response as applied to art, due to his acknowledgment that audience responses are culturally and environmentally conditioned. However, as Smith also notes, in Nonindifferent Nature, Eisenstein argues that we can “still use ‘conditioned reflex’ to describe the way that ‘objectless formless’ ecstasy can be linked to concrete imagery (e.g religious iconography)” (61).

Herbert Marshall further illuminates the relation between ecstasy, the image and the icon:

When the artist is first inspired by some object that produces in him an intensity of experience, his ecstasy, in itself, is objectless and formless; it cannot be described verbally. However, the artist reconstructs the process of ecstatic movement through his structuring of the material of his theme, thus communicating the very same pathos to his audience. Thus, the process, for Eisenstein, is rooted in the more primitive functions of the brain. Ecstasy is a state prior to thinking and there is no means of expressing that state other than by simple signs, that is, either by an analogue of the state (in semiotics, an “icon”) or by a recreation of a part of the state itself (the semiotic “index”). (62)

A form of concrete imagery that expresses the state of “objectless, formless ecstasy” is the icon. Traditionally, the purpose of icons was to provide their audience with an image, a symbolic representation and conduit to the sacred, but the meaning already exists and it is a meaning that is communally shared. During Eisenstein’s time in Mexico, he is surrounded by totem structures and sculptures and religious art: icons are placed over front doors; above the gates to yards; in barns and other outbuildings to protect family and livestock; and they adorn the walls of churches and cathedrals. In the synopsis for “Soldadera”, he comments:

Under the cars of the freight train the ‘soldadera’ are praying for their fighting men. They have suspended their ‘Santos’ – the holy images of their dearest devotion – from the car wheel and placed their little votive lamps on the springs of the car axle. (63)

Much of the footage he shot for ¡Que Viva México! focuses on religious festivals and practices. Although in Russia in the early 20th century the icon is rejected, as I have suggested, it is embedded in the avant-garde. Under Stalin, a former seminarian, “the icon lived on not only as the inspiration for creative art, but as a model of mass indoctrination” (64). The icon is banned but ‘recast’ as the Soviet ‘saint’ in Socialist Realism. I would argue it is also recast in Eisenstein’s use of typage and composition, and in his desire for a transforming communitarian experience.

Martin Lefebvre observes the iconophilia of Eisenstein’s beliefs regarding the power of the image. Lefebvre unearths why Eisenstein, a “fervent Bolshevik, calls upon the Catholic mysticism of Ignatius of Loyola”, the founder of the Order of the Jesuits, “to explain his ideas about pathos and ecstasy” (65). As mentioned earlier, Nesbet highlights the importance of image-based thinking with regards to Eisenstein’s understanding of the power of mythology as an intersection of ancient and contemporary practices. Lefebvre illuminates this concept within Eisenstein’s work, his key interest being the way in which an internal and external use of picture based imaginary, as seen in Loyola’s work, is used to not only engage memory as a component of rhetoric, but to acquire insight and the “essence of truth” (66). The practice of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises involves a memory through pictures approach that gives access to knowledge and is the “perfect method of achieving ecstasy”, for a Catholic. (67) Crucial to this practice and Eisenstein’s interest is the way in which Spiritual Exercises constructs an internal “image-based world representation on the basis of which, once it is integrated to memory, one can act” (68). Lefebvre claims:

[W]hat Eisenstein, Renaissance hermetic philosophers and artists, and Ignatius of Loyola all share, is a sort of iconophilia, a belief in the power of images to institute a memory – a semiotic matrix – as a coherent, organized and unified way of seeing the world; to institute, in other words, an imaginary. (69)

Lefebvre’s argument is of particular importance to my discussion due to his acknowledgement of this “sort of iconophilia” in Eisenstein’s belief in the power of images and I would argue that this belief is manifest in the presence of a transformed iconography within his films.

<em>¡Que Viva México!</em>At this point, it is worth turning to Eisenstein’s discussion of his fascination with Loyola, his analysis of the use of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and his understanding of participation as a requirement of ecstasy. Eisenstein is interested in how Loyola describes the states through which consciousness passes “and in which it is found when it is in a state of ecstasy” (70). In Loyola’s acknowledgement that ecstasy begins as a “formless”, “objectless” feeling of being, Eisenstein finds a connection through a “conditioned reflex” to religious images, but also to artistic representation and the natural world. As previously noted, ecstasy is an experience of being outside of oneself, “rooted in the more primitive functions of the brain” and prior to thinking. (71) For religious ecstatics, God exists outside of their being: followers engage in a ritual practice that enables intersubjective participation, whereby God exists within the participant and participant exists within God. (72) Through the practice of Loyola’s Exercises, the “objectless”, “contentless” beginning of the ecstatic state is given imagery and therefore materiality through which it becomes “tangibly real” (73).

In relation to wonder in nature, or the practice of art, ecstasy is the feeling of participation in the “movement of the universe”, of which we are all a part. Modern humanity’s feeling of ecstasy in the universe is momentarily encountered as cosmology, a feeling or sensed state that involves unity with the universe. Eisenstein articulates this state of ecstatic unity when he says of ‘being’ in Mexico, “the whole complex of emotions and traits that characterise me extended infinitely beyond me to become an entire, vast country” (74). Commenting on the significance of this surprising pantheistic sense of cosmology, he claims its relevance: “Participation is understood as a feeling of general unison, as leading to a ‘reality of feeling’ of these same permeating and universal laws in oneself, within oneself.” (75) It is this sense of cosmology, of the permeation of universal laws as natural and intersubjective, which defines Eisenstein’s time in Mexico.

However, the individual experiencing these subjective states is unable to give them material objectivity due to their subjective immersion. Eisenstein argues that it is poets, writers and artists like Aleksandr Pushkin, Lev Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky who can give words and images to the subjective experience of ecstasy that human beings can feel in first love, during a sunset, or at the cinema. The artists’ experience and self awareness enable them to create through analogy “the manifestation of those same feelings in others” (76). So, the ‘objectless’ state is given material objectivity which, in turn, elevates the experience of each theme to an “uplifting, exalted effect” (77). Smith has highlighted the significance of the filmmaker’s practice of limiting associations to evoke a desired response in an audience. In relation to the cinema, Lefebvre notes that Eisenstein understands the communion between the filmmaker and the spectator as based on intersubjectivity. Both Loyola and Eisenstein are aware of the importance of “controlling the imaginative process, in order to predetermine as much as possible the construction of a memoria or imaginary” (78).

Ultimately, the global image, as essence and insight, is the imaginary of the work of art that embodies the knowledge of the work, knowledge that enables its “cinematic expression” as well as “knowledge whose construction by the spectator it overseas” (79). The allure for Eisenstein in this process where ecstasy is understood to have an “objectless” beginning, which is then connected by a conditioned reflex to material objectivity, is its revelation that the state of exaltation evoked by an “evening sky” can be “coloured” by different objects: “God, a pretty lady and a utopian plan of social reform” (80). To Eisenstein. “dialectical materialism and theology are ways of seeing, of understanding, and of making sense of the world.” (81)

Interestingly, Lefebvre observes that Marxism precludes Eisenstein from the “hermetic or magical aspects of aesthetics” (82). But Eisenstein’s writings and memoirs reveal the breadth and fluidity of his interests and ideas, showing that his thinking is in no way restricted by his political beliefs. More important, the magical and transformative aspects of æsthetics haunt his films like phantasms. Here, it is worth remembering Moore’s observation that, along with many early film theorists and practitioners, Eisenstein believed that the cinema could re-enchant our lives. Eisenstein precisely outlines the process with which ecstasy can be achieved by a ritual action enabling connection of a “sensed state” to religious imagery. Through practice, this can evoke a “conditioned reflex” enabling intersubjective or participatory experience. Yet, the rapture of ecstasy does not dissipate with knowledge of its techniques. There is always an excess of feeling and, in relation to the practice of icon worship, a wonder at the icon’s ability to unlock sensual and communal experience.

Traditionally, an icon is a symbolic representation of a special saint who is venerated, but never worshipped. Acts of respect such as bowing, kneeling, kissing and touching the forehead to the icon are ancient cultural practices that still survive worldwide in Orthodox and other churches. The faithful pray, meditate and display profound respect to the icon. The æsthetic of the icon is unreal and stylised involving abstract and heightened colours. The frontal depiction of the religious figure of the icon is consistent: as the sensory organs are believed to be sanctified, the ears are enlarged, the nose is thin and the mouth small, while the eyes are large and almond-shaped. The flatness of the perspective is achieved by being revised or inverted. To suggest a direct translation of this æsthetic code can be found in Eisenstein’s work would be foolish. However, we need to take into account his later use of “symbolic typage” as “something much more archetypal […] transhistorical [… and] precarious”(83). Along with his discovery of the process of religious ecstasy as “rooted in the more primitive functions of the brain” and expressible through a corresponding state – a kind of iconophilia – we can begin to think about how the transformation of this æsthetic religious tradition takes place in Eisenstein’s work. It fits with his desire to unite individual (both spectator and filmmaker) and social collective conscious.

<em>¡Que Viva México!</em>The ¡Que Viva México! footage allows us to study in detail Eisenstein’s compositions. There is often a distinction in representations of the institution of the church and leaders, with the clergy being portrayed ironically or even demonically. As seen in Staroye i novoye (The General Line or The Old and the New, 1929) (84), peasant characters that hold such beliefs are shown as deluded. The same applies to Bezhin lug (Bezhin Meadow), which was banned in 1937. However, Nesbet argues that in ¡Que Viva México! “old biblical roles are reassigned to living, breathing, ‘ordinary’ human beings.” (85) While the observation is correct, we need to recognise that the “ordinary” peon is generally represented in a stylised way, (and often engaged in a ritual action). These images retain the function of typage as symbolically representative of a political idea or, more important, a social group, but take on a more “archetypal” and iconic function. In the film, we see images of penitents and re-enactments of the crucifixion. There is a scene of a boy, chin pressed to chest, eyes wide open and staring upward with sweat pouring from his face in the hot sun. His arms are outstretched. Around his neck he wears a finely woven heart – the sacred heart. He grimaces and sweats, and we sense his agony in this tight observational shot, of what seems to be penance. There is an intense focus on human faces; figures don’t generally smile, or look directly at the camera. The stylised composition of architecture, plants and figures in the frame is often based around religious themes. A woman stands like a statue with a cactus behind her acting as a huge halo, or crown. The composition of men carrying a coffin is geometrically composed in a way that follows the spiritual progression of the icon. This progression results in the icon being read from top to bottom, with the top of the frame being the point of focus and significance. Priests and skulls are arranged in shots with obvious Christian symbolism, some suggesting the trinity. Faces are framed and shot in ways that exaggerate the features, the perspective distorted and the setting flat, like the gold background of icon paintings. (86) Characters stand like statues, their faces bowed, often posed with shawls draping their heads and faces in the manner of the icon of the mother – Russia’s most significant icon.

As Eisenstein never had the opportunity to edit his film, we can only surmise what the final product might have look liked. But it is not unreasonable to hypothesise, especially with reference to his later films Aleksandr Nevskiy (Alexander Nevsky, 1938), Ivan Grozny I (Ivan the Terrible, 1944) and Ivan Grozny II: Boyarsky zagovor (Ivan the Terrible Part II: The Boyar’s Plot, 1958), that slower paced editing and a greater focus on characterisation would allow contemplation of particular figures and compositions.

By harnessing the power of the image, icons are used to translate symbolic representation into complex beliefs. But the pure sign – the icon – is only intelligible to those who have the key. And the key is shared knowledge of religious, social or cultural memory and practice. The communal experience that Eisenstein found in Mexico offers a form of collective experience that he not only wishes to reanimate, but to reproduce in sensual and socialist form. The Russian icon tradition becomes an enabling æsthetic form due to its ability to ‘magically’ unite an image-based philosophy and collective experience.


In Mexico, Eisenstein felt “at one with nature” and experienced “a most sublime sensation of the happiness of ecstasy” that led to a process of renewal through “purification” and “metamorphous” (87). In his enunciation of this experience, we find a moment of what we might term participatory ethnography, a kind of radical encounter whereby the interaction between the observer and the observed is comprehended as a process of participation in which “one’s lived experiences” and “one’s implications in the life of others” cannot be separated out from “one’s work” (88).

This period becomes a catalyst for transformation, the effects of which can be discerned in Eisenstein’s memoirs (his speaks of his Mexican film as a lost child (89)), his later writings and his post Mexico films. What we also find through examination of the ¡Que Viva México! footage is that the stylistic elements of his work are more clearly informed by religious themes and æsthetics. Religions institutions and iconographical influences have always been present in his work, but often with negative connotations. In discussing The General Line, Eisenstein comments on a scene which precedes the much discussed ‘milk separator’ sequence and depicts an Easter religious procession (traditionally a parade during which icons are carried through the streets):

Here, free reign is given to the frenzied, fanatical, religious ecstasy of those genuflecting believers, who crawling on their knees, with fruitless chants incite heaven for the miracle of rain, while they sink beneath the weight of the icons into the dust of the parched earth. (90)

Obviously a critical representation, yet it is interesting to note that there is no such irony in his portrayal of the religious beliefs and practices of the people of Mexico. In fact, Robé argues that in ¡Que Viva México! “Eisenstein saw that Catholicism [was] harmful when controlled by the few but potentially libratory when used by the masses.” (91) Even in his early films, the ridicule of religious institutions, figures and education does not negate the portrayal of ecstatic elements such as the ‘milk separator’ sequence with its representation of the villagers as consecrated and radiant.

Bezhin Meadow was the first film Eisenstein made on his return from his study tour. Inspired by Ivan Turgenev, the film was to be a tragic conflict between a Russian village group and a New Soviet Socialist Village. The film was banned on 17 March 1937, and apparently destroyed. From 19-21 March 1937, a conference was held by the Central Cinema Commission, which at the time was headed by one of Eisenstein’s antagonists, Boris Shumiatskii. Eisenstein and his film were publicly condemned and he was forced to publish his ‘self criticism’ as “The Mistakes of Bezhin Meadow(92). In relation to this film, Nesbet writes “When the peasants of Bezhin Meadow try the gilt icon frames around their own beaming faces, we are experiencing the animation of the picture, the icon, the religious fresco, coming to life.” (93) Again, this is a literal example of Eisenstein’s use of religious imagery in an ironic manner; however, some of the palpable problems of the film for the Communist party were the metaphorical imagery and Biblical parallels. Eisenstein portrayed the central antagonist as the mythical “Pan from the paintings of the symbolist Vrubel”, and he lit the young Soviet hero as a “consecrated holy child” with a radiant “halo”. (94)

<em>¡Que Viva México!</em>After the failure of Bezhin Meadow, Eisenstein made several historical films; the first, Alexander Nevsky, was based on this “warrior-saint’, who in the 13th century fought off an invasion by Teutonic knights.Clearly propagandist, Stalin congratulated him on the film and in 1939 awarded him the Order of Lenin. His next and final film project was the spectacular historical epic of the 16th century Muscovite warrior-king, Ivan the Terrible, the cruel author of the Russian state. After the favourable attention garnered by Part 1, he began filming Part 2. Leonid Kozlov claims that Ivan the Terrible was conceived as a whole and developed as an analogy of Stalin, the autocrat, and, in Part 2, Eisenstein intended to express the despot’s tyranny. Kozlov notes: “If we can say of Part One that in it Eisenstein was rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, then Part Two represents the revolt of the artist.” (95) Predictably, its release was delayed and the film was condemned. Stalin’s requested retakes were never made due in part to Eisenstein’s failing health and Part 3 was abandoned after several reels. Although the elongated and stooped figure of Nikolai Cherkasov who played Ivan is inspired by the figures of El Greco, in the case of Nevsky the constant framing of the main protagonist is iconographic – golden, glowing and saintly – just like many of the Bolshevik heroes of Socialist realist cinema. Interestingly, it is with this film that Eisenstein again finds popular audience appeal.

Calling Soviet filmmakers such as Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin “the cinematic iconographers of the revolution” (96), Billington argues that at the cinemas

the prescribed rituals of a new order – its chronicles of success and promises of bliss – were systematically and regularly presented to the silent masses, whose main image of a world beyond that of immediate physical necessity was now derived from a screen of moving pictures rather than a screen of stationary icons. (97)

It is difficult to ascertain how much the Soviet system’s desire for a national product of ‘mass intelligibility’ affected the style of Eisenstein’s filmmaking. However, if we accept his belief in an image-based philosophy, in which pictures truly are as meaningful or illuminating as other forms of thinking, we can see how the tradition of the Russian icons and his experiments with ecstasy can enable access to communal experience that presents itself as tangibly real in its intensity and effectiveness.

Maya Turovskaya comments that, with Chapaev (Chapayev, Georgi and Sergei Vasilyev, 1934), “The Vasiliev ‘brothers’ revealed the formula for audience success that survived every succeeding decade right up to the 1980s.” (98) She notes that, while the film is generally considered as an historical-Revolutionary film, its enormous popular appeal has more to do with it generic source, the Western. Of the film’s main character, Eisenstein writes:

[T]he hero is shown as not distinct from the human milieu, not standing above other people, not jumping ahead of other people.

Here the hero is shown as flesh from the flesh of his class; inside it; with it; not only leading, but also listening–as a real national hero.

As it were, an “ecstatic” image of the ordinary person, for whom there is a place in the ranks, who as a hero forged ahead.

Equally “ecstatic” is the image of the hero who though “by rank” has a place ahead of the ranks, is shown inside the ranks, flesh of their flesh and they, like him.

When the hero is presented so that you feel that he – is us; that he – is each one of us, rank and file; that he – is “you and I.” (99)

There is no suggestion in these words of an æsthetic code that can descriptively be linked to the æsthetic tradition of icons. However, if we again think of Aumont’s classification of Eisenstein’s later use of symbolic typage, it becomes clear that what he so admires in Chapayev is its representation of the socialist hero as iconic in his ability to evoke a sense of ecstasy. The hero is like the audience but different, a transformed symbol the audience identifies with, yet a symbolic figure that also has the power to take them outside of themselves through the trigger of ecstatic experience. Referring to iconostasis, Billington says: “Each icon provided an ‘external expression of the transfigured state of man,’ a window through which the believing eye could peer into the beyond.” (100) In an analogous way, for Eisenstein, the iconic image of the hero enables an ecstatic participation, beyond which lies a view of a transfigured society, ‘coloured’ by social nationalism.

Icons are considered sacred and the correct term to use is icon writing: “When direct and precise words are insufficient, the images contained in icons reveal a hidden, truer, ever present reality.” (101) When the image is insufficient, the symbol incarnates ideas. Soviet Socialist Realism recast the icon to idealise its Soviet heroes and as an embodiment of Bolshevik ideas. Malevich invoked the traditional by transfiguring his square into the icon of a new age. Although Eisenstein does not actively invoke the tradition, its formal elements can be seen within his work. Margaret Betz notes Malevich’s sense of transfiguration again links him to the tradition of icon painting: to be an icon painter, you need to be a “transformed person” in order to present in your work a “transfigured being” and a “transfigured universe” (102). Within his work, Eisenstein, too, was aiming for a transfiguration in the form of a radically different kind of cinema and, for his audience, society. For the young Soviet, the metamorphous that took place in Mexico opened him up to another world, another culture, but it also led to the rediscovery of his own traditions and the sensual world of myths, symbols and folktales of his childhood. Iconic power is based upon shared social values; empathy has the power to open us up, to open a door inside us, but the experience is already within us. For Eisenstein, the screen becomes his new, modern version of the “beautiful corner”. And typage transfigured into symbolic and archetypal iconography becomes about shared social values of “mass intelligibility” – but also about the revelation of a “hidden, truer, ever present reality” – the ecstasy of community and the sensate.

This article has been peer-reviewed.


  1. J. Hoberman, “Socialist Realism: From Stalin to Sots”, Artforum International,32:2 (October 1993), 72(8), Expanded Academic ASAP. 27 September 2006. http://0-find.galegroup.com.alpha2.latrobe.edu.au/.
  2. Richard Taylor, “Red Stars, Positive Heroes and Personality Cults”, in Richard Taylor and Derek Spring(Eds), Stalinism and the Soviet Cinema (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 69-70.
  3. Ian Christie, “Introduction”, in Richard Taylor and Ian Christie (Eds), translated by Richard Taylor, The Film Factory: Russian and Soviet Cinema in Documents 1896-1939 (London: Routledge, 1988), p. 17. In note 162, Christie states that Naum Kleiman “stresses this ‘Russian’ side of Eisenstein in his account of Eisenstein’s influences” (p. 416). The lubok tradition, which is also known as folk picture, popular print or broadside, is a mixture of the traditions of the Western European print and the heritage of Russian icon painting and manuscript illustration.
  4. Margaret Betz, “The Icon and Russian Modernism”, Artforum, 25:10 (Summer 1977), p. 39. It was for this exhibition that the religious icons were cleaned for the first time, removing “centuries of dirt, darkened varnish and repainting”, which had obscured the vibrancy of the images.
  5. John E. Bowlt and Nicholetta Misler, “Russia 1913: Demise of Power, Rebirth of Reason”, in Alan R. Dodge, Melissa Harpley and Allan Watson (Eds), St Petersburg 1900 (Perth: Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2005), p. 30.
  6. James Billington, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture (New York: Knopf, 1966), p. vii.
  7. Ibid, p. viii.
  8. Ibid, p. 26.
  9. Betz, p. 39.
  10. The ‘beautiful corner’, a special place of honour, was typically the northeast corner of a room furnished with a special table, oil lamps and benches for respected guests.
  11. Bowlt and Milser, p. 45.
  12. Billington, p. xxi-xxii.
  13. Betz, p. 39.
  14. Inga Karetnikova and Leon Steinmetz, Mexico According to Eisenstein (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991), pp. 9-10.
  15. In his “Introduction” to The Film Factory, Christie discusses this complex idea and the avant garde: “when the Party first began to articulate its concept of mass intelligibility, this only served to intensify the clamour of rival hegemonic claims, and to encourage mounting criticism of an avant-gardism that was more appreciated aboard than amidst the priorities demanded by the ‘cultural revolution’ and the first Five Year Plan. Indeed the Plan’s central themes of industrialization, self-sufficiency and agricultural collectivization clearly inspired many artists and intellectuals to a new social dedication, which in turn led them to reconsider questions of address to the mass audiences before this became in any sense an official requirement.” (p. 14)
  16. Hoberman.
  17. Billington, p. 36.
  18. Betz, p, 39.
  19. Bojana Pejic, “The Icon Effect”, in Miltiades Papanikolau(Ed.), Avant-Garde Masterpieces of the Costakis Collection (Thessalonki: State Museum of Contemporary Art, 2001), pp. 8-9.
  20. Anne Nesbet, Savage Junctures: Sergei Eisenstein and the Shape of Thinking (New York: I B Tauris, 2003), p. 18.
  21. The story of Eisenstein’s experience in Mexico and the history of the film are best explored in Harry M. Geduld and Ronald Gottesman, Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair: The Marking and Unmaking of Que Viva Mexico! (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970). The text outlines Upton Sinclair’s attempts to financially support Eisenstein, but restrict his spending, while chronicling the filmmaker’s pleas for more financial support and his eventual disillusionment. At times, the text does seem to favour Sinclair through the reproduction of a greater amount of his correspondence. But still, one senses that Eisenstein, the artist engaged in the creative project, was unwilling to deal with money concerns – he would, however, do anything to keep his company filming. See also Jay Leyda, “Eisenstein’s Mexican Tragedy”, Sight and Sound, 27:6 (Autumn 1958), pp. 30-8, 309, and Marie Seton, Sergei M. Eisenstein: A Biography (London: Bodley Head, 1952). According to the final estimates, Eisenstein shot around 200,000 feet of film stock, an enormous amount of footage considering the final film was only supposed to be 10,000 feet. Thunder over Mexico was a moderately successful Tex-Mex Western. Lesser and Sinclair also made two shorts from the footage, Eisenstein in Mexico (1933) and Death Day (1934). In 1939, Eisenstein’s biographer, Maria Seton, bought access to twenty thousand feet of the footage, which she attempted to ship to Eisenstein. When her efforts were thwarted by the war, she edited a 56-minute reconstruction of the footage called Time in the Sun (1940). Seton’s film is little more than a travelogue that fails to capture any of Eisenstein’s intentions or dynamic. Sinclair then sold parts of the remaining footage for stock shots and backgrounds to Bell and Howell, who used it for educational shorts. Eisenstein died in 1948 and in 1954 Sinclair donated 70,000 feet of the director’s negative to the film library at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). In the 1930s, Jay Leyda had been a student in Eisenstein’s film course at the State Film School, GIK (Gosudarstvennyi institut kinematografii). In 1957, he reconstructed four-hours of Eisenstein’s unedited rushes held by MOMA to create a “study” film entitled Eisenstein’s Mexican Project. The footage is interspersed with printed comments by Leyda guiding our viewing. A statement at the beginning of the footage reads: “The aim of this present film is purely instructional: to summarize Eisenstein’s film plan and to restore a few fragmentary sequences from the unfinished ¡Que Viva México! as they came from [Eduard] Tisse’s camera, without attempting to convey the final form that this footage would have taken.” In “Eisenstein’s Mexican Tragedy”, Leyda discusses his surprise at hearing that a large amount of the negative of the Mexican footage was held at MOMA, “some 300 cans of negative and positive scraps” in which he found “full confirmation of the magnificent and original structure hinted at by the published summaries” (p. 308). Leyda presented his study film at the Eisenstein Conference in Berlin in 1958. Director and historian Lutz Becker argues that this screening was a revelation for the film community. He comments: “Soviet interest in Eisenstein’s Mexican fragment reawakened and, in around 1970, a deal was struck between the Soviet Ministry of Cinema and the Museum of Modern Art which entailed the transfer of the original nitrate negatives to Moscow.” (John Olney, ¡Que Viva México!!: The Reconstruction of a Lost Masterpiece of Cinema: An interview with Lutz Becker, http://www.quevivamexico.com/coverage.html, accessed 6 January 2008.) The negatives were thereafter held by Gosfilmfund, the Soviet State film archive. In 1979, Eisenstein’s assistant director on the shoot, Grigorii Alexandrov, produced an edit, an 85-minute memoir, ¡Que Viva Mexico! – Da zdravstvuyet Meksika!. This is the version that many of us would have seen at local film salons, retrospectives and cinémathèques; yet Becker argues that Alexandrov’s reconstruction was crippled by “limited access to the original footage”. The Russian director Oleg Kovalov has also used the footage in homage to Eisenstein in a film entitled Sergei Eisenstein: Meksikanskaya fantasiya (Sergei Eisenstein: Mexican Fantasy, 1998). The film in no way attempts to recreate the director’s work; however, it contains footage in the “Maguey” and “Fiesta” episodes that are not included in Alexandrov’s memoir or other versions of the film. Of particular significance for this research is the recent work by Becker to reconstruct the film. Becker had been negotiating with Leyda to undertake a reconstruction of the film, but regrettably Leyda died unexpectedly in 1986. Becker then came to an agreement with Jean Sinclair, Upton Sinclair’s daughter-in-law, in 1992 to acquire the rights to Eisenstein’s concept and all the film materials held by Sinclair’s Estate. In 1996, he created the Mexican Picture Partnership Ltd with the producer Felix con Moreau to produce a reconstruction, “interpreting the film footage and Eisenstein’s surviving scenarios, notes and diaries”. This version was to include material from a recent discovery of 52 cans of un-catalogued film and 40 hours of unedited footage held by MOMA and the National Film Archive in London. A ¡Que Viva México! website has been created that details the restoration process, background information and includes interviews with Becker, http://www.quevivamexico.com/site_home.htm. In email correspondence, Becker has informed me that he is still trying to find funding for this project.
  22. Sergei M. Eisenstein and Grigorii V. Alexandrov, “Scenario for ¡Que Viva México!!”, Experimental Cinema (February 1934), p. 5.
  23. Nelson Hippolyte Ortega, “Big Snakes on the Streets and Never Ending Stories: The Case of Venezuelan Telenovelas”, in Eva P. Bueno and Terry Caesar (Eds), Imagination Beyond Nation: Latin American Popular Culture (Pittsburg: University of Pittsburg Press, 1998), p. 80.
  24. Sergei M. Eisenstein, translated by William Powell, Richard Taylor (Ed.), Beyond the Stars: The Memoirs of Sergei Eisenstein (Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1995), p. 793.
  25. Eisenstein, Beyond the Stars, p. 581.
  26. Chris Robé, “Eisenstein in America: The Que Viva México! Debates and the Emergent Popular Front in U.S Film Theory and Criticism”, Velvet Light Trap, 54 (Fall 2004), p. 18.
  27. Ibid, p. 24.
  28. Ibid, p. 25.
  29. Eisenstein, Beyond the Stars, p. 578.
  30. Ibid, p. 73.
  31. Ibid, p. 73. Also see note 73, p. 806, where Eisenstein states that religion was in fact one of his best subjects at school in Riga.
  32. Sergei M. Eisenstein, Michael Glenny and Richard Taylor(Eds), Towards a Theory of Montage, Volume 11 of Selected Works (London: British Film Institute, 1991), pp 276-7.
  33. Laura Podalsky, “Patterns of the Primitive: Sergei Eisenstein’s Que Viva México!”, in John King, Ana M. Lopez and Manuel Alvarado (Eds), Mediating Two Worlds: Cinematic Encounters in the Americas (London: British Film Institution, 1993), p. 26.
  34. Podalsky, p. 25.
  35. Joanne Hershfield, “Paradise Regained, Sergei Eisenstein’s Que Viva México! as Ethnography”, Barry Keith Grant and Jeannette Sloniowski (Eds), Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998), p. 57.
  36. Hershfield, p. 66-7.
  37. Annette Michelson, “On Reading Deren’s Notebook”, October, 14 (Autumn 1980), p. 49.
  38. Rachael O. Moore, Savage Theory: Cinema as Modern Magic (London: Duke University Press, 2000), p. 8.
  39. Moore, p. 33.
  40. Nesbet, p. 151.
  41. Ibid, p. 4.
  42. Ibid, p. 18.
  43. Michelson, p. 52.
  44. Ibid, p. 53.
  45. Moore, p. 17.
  46. Michelson, p. 49.
  47. Eisenstein, “Scenario”, p. 7.
  48. As has often occurred in Mexico, a Catholic tradition has merged with pre-Columbian influences. The cult of the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe has distinct parallels with that of Tonantzin, a Mesoamerican lunar goddess whose pyramid once stood where Guadalupe now does. It is also possible that Guadalupe is a sanitized version of Coatlicue, the fearsome Aztec mother goddess. In relation to this sequence, Joanne Herschfield notes, “Eisenstein mistakenly marks the religious festival of the Fiesta of the Holy Virgin of Guadalupe” as “an annual remembrance of the Spanish conquest of Mexico” (62). However, this only occurs in the voice-over used in Alexandrov’s edit, as Eisenstein clearly notes in his synopsis that the celebrations are for the annual holiday in worship of the holy Virgin of Guadalupe. In Leyda’s footage, this mistake does not occur, as much of this footage belongs in the “Maguey” section. The Leyda footage states that much of the footage for this section is missing having been used in Thunder over Mexico. In a sequence which Leyda claims is for the “Fiesta” novella, we see a broader range of images that include those from Alexandrov’s edit. The title for this sequence says: “At the climax of the story dancers in the celebration of Corpus Christi, re-enact St James military conversion of the heathen Moors – a dance allegory of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.”
  49. The cross bearers are generally called “Nazarenes”, and in Mexico City and many other towns the ritual takes places every year. In one of the most famous sites, Iztapalapa, the Passion has been re-enacted since 1843. The Passion involves approximately 2,000 cross bearers and the thousands who come to watch.
  50. Robé, p. 25.
  51. James Clifford, “On Ethnographic Surrealism”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 23:4 (October 1981), p. 559.
  52. Derek Spring, “Stalinism –The Historical Debates”, Richard Taylor and Derek Spring (Eds), Stalinism and the Soviet Cinema (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 4-5.
  53. Eisenstein, Beyond the Stars, p. 441.
  54. Nesbet, p. I37.
  55. Jacques Aumont, translated by Lee Hildreth, Montage Eisenstein: Theories of Representation and Difference (London: British Film Institute, 1987), p. 141.
  56. Ibid, p. 143.
  57. Ibid, p. 176-7.
  58. Eisenstein, Theory of Montage, p. 296-326.
  59. Eisenstein quoted by Greg M. Smith, “Moving Explosions: Metaphors of Emotion in Sergei Eisenstein’s Writings”, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 21 (2004), p. 178.
  60. Smith, p. 306.
  61. Ibid, p. 306.
  62. Herbert Marshall, “Preface”, in Sergei Eisenstein, translated by Marshall Immoral Memories: An Autobiography of Sergei M. Eisenstein (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1983) p. xiv.
  63. Eisenstein, “Scenario”, p. 12.
  64. Billington, p. 36.
  65. Martin Lefebvre, “Eisenstein, Rhetoric and Imaginicity: Towards a Revolutionary Memoria”, Screen, 41:4 (Winter 2000), p. 349.
  66. Ibid, p. 351.
  67. Ibid, p. 349.
  68. Ibid, p. 355.
  69. Ibid, p. 366.
  70. Sergei M. Eisenstein, translated Herbert Marshall, Nonindifferent Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987) p. 173.
  71. Ibid,p.xiv.
  72. Ibid, p.174.
  73. Ibid, p.179.
  74. Eisenstein, Beyond the Stars, p. 414
  75. Eisenstein, Nonindifferent, p.178.
  76. Ibid,177.
  77. Ibid,181.
  78. Lefebvre, p. 361.
  79. Ibid, p. 366.
  80. Eisenstein, Nonindifferent, p. 181.
  81. Lefebvre, p. 366.
  82. Ibid, p. 358.
  83. Aumont, p. 143.
  84. For further discussion of the title change, see Nesbet, pp. 94-115.
  85. Eisenstein, Nonindifferent, p. 155.
  86. This article began as a conference paper entitled“Icon, Image and Transformation in Sergei Eisenstein’s Films”, Screen Aesthetics Conference, July 2007, Lighthouse Media Centre, Wolverhampton, UK. At this conference, John Paul Lewis first drew my attention to the apparent correlation between the golden backgrounds of icon painting and the stylized flat backgrounds in many of the images from ¡Que Viva México!. I would also like to thank Lutz Becker, with whom I have also discussed this relation in email correspondence. His recommendation of Bojana Pejic’s article “The Icon Effect” has been most useful.
  87. Yon Barna, Eisenstein (London: Secker & Warburg, 1966), p. 167-8.
  88. Paul Stoller, The Cinematic Griot: The Ethnography of Jean Rouch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), p. 215.
  89. Eisenstein, Beyond the Stars, p. 728.
  90. Eisenstein, Nonindifferent, p. 151.
  91. Robé, p. 26.
  92. See Sergei M. Eisenstein, translated by William Powell, “The Mistakes of Bezhin Meadow”, in Richard Taylor (Ed), Writings 1934-47, Volume 111 of Selected Works (London: British Film Institute, 1996), pp. 100-5.
  93. Nesbet, p. 154.
  94. Barna, p. 194.
  95. Leonid Kozlov, “The Artist and the Shadow of Ivan”, in Richard Taylor and Derek Spring (Eds), Stalinism and the Soviet Cinema (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 129.
  96. Billington, p. 546.
  97. Ibid, p. 544.
  98. Maya Turovskaya, “The 1930s and 1940s: Cinema in Context”, in Richard Taylor and Derek Spring (Eds), p. 47.
  99. Eisenstein, Nonindifferent, p. 209.
  100. Billington, pp. 33-4.
  101. Nora Hamerman, “Russian Icon Exhibit Gives Glimpse of ‘Beautiful Corner’”, Catholic Herald, 24 July 2003. http://www.catholicherald.com/articles/03article/icons0724.htm, accessed 8 November 2006.
  102. Betz, p. 43.

About The Author

Gabrielle Murray is a Senior Lecturer in the Cinema & Media Studies program at La Trobe University in Australia. Her research areas include screen violence, phenomenology, film and philosophy, and æsthetics. She is the author of This Wounded Cinema, This Wounded Life: Violence and Utopia in the Films of Sam Peckinpah, and has contributed chapters to the anthologies The Cinema of Australia and New Zealand and Super/Heroes.