Wednesday, 2 March 2011

J.V. Stalin: The Discussion with Sergei Eisenstein on the Film Ivan the Terrible

One of the consequence of the anti-Stalin campaign initiated by the CPSU in 1953 has been that a number of facets of Stalin's interventions on cultural questions are virtually unknown in the Communist movement. It is a telling commentary on this state of affairs that Paresh Dhar in his review of Asok Chattopadhyaya's book Martiya Chirayat Bhabana - Silpa Sahitya Prasanga (in Bengali) can write that 'what is most striking is that by a special research work, Asok has unveiled Stalin's numerous involvements with art and literature of which we never heard before', (Frontier, May 24th, 1997).

This discussion took place between Stalin, Zhdanov and Molotov from the political leadership of the CPSU(b), and S.M, Eisenstein and N. Cherkasov at the end of February, 1947. It was an integral part of the attempt by the Bolshevik party in the post-war period to raise the artistic level of Soviet culture and to eliminate weaknesses in ideological and political content.1 Prior to the discussion the Central Committee of the CPSU(b) had on September 4th, 1946 taken a decision on the film Glowing life. Parts of the decision which bear on Ivan the Terrible are cited here:

'The fact of the matter is that many of our leading cinema workers - producers, directors and scenario writers - are taking a lighthearted and irresponsible attitude to their duties and are not working conscientiously on the films they produce. The chief defect in their work is failure to study subject matter... Producer Eisenstein betrayed ignorance of historical facts in the second series of Ivan Grozny, depicting Ivan Grozny's progressive army, the oprichniki, as a gang of degenerates reminiscent of the American Ku Klux Klan. Ivan Grozny, a man of strong will and character, is shown as a spineless weakling, as a Hamlet type...

'One of the fundamental reasons for the production of worthless films is the lack of knowledge of subject matter and the lighthearted attitude of scenario writers and producers to their work.

'The Central Committee finds that the Ministry of Cinematography, and primarily its head, Comrade Bolshakov, exercises inadequate supervision over film studios, producers and scenario writers, is doing too little to improve the quality of films and is spending large sums of money to no useful purpose. Leading officials of the Ministry of Cinematography take an irresponsible attitude to the work entrusted to them and are indifferent to the ideological and political content and artistic merits of the films being produced.

'The Central Committee is of the opinion that the work of the Ministry's Art Council is incorrectly organized. The council does not ensure impartial and

business-like criticism of films for production. It often takes an apolitical attitude in its judgement of film and pays little attention to their idea-content. Many of its members display lack of principle in their assessment of films, their judgment being based on personal, friendly relations with the producers. The absence of criticism in the cinema and the prevalent narrow-circle atmosphere are among the chief reasons for the production of poor films.

'Art workers must realise that those who continue to take an irresponsible, lighthearted attitude to their work, may well find themselves superfluous and outside the ranks of progressive Soviet art, for the cultural requirements and demands of the Soviet theatregoer have developed and the Party and Government will continue to cultivate among the people good taste and encourage exacting demands on works of art.' (Decisions of the Central Committee, C.P.S.U.(b) On Literature and Art (]946-1948), Moscow, 1951, pp. 26-28.)

1. An earlier criticism of the films of Eisenstein (Strike, The Battleship Potemkin, October, and The General Line) was published in 1931: I. Anissimov, 'The Films of Eisenstein'. This has been reprinted in Bulletin International, 64-67, April-July 1983, pp. 74-91. (In French).



We were summoned to the Kremlin at about 11 o'clock [In the evening - Ed.]. At 10.50 we reached the reception. Exactly at 11 o'clock Poskrebyshev came out to escort us to the cabinet.

At the back of the room were Stalin, Molotov and Zhdanov.

We entered, exchanged greetings and sat around the table.

Stalin. You wrote a letter. The answer got delayed a little. We are meeting late. I first thought of giving a written answer but then I decided that talking will be better. As I am very busy and have no time I decided to meet you here after a long interval. I received your letter in November.

Zhdanov. You received it while stilI in Sochi.

Stalin. Yes, yes. In Sochi. What have you decided to do with the film?

We are saying that we have divided the second part of the film into two sections, because of which the Livonsky March has not been included. As a result there is a disproportion between the different parts of the film. So it is necessary to correct the film by editing the existing material and to shoot mainly the Livonsky march.

Stalin. Have you studied History?

Eisenstein. More or less.

Stalin. More or less? I am also a little familiar with history. You have shown the oprichnina incorrectly. The oprichnina was the army of the king. It was different from the feudal army which could remove its banner and leave the battleground at any moment - the regular army, the progressive army was formed. You have shown this oprichnina to be like the Ku-Klux-Klan.

Eisenstein said that they wear white cowls but we have black ones.

Molotov. This does not make a major difference. ...

No comments: