Click topic below for commentary.

Letter to Councilman LaBonge
Real People as Fictional Characters
Female Actors, Part Two
One Culture Hero Award
Adelante Gay Pride Gala
Best Work of Fiction?
Tom of Finland: Sexual Liberator or Enslaver
Lying Writers
Review of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson
Promiscuous Thoughts
A Crime of the Heart
A Letter to Michael Silverblatt
"Have you no decency, sir?"
Political Incorrectness: Female Actors and Trojans
He Hugged Moms and Dads
What is a Girly Man?
Review of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
From Sunset Boulevard to Mulholland Drive
The Gay Mammies
A Writer Protests
Review of Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro
A Spirit Preserved in 'Amber'
The Supreme Court Case
Review of "Live from Golgotha: The Gospel According to Gore Vidal"
Review of "Lost Years: A Memoir 1945-1951" by Christopher Isherwood
Review of "Out For Good"
Review of "Hoyt Street: an Autobiography"
Review of "Sergei Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict"
Review of "Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation"
Review of "Whores for Gloria"
Muscles and Mascara
Review of "Blonde"
Brother Paul, Sister Jan, Brother Hinn, God and the Folks
Advice to the Next Generation
Sins of the Fathers
Beatin' Around the Bush

Cruise Not Gay! The Judge Has Spoken

The Horror, The Horror
LA--a Cliché?
Dominick, Mark & Orenthal
Holy Drag!
Ms. Hill & Mr. Tom
Mrs. guy Ritchie 
Supreme Court 
Tom Cruise 
New Times Article 

Click here for details.
By Ronald Bergan

Note: a version of this book review appeared in the Los Angeles Times Book Review.     

Biographer Bergan sets out to alter the view of Eisenstein as a "cold, intellectual artist," a "calculating" theorist "whose films lack humanity". (2-3) He intends, further, to throw "light on his homosexuality." (4)

Why Bergan felt that locating notable "humanity" in the director's films would elevate his art is baffling. Many great artists have been "cold," artfully calculating--Kubrick, Nabokov, Resnais, one of whose characters in "Providence" says, "Style is feeling."

Bergan largely fails in his lofty goal--fortunately, because the result is an engrossing portrait of the complex artist and a lucid examination of his work. Relying largely on Eisenstein's writings, Bergan illuminates borrowed entries with astute observations about the director's theories. He paints vivid scenes of the times, from Russia in turmoil to Hollywood by pool-side.

First he strains to detect humanity within Eisenstein's adoration of Hollywood stars--Chaplin, Garland--and in the anguished faces he depicted. Yet what dazzles in Eisenstein's films is their almost-architectural composition, and faces are a part of the intended configuration, consistent with the director's theory of "visage," typecasting.

Bergan reveals a cold Eisenstein in his life, citing aloof treatment of his platonic wife, unmentioned in his memoirs. "A small, ridiculous woman died today," was his epigraph for his mother." (348)

Bergan provides scant illumination into Eisenstein's homosexual life. He conjectures that the director must have visited homosexual clubs in Berlin, dwells on images of upraised cannons, describes homoerotic drawings, and notes shirtless men in his films.

He might have found equally substantial manifestations in the director's adoration of Judy Garland and in his gay wit. About Director Joseph Von Sternberg: "He has a predilection for well-built males. . . . even stayed at the Hercules Hotel." (160-161). Eisenstein could be hypocritical about his homosexuality. "I've not felt any such desire." (161) Still those were times when private consensual homosexual acts were punished with imprisonment.

Avoiding dizzying interpretations that Eisenstein's Freudian-influenced views invite, Bergan explores without jargon Eisenstein's theories of dialectic montage, conscious arrangement of shots so that the clash between two images creates a third impression resulting in an emotional or intellectual response. Among the masterful results of Eisenstein's "visual ideas" (254) is his "reproduction" of gun-shots by dots glistening on water. The famous, stunning sequence in "Potemkin"--the slaughter on the Odessa Steps--"against which the whole of cinema can be defined," notes Bergan (113)--was rendered so powerfully that although there was no such slaughter, purported survivors attested to its authenticity.

Bergan employs telling black humor. Claiming enormous admiration for "Potemkin," Samuel Goldwyn wondered whether the director might make a film for him--"the same kind, but rather cheaper, for Ronald Colman." (197) After finding Eisenstein's script of Dreiser's "An American Tragedy," "the most moving script I have ever read," David O. Selznick wrote to producers: "Is it too late to persuade the enthusiasts of the picture from making it?" (210)

Eisenstein cherished his power. He claimed that if he cast a fat man as Ivan the Terrible, Ivan would be remembered as fat. Yet he was challenged repeatedly by a much more powerful man, Stalin. Once, he was summoned to meet with the Russian Dictator--whose favorite movie was "The Great Waltz"--to discuss adjustments in the epic "Ivan the Terrible" to conform to revised views of Ivan as heroic. The dictator's spokesman objected to "Comrade Eisenstein's fascination with shadows . . . and Ivan's beard," offensive especially because "Ivan lifted his head too often." Wryly, Eisenstein promised: "Ivan's beard will be shorter." (343) That was not the extent of his cooperation with Stalinism.

Events in Mexico had destroyed his intended masterpiece, "Que Viva Mexico." Funds withdrawn, footage seized and scattered from Russia to Hollywood, pieces spliced into B-films, a vulnerable Eisenstein returned to turbulent Russia. Unlike other artists--some imprisoned, some executed for their views--he apologized, reversed his theories. "My subject is patriotism," (305) he declaimed, and was awarded the Stalin Prize. Still, there is evidence that Eisenstein only camouflaged his denunciation of Stalin in latter films.

In his memoirs, Eisenstein retold a Persian legend about a man who felt a calling to fulfill a great task. At a bazaar, tanners demanded he lie in filth so they could walk over him. "And the hero-to-be, saving his strength for the future, humbly lay at their feet in the filth." Later, he "attained the full mastery of his unprecedented strength and performed all the feats of unheard-of difficulty that lay before him." Expressing admiration for the humiliated man's "unheard-of self-control and sacrifice of everything, including his self-esteem" as he prepared for great achievements, Eisenstein wrote, "I have had on several occasions to stoop to . . . self-abasement." (312-313)

Finally, Bergan finds the humanity he strove to locate, found in the moving lament, and subsequent artistic triumph, of a great artist trapped within violent political crosscurrents.

Back to top 

Original material by John Rechy appears frequently on these pages.

© John Rechy, 1999-2006. All rights reserved.
Original material may not be used without author's permission. 
For questions please contact