1898-01-23

The Russian filmmaker, director, screenwriter, editor and theoretician SERGEI EISENSTEIN was born on this date (d. 1948). Eisenstein’s personal life was chaotic. He married twice in response to political pressure, but his marriages were never consummated. His unexpurgated diaries, published as Immortal Memories, are filled with accounts of his infatuations with many young men, including his assistant, Grigori Alexandrov.

Often his infatuations (as in the case of Alexandrov) were with young heterosexual men, whom he would educate and assist in their careers. His drawings, exhibited during the centenary of his birth, include many illustrations of homosexual activity.

All through his career, he betrayed his orientation. Consider the semi-nude sailors below decks in the opening scenes of The Battleship Potemkin; the high-cheeked, cute blonds in the Novgorod sequences of Alexandr Nevsky and the good looking, shirtless Mexicans in the “Maguey” sequences in Que Viva Mexico!, and it becomes obvious that he had a yen for youthful males, not to mention the outrageously gay Oprichniki banquet toward the end of Ivan the Terrible, Part II.

Here, Ivan is seen cavorting with his Stalineque iron guard. The dance of Fyodor Basmanov is key: in the scene, Fyodor does a dance in which he frequently hides his face with a woman’s mask. A bit later in the scene, the Tsar dresses his nephew, Vladimir, an effeminate young man (again, a beautiful blond), in the ruler’s robes. Ivan coaxes him into entering the chapel — and certain death from an assassin’s blade. When the Oprichniki ask Ivan what they should do with the culprit, Ivan says no harm should come to him, “for he has killed the Tsar’s worst enemy” (i.e. Ivan/Eisenstein’s homosexuality).

Despite his difficulties with censorship and other problems, Eisenstein created a remarkable legacy. His films reveal his continued commitment to experimentation in form. Nevsky, his first sound film, contains spectacular scenes, most notably the Battle on the Ice, as well as the incomparably thrilling film score of Sergei Prokofiev.