Creator: Sergei Eisenstein
"Now why should the cinema follow the forms of theater and painting rather than the methodology of language, which allows wholly new concepts of ideas to arise from the combination of two concrete denotations of two concrete objects?"
was an acclaimed Soviet director, who pioneered the theory and use of montages in film making (the montage in this case being defined by Sergei as "montage is an idea that arises from the collision of independent shots," and where "each sequential element is perceived not next to the other, but on top of the other."). In the 1920s, he was a global icon, at one point considered the most photographed director in the world and was regarded as one of the greatest artists of all time.
Eisenstein was born in Riga, Latvia to a middle-class family and enjoyed a highly pampered upbringing. However he suffered greatly under an abusive father. As a student, Eisenstein joined the Red Army during the Revolution while his father served on the other side. Eisenstein initially worked in the theatre in Moscow, being especially influenced by the likes of Vsevolod Meyerhold, Vladimir Maiakovsky and Andrei Bely. But Eisenstein was already fascinated with the potential of cinema as an artform. He would develop his theories on montage and acting for film in his writings as a critic. He also gained practice by editing films for Russian release, being fascinated with Fritz Lang
's Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler
which he cut for local release partly to understand how it was edited. Eisenstein's first film was Strike
and already it showed his famous montage approach, his use of visual metaphors and his subversion of conventional narrative features such as a single hero driving the action, instead he emphasized collective will.
His next film was The Battleship Potemkin
which was a global success. This film played virtually in every country in the world and made Eisenstein into an overnight success and a virtual household name. The use of montage, the famous scene of the "Odessa Steps" enthralled audiences everywhere, even in the capitalist west where several Hollywood film-makers were fascinated with the film. The film's class content made it potentially dangerous in some countries where the state tried to suppress the film (and later the Soviet Union also made steps to shelve it). Eisenstein's follow-up films October
and the more obscure The General Line
also gained attention.
Eisenstein's fame and influence was such that he was invited to Hollywood. During this tour he met Walt Disney
and Charlie Chaplin
who he befriended. Eisenstein tried to make several scripts in Hollywood, including Sutter's Gold
and an adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy
(which was eventually made into an underrated film by Josef von Sternberg
) but his content was seen as too political and nascent anti-Communist pressures eventually forced studios to end their brief association. Eisenstein then accepted an offer by author Upton Sinclair to make a film on Mexico. To this end he visited Mexico with his crew and began filming there. However it suffered from Troubled Production
. Sinclair was also appalled when Eisenstein was caught at customs with erotic drawings as well as the fact that Eisenstein was engaged in affairs with Mexican men. After this, Eisenstein had to return home and shortly after he entered into a marriage of convenience so as to hide his homosexuality since it was taboo in the Soviet Union.
Eisenstein's career kept facing further misfortune. His next film Bezhin Meadow
was cancelled mid-production, his Alexander Nevsky
was a state production made before the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Upon completion, the Pact was revealed and Eisenstein was again disgraced with another film he could not release. When World War II began, Stalin commanded the film release's as a readymade propaganda film. Eisenstein then pitched an ambitious trilogy on the life of Ivan the Terrible
who Stalin had great admiration for. Part I was released to great success, however Part II was shelved and the third part was axed in the middle of production. Eisenstein died in 1948.
In the post-war era, after De-Stalinization, artists in the Soviet Union and the West regarded Eisenstein with a mixture of admiration, skepticism and reproach. Many regarded him as a willing enabler of Stalin's regime, perfectly content in his privilege as a State Artist of high honour which he did not use to protect or help the other artists persecuted during The Purge
(including friends and mentors like Meyerhold and Isaac Babel). Others felt that Eisenstein's films are only valuable in terms of formal innovation but are marred by its propaganda content which they felt was ultimately a caricature and not human. Supporters argue that Eisenstein's films were considerably more personal (especially the suppressed Part II of Ivan the Terrible) than believed and that ultimately the propaganda element is not really as dominant as believed. Despite this, his films and influence lives on.
Many animators, most notably Walt Disney
, Hugh Harman
and Shamus Culhane
were heavily influenced by his work. Eisenstein himself was an animation fan
and one of the first to recognize its potentials - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
was his favorite movie. Filmography