Nationality: Russian. Born: Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein in Riga, Latvia, 23 January 1898. Education: Educated in St. Petersburg and at gymnasium in Riga; Institute of Civil Engineering, St. Petersburg (studied architecture), 1914–17; studied Japanese at General Staff Academy, Moscow, 1920. Family: Married Peta Attasheva. Career: Sent for officer training, 1917; poster artist on front at Minsk, then demobilized, 1920; scenic artist, then co-director of Proletkult Theatre, Moscow, 1920; designer for Vsevolod Meyerhold's "directors' workshop," 1922; directed Stachka , 1925; made professor at State Institute for Cinema, 1926; with Grigori Alexandrov and Edouard Tisse, travelled to Hollywood, 1929; signed for Paramount, but after work on various scripts, contract broken, 1930; refused a work permit by State Department, went to Mexico to work on Que Viva Mexico! ; refused reentry permit to United States, after financier Upton Sinclair halts shooting and keeps uncut film; returned to USSR, 1932; began
Kinodnevik Glumova ( Glumov's Film Diary ) (short film inserted in production of Ostrovsky's Enough Simplicity in Every Wise Man , Proletkult Theater, Moscow) (+ sc)
Stachka ( The Strike ) (+ co-sc, ed); Bronenosets Potemkin ( The Battleship Potemkin ) (+ sc, ed)
Oktiabr ( October ; Ten Days That Shook the World ) (co-d, co-sc)
Staroe i novoe ( Old and New ) [film produced as Generalnaia linia ( The General Line ), title changed before release] (co-d, co-sc)
Romance sentimentale (co-d, sc)
Thunder over Mexico (unauthorized, produced by Sol Lesser from Que Viva Mexico! footage, seen by Eisenstein in 1947 and disowned); Death Day and Eisenstein in Mexico (also unauthorized productions by Sol Lesser from Que Viva Mexico! footage)
Aleksandr Nevskii ( Alexander Nevsky ) (+ co-sc, set des, costume des, ed)
Time in the Sun (produced by Marie Seton from Que Viva Mexico! footage); The Ferghana Canal (short documentary out of footage from abandoned feature subject on same subject) (+ sc)
shorts edited by William Kruse for Bell and Howell from Que Viva Mexico! footage: Mexico Marches ; Conquering Cross ; Idol of Hope ; Land and Freedom ; Spaniard and Indian ; Mexican Symphony (feature combining previous five titles); Zapotecan Village
Ivan Groznyi ( Ivan the Terrible, Part I ) (+ sc, set des, costume des, ed)
Ivan Groznyi II: Boyarskii zagovor ( Ivan the Terrible, Part II: The Boyars' Plot ) (+ sc) (completed 1946); Eisenstein's Mexican Project (+ sc) (unedited sequences of Que Viva Mexico! assembled by Jay Leyda)
Bezhin Lug ( Bezhin Meadow ) (+ sc) (25-minute montage of stills from original film assembled by Naum Kleiman, with music by Prokofiev)
Doktor Mabuze—Igrok (co-ed) (Russian version of Lang's Dr. Mabuse der Spieler )
Everyday (Hans Richter) (role as London policeman)
The Soviet Screen , Moscow, 1939.
The Film Sense , edited by Jay Leyda, New York, 1942.
Notes of a Film Director , Moscow, 1948.
Film Form , edited by Jay Leyda, New York, 1949.
Charlie Chaplin , Zurich, 1961.
Que Viva Mexico , London, 1951.
Drawings , Moscow, 1961.
Ivan the Terrible: A Screenplay , New York, 1962.
Sergei Eizenshtein, Izbrannye proizvedeniya (6 vols.), edited by P.M. Atasheva and others, Moscow, 1964–71.
Film Essays with a Lecture , edited by Jay Leyda, London, 1968.
Potemkin , New York, 1968.
The Battleship Potemkin , text by Andrew Sinclair, London, 1968.
Notes of a Film Director , New York, 1970.
Collected Works of Sergei Eisenstein , edited by Herbert Marshall, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1971.
The Complete Works of Sergei M. Eisenstein , edited by Marcel Martin, Guy Lecouvette, and Abraham Segal, New York, 1971.
Eisenstein: Three Films , edited by Jay Leyda, New York, 1974.
The Complete Films of Eisenstein , New York, 1974.
Immoral Memories: An Autobiography , translated by Herbert Marshall, Boston, 1983.
October and Alexander Nevsky , edited by Jay Leyda, New York, 1984.
Iz tvorcheskogo naslediya S.M. Eizenshteina , edited by L. Kozlov and N. Kleiman, Moscow, 1985.
Nonindifferent Nature , edited by Herbert Marshall, Cambridge, 1987.
Eisenstein: Selected Works, Volume 1: Writings 1922–1934 , edited by Richard Taylor, London, 1988.
S.M. Eisenstein: The Psychology of Composition , edited by A.Y. Upchurch, London, 1988.
Eisenstein: Selected Works, Volume 2: Toward a Theory of Montage , edited by Richard Taylor and Michael Glenny, London, 1991.
"Mass Movies," in Nation (New York), 9 November 1927.
"Mexican Film and Marxian Theory," in New Republic (New York), 9 December 1931.
"The Cinematographic Principle and Japanese Culture," in Experimental Cinema , no. 3, 1932.
"Through Theatre to Cinema," in Theatre Arts (New York), September 1936.
"The Mistakes of Bezhin Lug ," in International Literature (Moscow), no. 1, 1937.
"My Subject Is Patriotism," in International Literature (Moscow), no. 2, 1939.
"Charlie the Kid," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1946.
"Charlie the Grownup," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1946.
"The Birth of a Film," in Hudson Review (Nutley, New Jersey), no. 2, 1951.
"Sketches for Life," in Films and Filming (London), April 1958.
"One Path to Colour: An Autobiographical Fragment," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1961.
Interview, in Interviews with Film Directors , edited by Andrew Sarris, New York, 1967.
"La Quatrième Dimension du cinéma," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September/October 1976.
"Sergei Eisenstein, Wilhelm Reich Correspondence," edited by F. Albera, in Screen (London), vol. 22, no. 4, 1981.
"A Postcard and a Letter from S.M. Eisenstein to Renaud De Jouvenel," in Film Culture (New York), nos. 70–71, 1983.
Rotha, Paul, Ivor Montagu, and John Grierson, Eisenstein 1898–1948 , London, 1948.
Arnheim, Rudolph, Film as Art , Berkeley, California, 1957.
Leyda, Jay, Kino , London, 1960.
Mitry, Jean, S.M. Eisenstein , Paris, 1961; revised edition, 1978.
Montagu, Ivor, With Eisenstein in Hollywood , New York, 1969.
Nizhny, Vladimir, Lessons with Eisenstein , New York, 1969.
Geduld, Harry, and Ronald Gottesman, Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair: The Making and Unmaking of "Que Viva Mexico!," Bloomington, Indiana, 1970.
Moussinac, Léon, Sergei Eisenstein , New York, 1970.
Brakhage, Stan, The Brakhage Lectures , Chicago, 1972.
Mayer, D., Eisenstein's Potemkin: A Shot-by-Shot Presentation , New York, 1972.
Barna, Yon, Eisenstein , Bloomington, Indiana, 1973.
Shlovskii, V., Eizenshtein , Moscow, 1973.
Fernandez, Dominique, Eisenstein , Paris, 1975.
Swallow, N., Eisenstein: A Documentary Portrait , London, 1976; New York, 1977.
Ropars-Wuilleumier, Marie-Claire, and others, Octobre, Ecriture et idéologie , Paris, 1976.
Barthes, Roland, Image/Music/Text , New York, 1977.
Marshall, Herbert, editor, Sergei Eisenstein's "The Battleship Potemkin," New York, 1978.
Seton, Marie, Sergei M. Eisenstein , London, 1978.
Aumont, Jacques, Montage Eisenstein , Paris, 1979.
Ropars-Wuilleumier, Marie-Claire, and others, La Révolution figurée , Paris, 1979.
Thompson, Kristin, Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible, a Neoformalist Analysis , Princeton, 1981.
Leyda, Jay, and Zina Vignow, Eisenstein at Work , New York, 1982.
Marshall, Herbert, Masters of the Soviet Cinema: Crippled Creative Biographies , London, 1983.
Polan, Dana B., The Political Language of Film and the Avant-Garde , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1985.
Yurenev, R., Sergei Eizenshtein, Zamysli, Fil'my, Metod, Vol. 1: 1898–1929 , Moscow, 1985; Vol. 2: 1930–1945 , Moscow, 1988.
Aumont, Jacques, Montage Eisenstein , London, 1987.
Christie, Ian, and David Elliot, editors, Eisenstein at 90 , London, 1988.
Christie, Ian, and Richard Taylor, editors, Eisenstein Rediscovered , London, 1991.
Karetnikova, Inga, in collaboration with Leon Steinmetz, Mexico according to Eisenstein , Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1991.
Goodwin, James, Eisenstein, Cinema, and History , Urbana, Illinois, 1993.
Bordwell, David, The Cinema of Eisenstein , Cambridge, 1993.
Lövgren, Håkan, Eisenstein's Labyrinth: Aspects of a Cinematic Synthesis of the Arts , Stockholm, 1996.
Law, Alma, and Mel Gordon, Meyerhold, Eisenstein, and Biomechanics: Actor Training in Revolutionary Russia , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1996.
Wilson, Edmund, "Eisenstein in Hollywood," in New Republic (New York), 4 November 1931.
Montagu, Ivor, "Sergei Eisenstein," in Penguin Film Review (London), September 1948.
Seton, Marie, "Eisenstein's Images and Mexican Art," in Sight and Sound (London), September 1953.
Harrah, D., "Aesthetics of the Film: The Pudovkin-Arnheim-Eisenstein Theory," in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism , December 1954.
Knight, Arthur, "Eisenstein and the Mass Epic," in The Liveliest Art , New York, 1957.
Sadoul, Georges, "Entretiens sur Eisenstein," in Cinéma (Paris), 1960.
Leyda, Jay, "Care of the Past," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1961/62.
Leyda, Jay, "Missing Reel," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1965.
Yourenev, Rostislav, "Eisenstein," in Anthologie du Cinéma , Paris, 1966.
Siegler, R., "Masquage, an Extrapolation of Eisenstein's Theory of Montage-as-Conflict to the Multi-Image Film," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley, California), Spring 1968.
Wollen, Peter, "Eisenstein: Cinema and the Avant-Garde," in Art International (Lugano), November 1968.
Henderson, Brian, "Two Types of Film Theory," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1971.
Pleynet, M., "The 'Left' Front of Art: Eisenstein and the Old 'Young' Hegelians," in Screen (London), Spring 1972.
Kuleshov, Lev, "Kuleshov, Eisenstein, and the Others," in Film Journal (New York), Fall/Winter 1972.
Levaco, R., "The Eisenstein-Prokoviev Correspondence," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Fall 1973.
Seydor, P., "Eisenstein's Aesthetics: A Dissenting View," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1973/74.
"Eisenstein Issue" of Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 89–90, 1974.
Barthes, Roland, "Diderot, Brecht, Eisenstein," in Screen (London), Summer 1974.
Bordwell, David, "Eisenstein's Epistemological Shift," in Screen (London), Winter 1974/75 (see also Bordwell letter in Screen , Spring 1975).
Perlmutter, R., "Le Gai Savoir: Godard and Eisenstein: Notions of Intellectual Cinema," in Jump Cut (Berkeley, California), May/July 1975.
"Eisenstein Issue" of Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Fall 1977.
Gallez, D.W., "The Prokoviev-Eisenstein Collaboration," in Cinema Journal (Evanston, Illinois), Spring 1978.
Goodwin, J., "Eisenstein: Ideology and Intellectual Cinema," and H. Marshall, "A Note on Eisenstein's Shot Montage . . . ," in Quarterly Review of Film Studies (Pleasantville, New York), Spring 1978.
Burch, Noel, "Film's Institutional Mode of Representation and the Soviet Response," in October (Cambridge, Massachusetts), Winter 1979.
Gutiérrez Alea, T., "Alienation and De-Alienation in Eisenstein and Brecht," in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), July/August 1981.
Goodwin, J., "Plusiers Eisenstein: Recent Criticism," in Quarterly Review of Film Studies (New York), Fall 1981.
Selden, D.L., "Vision and Violence: The Rhetoric of Potemkin ," in Quarterly Review of Film Studies (New York), Fall 1982.
" Alexander Nevsky Section" of Film Culture (New York), no. 70–71, 1983.
Perry, T., "Sergei Eisenstein: A Career in Pictures," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), January/February 1983.
Bordwell, David, "Narrative and Scenography in the Later Eisenstein," in Millenium Film Journal (New York), Fall 1983-Winter 1984.
Hogenkamp, Bert, "De russen komen! Poedowkin, Eisenstein en Wertow in Nederland," in Skrien (Amsterdam), November/December 1985.
Taylor, Richard, "Eisenstein: 1898–1948-1988," in Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and TV (Abingdon, Oxon), Summer 1988.
Christie, Ian, "Eisenstein at 90," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1988.
"Eisenstein Lives," in National Film Theatre Booklet (London), September, October, and December 1988.
Aslem, Henk, Eisenstein in Nederland (Eisenstein in Holland) , Holland, 1930.
Attasheva, Pera (directed and scripted by), In Memory of Eisenstein , USSR.
Seton, Marie, and John Minchinton, Eisenstein Survey , Great Britain, 1952.
Katanyan, V., S.M. Eisenstein (Sergei Eisenstein Film Biography) , USSR, 1958.
Eisenstein Directs Ivan (derived from previous film), Great Britain, 1969.
Hudsmith, Philip, Eisenstein in Mexico , Canada, 1977.
Eisenstein, S., "Le 'Metamorfosi' di Walt Disney," in Filmcritica (Italy), vol. 36, no. 359–360, November-December 1985.
Bulgakawa, O., "Eisenstein und die Deutschen Psychologen," in Beiträge zur Film- und Fernsehwissenschaft (Potsdam), vol. 29, no. 32, 1988.
Klegman, J., and others, "Kino totalitarnoj epohi," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), vol. 2, February 1990.
Ropars, M.-C., "Relire Eisenstein: Le montage en expansion et la penseé dehors," in Filmcritica (Italy),vol. 41, n. 410, December 1990.
Almendros, N., "Fortune and Men's Eyes," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 27, no. 4, July-August 1991.
Taylor, G.T., "'The Cognitive Instrument in the Service of Revolutionary Change': Sergei Eisenstein, Annette Michelson, and the Avant-Garde's Scholarly Aspiration," in Cinema Journal (Austin, Texas), vol. 31, no. 4, Summer 1992.
Kepley, V., Jr., "Eisenstein as Pedagogue," in Quarterly Review of Film and Video (Reading), vol. 14, no. 4, August 1993.
* * *
Sergei Eisenstein is generally considered to be one of the most important figures—perhaps the most important figure—in the history of cinema. But he was not only the leading director and theorist of Soviet cinema in his own lifetime, he was also a theatre and opera director, scriptwriter, graphic artist, teacher, and critic. His contemporaries called him quite simply "the Master."
Eisenstein's reputation as a filmmaker rests on only seven completed feature films, but among them The Battleship Potemkin has consistently been regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. The pivotal scene in the film—the massacre on the Odessa Steps—has become the most famous sequence in film history and a paradigm of the montage techniques that were central to Eisenstein's theories of filmmaking.
Like many early Soviet filmmakers, Eisenstein came to cinema by a circuitous route. Born in Riga, then a largely German-speaking provincial city of the Russian Empire, he saw his first film on a visit to Paris with his parents when he was only eight: Les 400 farces du diable by Méliès. He was educated at a technical grammar school so that he would follow his father's career as an engineer. Despite, or perhaps because of, his artistic bent, he was consistently given low marks at school for his drawing. Conversely, he consistently did his best in the subject of religious knowledge. In 1909 his parents separated and his mother went to live in St. Petersburg. On various visits to her, Eisenstein was entranced by his first taste of the circus and intrigued by his clandestine reading of her copies of Venus in Furs by Sacher-Masoch and Mirabeau's The Torture Garden. Reflections of this can be detected in his later work.
In 1915 Eisenstein entered the Institute for Civil Engineering in Petrograd, where he saw his first Meyerhold productions in the theatre. After the Revolution he abandoned his courses and joined the Red Army. He was assigned to a theatrical troupe, where he worked as a director, designer, and actor. In 1920 he was demobilised to Moscow and rapidly became head of design at the First Proletkult Workers Theatre. His first sets were for a production of The Mexican , written by Jack London, Lenin's favourite writer. In 1921 he joined Meyerhold's theatre workshop (he was later to describe Meyerhold as his "spiritual father") and worked on designs for Puss in Boots. Eisenstein's first stage production, a version of Ostrovsky's Enough Simplicity for Every Wise Man in 1923, included his first venture into cinema, Glumov's Diary. This was inspired by the use of a short film in the Kozintsev and Trauberg production of Gogol's The Wedding , which he had seen the year before. His production of Tretyakov's Gas Masks in 1924 staged in the Moscow gasworks was an attempt to bridge the gap between stage "realism" and the reality of everyday life. It failed and, as Eisenstein himself put it, he "fell into cinema."
Eisenstein had already worked with Esfir Shub re-editing Fritz Lang's Dr Mabuse for Soviet audiences in 1923, but he made his first full-length film— The Strike , set in 1905—in 1925. In this film he applied to cinema the theory of the "montage of attractions" that he had first developed in Enough Simplicity for Every Wise Man. Eisenstein was not the first to develop the notion of montage as the essence of cinema specificity: that honour belonged to Lev Kuleshov in 1917. Unlike Kuleshov, however, Eisenstein thought that montage depended on a conflict between different elements from which a new synthesis would arise. This notion developed partly from his study of Japanese ideograms and partly from his own partial understanding of the Marxist dialectic. It followed from the primacy accorded to montage in this theory that the actor's role was diminished while the director's was enhanced. Eisenstein's view of the primacy of the director was to cause him serious problems on both sides of the Atlantic.
In his silent films Eisenstein used amateur actors who were the right physical types for the part, a practice he called "typage": hence an unknown worker, Nikandrov, played the role of Lenin in October , released in 1927. Most of the parts in his second full-length film, The Battleship Potemkin , released in 1926, were played by amateurs. Even the local actors who appeared in the Odessa Steps sequence were chosen not for their professional training, but because they looked right for the parts. It was Potemkin that secured Eisenstein's reputation both at home and abroad, especially in Germany, where it was a spectacular commercial success and attracted far greater audiences than in the USSR itself. Potemkin put Soviet cinema on the world map.
After Potemkin Eisenstein started work on a film about collectivisation, The General Line , but broke off to make October for the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. It was with this film that his serious problems with the authorities began. Critics were divided about the film. Some enthused about the birth of a new "intellectual cinema," based on "intellectual montage," which, like Brecht's "alienation effect," stimulated audiences to think rather than to react solely with their emotions. Other critics were troubled by what they saw as an overabundance of abstract symbolism that was, in the (officially inspired) catch-phrase of the times, "unintelligible to the millions."
When Eisenstein returned to The General Line and completed it in 1929, the Party's general line on agriculture had changed and Trotsky had fallen from grace: the film therefore had to be re-edited to reflect these developments, and it was finally released under the title of The Old and the New. The political problems Eisenstein encountered with this project were to recur in all his subsequent film work in the Soviet Union.
In 1929 Eisenstein went abroad with his assistants Alexandrov and Tisse, ostensibly to study the new medium of sound film. In his "Statement on Sound," published in the summer of 1928, he had warned against the dangers of purely illustrative sound, as in the "talkies," and argued for the application of the techniques of the montage of attractions to produce what he called "orchestral counterpoint." It was to be another ten years before he had the chance to put these ideas into effect.
Eisenstein first visited Western Europe and then travelled to Hollywood to work for Paramount. From the outset he was subjected to a hostile press campaign characterising him as a "red dog" and a Bolshevik. After rejecting several of his film projects, Paramount cancelled his contract. He went on to start filming Que Viva Mexico! with funds provided by the socialist millionaire novelist Upton Sinclair. Eisenstein spent most of 1931 working on the film, but Sinclair was not satisfied either with the pace of progress or the escalating cost. Material for three-quarters of the Mexican film had, however, been shot when the project collapsed in acrimonious exchanges. Eisenstein returned to the Soviet Union in May 1932. He had accepted assurances from Sinclair that the raw footage would be shipped to Moscow so that he could edit it, but this assurance was never honoured.
The Soviet Union that Eisenstein returned to was significantly different from the country he had left three years earlier. The political and economic changes associated with the first Five-Year Plan had led to concomitant changes in Soviet cinema, which was now run by an Old Bolshevik, Boris Shumyatsky, who was determined to create a "cinema for the millions." After several abortive projects, including Moscow , a history of the capital, The Black Consul , which would have starred Paul Robeson, and a film version of Karl Marx's Das Kapital , Eisenstein began making his first sound feature, Bezhin Meadow , in 1935. The film focused on the generational conflict engendered by the collectivisation programme, but it too was dogged with problems and was eventually stopped on the orders of Shumyatsky in March 1937. Eisenstein was forced to confess his alleged errors in public. This submission, together with the dismissal of Shumyatsky in January 1938, enabled him to start filming again.
The result was Eisenstein's most popular film, Alexander Nevsky , made in record time and released in 1938, but it was also the film that he regarded as his least successful. Nevertheless, it contains the best, and most famous, illustration of his technique of "orchestral counterpoint" in the sequence of the Battle on the Ice. On the other hand, Nevsky to some extent gave Eisenstein the reputation of "court filmmaker," particularly after he was awarded the Order of Lenin. It was because of this that, after the signature of the Nazi-Soviet Pact—and the subsequent withdrawal of Nevsky from distribution—Eisenstein was asked to direct a new production of Wagner's Die Walküre at the Bolshoi Theatre.
When not filming, Eisenstein taught at the State Institute of Cinema, where he had been head of the directing department since his return to the Soviet Union and where he was made professor in January 1937, shortly before the final crisis with Bezhin Meadow. He also devoted an increasing amount of time and energy to his theoretical writings, but his magnum opus on Direction , like his other works on Mise-en-Scène and the theory of montage, remained unfinished at his death.
Eisenstein's last film, arguably his masterpiece of masterpieces, was also unfinished: filming of the first part of Ivan the Terrible was begun in 1943 in Alma-Ata, where the Moscow studios had been evacuated because of the war, and released in 1945. The film was an instant success and earned Eisenstein and his associates the Stalin Prize. While celebrating this award in February 1946, Eisenstein suffered a heart attack, a development that encouraged his premonitions of an early death at the age of fifty. He threw himself into a flurry of frenzied activity, completing his memoirs and Part 2 of Ivan and starting on Part 3. In Part 2, however, the historical parallels between Ivan and Stalin became too obvious and, although completed, the film was not shown until 1958.
Eisenstein died of a second, massive heart attack in February 1948, just past his fiftieth birthday. He died very much under a cloud in his own country, but has since been universally acknowledged as one of cinema's greatest creative geniuses and a towering figure in the culture of the twentieth century. Some of his most important theoretical texts are only now being properly assembled and published, both in the Soviet Union and abroad.