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Sergei Eisenstein

Page history last edited by Kathryn Hansen 10 years, 11 months ago


Sergei Mikhailovich Eizenshtein
Born: January 23, 1898

Riga, Rusian Empire

  Died: February 11, 1948 (aged 50)
Moscow, Soviet Union
  Pera Atasheva (1934-1948)



Sergei Eisenstein began his life in Riga, Latvia. During his adolescence  he attended the predominantly science-oriented

institute known as Realschule.

In 1915, he moved to Petrograd, continuing his education at the Institute of Civil Engineering. A short time after 1917, he

began publishing and selling his own custom cartoons under the pseudonym "Sir Gay." A short while later, during the same year, he volunteered for the engineering corps of the Russian Military.

In the Spring of 1918, he lent his services to the Red Army, where he successfully combined his technical skill  with other

arts such as theater, philosophy, psychology, and communication. During this time he coordinated and performed in

several different productions, also lending his skills to the apparel aspect of the production.

In 1920, after a decision to pursue an artistic career, Eisenstein left the army. Shortly after this he joined the 

First Workers' Theater of Proletcult, where he quickly gained notoriety due to his innovative ideas and designs. Shortly after, in 1923, he staged a fairly successful production, which was based on Aleksandr Ostrovsky's play known as The Sage.

It was during this initial production, which featured Ostrovsky's original work segmented into a series of circus-esque transitions, that Eisenstein began to implement ideas which would also manifest themselves in his later works, such as the concept of a montage. [2]

Eisenstein's theory was that one could manipulate time and space within film to connotate new meanings. He believed this could be achieved not merely by linking images together, but through their juxtaposition. This concept can be viewed throughout scenes of his directoral debut, Strike, which was released in 1925.



Later that same year, Eisenstein filmed and released The Battleship Potemkin, which would go on to become his masterpiece. The film depicts a dramatised version of the mutiny which occurred on a Russian battleship, known as Potemkin, in 1905. One of his goals with the film, aside from experimenting with the concepts of montage, was to incite rebellion against Tsarist ideology, a task the actual crew of the ship managed to accomplish. [1]


Two years later, in 1927, Eisenstein released October: Ten Days That Shook the World, which was basically a dramatization praising the 1917 October Revolution. The film was met with national disapproval in Russia, many defining it as "unintelligible" due to its heavy use of montage experimentation. It would appear that Eisenstein was quickly becoming a victim of his own design, with the very imagery he set out to convey defining him as a proud nationalist, instead of the creative genius that he was. One example of this is when Josef Stalin ordered that all scenes depicting or referencing Leon Trotsky (a Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist theorist) be omitted from the final version of the film. Despite lack of acceptance during it's debut, many film historians regard October as an extensively eloquent experience; many consider it to be a prominent example of Eisenstein's genius and versatility. [1]


After the filming of October, Eisenstein was able to resume work on his postponed project, The General Line. The aim of this particular film was to demonstrate the advantages of collaborative labor, particularly in Russian villages. Once again, Eisenstein tried to blend creative freedom with national approval, a formula which had already failed him; and despite the efforts to appeal to his superiors, the film's surrealistic imagery and labyrinthine montages were considered innappropriate. Stalin ordered Eisenstein to make excessive changes; however, despite the filmmaker's compliance, he then released the film while Eisenstein was out of the country, possibly as a means of exerting his superiority over the unsuspecting filmmaker. Stalin's premier of the film incorporated the neutral title Old and New so as not to incite public outcry. Nonetheless, because of it's confusing juxtapositions the film was met with wide disapproval, despite Eisenstein's claims that it was simply an experiment. [2]


Undeterred by the bad reputation he had garnered in the political spectrum of his homeland, Eisenstein was met with approval from students and intellectuals alike. In May 1930, Eisenstein arrived in the United States, where he lectured at several Ivy League schools before traveling to Hollywood with hopes of conceiving a film for Paramount Productions.

Sadly, despite his concentrated efforts, his proposal for an adaption of An American Tragedy, as well as several of his own original ideas, were rejected by producers, who claimed they were too complicated for mainstream ideology. Even in America, a land which he hoped would embrace his creativity, his unique vision was outcasted. [2]


In December 1930, as Eisenstein planned to depart from America, a friend encouraged him to make a film about Mexico. While initially hesitant, he took the idea into consideration. Upon further contemplation he decided to make the suggested project one of his most daring endeavors yet. Unfortunately, the film, which had then come to be called Que Viva Mexico, was once again compromised by outside influences. Stalin, in particular, was concerned that Eisenstein had deserted his homeland, sending a telegram to Mary Sinclair (the film's producer), informing her of his worries. After notification from Sinclair, Eisenstein attempted to blame the delays on her own younger brother, Hunter, who had been sent along to act as line-producer. Sinclair was furious with his audacious excuse and ordered the film's cancellation with the final shooting left proportionately uncompleted, congruously making Stalin aware of what had transpired. Upon news of the cancellation, Stalin then told Eisenstein that the footage was sent to Moscow for editing; however, the suppressed filmmaker would never see it again for the rest of his entire life. [2]


After returning to his homeland, Eisenstein suffered a  supposed nervous breakdown as a result of the loss of Que Viva Mexico, and was committed to a mental hospital in Kislovodsk. The terms of his confinement are somewhat controversial, considering the fact that he was viewed as a traitor and possible American corroborator by many prominent officials in his own government; today many people view his imprisonment as another act of exertion made by Stalin. Nevertheless, after his release, he was offered a teaching position at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography. He subsequently married filmmaker and writer Pera Atasheva in 1934. The two would remain married until his eventual death. [1]


Subsequentially, after several failed attempts to construct a new film, Eisenstein reclaimed his cinematic and political prominence with his film Alexander Nevsky, a biopic depicting the attempted invasion of Novgorod in the 13th century by Teutonic of the Holy Roman Empire and their subsequent defeat by the Russian people. This particular film was Eisenstein's first film to feature sound.

He then went on to make a series of films dedicated to Ivan IV, depicting him as a national hero - yet another nod towards the motives of his superiors. These aforementioned films would come to be known as Ivan the Terrible parts 1 - 3; and although the first film won him the Stalin Prize, as well as widespread approval from many distinguished soviet leaders, the latter two were never released as intended. Ivan the Terrible pt. 2 was not able to garner the necessary approval from the government, and as a result was banned, while pt. 3 was completely destroyed aside from minuscule salvageable fragments.


As the unfortunate equilibrium for this misunderstood filmmaker's life had commonly dictated many times prior, he was struck with yet another plague of inconvenience during the filming of Ivan the Terrible pt. 3 when he suffered a heart attack. After a subsequent heart attack two years later, at age 50, Sergei Eisenstein left this world, hopefully finding some existential vibration that embraced his unprecedented genius without confining it to the vast manipulations of political ideology. [1]



Notable Films:








http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Eisenstein [1]

http://www.carleton.edu/curricular/MEDA/classes/media110/Severson/bio.htm [2]


Comments (2)

Sean Desilets said

at 9:21 pm on Oct 3, 2009

Something weird happened here--lots of text got lost. When I reverted, I lost one of Ian's edits. I think I restored it, but you may want to take a look, Ian.

Sean Desilets said

at 11:29 am on Sep 24, 2009

• Lots of the stuff about The General Line seems confusing. Is there something controversial about the original title, for example?
• Hard to get a sense of what Stalin didn’t like about Eisenstein
• Reliance on only two sources probably hobble the page a bit
• Do critics reject proposals?
• I think Eisenstein may have been institutionalized for political reasons

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