The Story Of The Great Soviet Director Sergei M. Eisenstein

Photo of A. J. Samuels
18 December 2016

The films of Sergei M. Eisenstein tell inspiring stories of heroism amid the violence of war and revolution. Critically acclaimed for his technical achievements and his epic portrayal of the Soviet Union, Eisenstein was a pivotal figure in world cinema.

Eisenstein was born in Latvia in the late 19th century, but his mother moved him at a very young age to St. Petersburg, where he was raised. After a short spell in the military fighting for the Red Army, to which his father was adamantly opposed, the young Eisenstein relocated to Moscow where he abandoned his previous engineering and architectural studies to pursue a career in theatre.

Eisenstein worked both as a designer and stage director, which naturally lead him to cinema. He subsequently made his first feature film Strike in 1925. Set in pre-revolutionary Russia, it tells the story of a group of brutally oppressed factory workers. Divided into six parts, the silent film interrogates the violent mistreatment of Russia’s working class, and brings attention to the idea of social and political collectivism.

Battleship Potemkin was released later the same year. The film added momentum to the young director’s burgeoning success and celebrated Eisenstein as a revolutionary figure of visual arts. Set in 1905, Potemkin chronicles the ship crew’s rebellion against their Tsarist officers.

Often described as the single most significant “propaganda film” ever made, it was also Eisenstein’s first attempt at using the editing technique of “montage”. Eisenstein concluded his silent film trio with 1927’s October: Ten Days That Shook the World, a tribute to the 1917 October Revolution. Though it did not receive the same critical and popular acclaim as its predecessors, the film truly established Eisenstein as the “Father of Montage.”

Eisenstein’s defining accomplishment was his role as a critical film theorist. His pioneering of stylistic techniques and editing methods defined came to define modern cinema. Eisenstein’s montage theory reevaluated the way in which films were being edited and transformed: from the actual filming, to the editing process, and finally the projection.

In his own work, Eisenstein introduced the technique of overlapping individual shots in a sequential fashion, instead of presenting them adjacently. He famously argued that “each sequential element [should be] perceived not next to the other, but on top of the other.”

Eisenstein’s innovative approach to the Soviet montage theory not only inspired his fellow Russian filmmakers but also filmmakers worldwide. Truly dedicated to cinema, he died of a heart attack during the making of Ivan The Terrible: Part III in 1948, at the age of 50.

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