Sergei Eisenstein

From New World Encyclopedia

Sergei Eisenstein
Sergei Eisenstein 03.jpg
Russian Film director / Theorist
"The profession of film director can and should be such a high and precious one; that no man aspiring to it can disregard any knowledge that will make him a better film director or human being."
Born January 23, 1898
Riga, Latvia, Russian Empire
Died February 11, 1948
Moscow, Soviet Union

Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (Russian: Сергей Михайлович Эйзенштейн, Latvian: Sergejs Eizenšteins) (January 23, 1898 – February 11, 1948) was a revolutionary Soviet theatrical scenic designer-turned-film director and film theorist. He is noted in particular for his silent films Strike and Oktober, and most especially for what is generally regarded as his masterwork, Battleship Potemkin, films that vastly influenced early documentary and narrative directors owing to his innovative use of montage.

At times, he was lionized for his film direction and his theories, but his star has waxed and waned over the years, and the merit of his films and the value of his theories and techniques have been sometimes praised and sometimes questioned or even condemned. But numerous factors—his rich biography, his complex philosophy of film-making and film editing, his teaching work, and his linking of cinema to widely varied interests and doctrines—continue to make him notable and memorable.

Early years

Eisenstein, was born in Riga, Latvia, to a prosperous family. His father, Mikhail Eisenstein, was an engineer of German Jewish descent; his mother, Julia, was an ethnic Russian. As a boy he learned not only his native Russian, but also German, French, and English. He was fascinated by theater and the circus; read avidly and widely, and delighted in drawing sketches and caricatures. He continued those activities throughout most of his life. When he was eleven, his mother left the household and three years later his parents divorced. Later on, he claimed that his interest in social protest was initiated by observing his father's despotic rule.

His studies at the Institute of Civil Engineering—he intended to follow in his father's profession—were interrupted for military service in 1917. While still a member of the Red Army after the Bolshevik seizure of power, he took part in many theater productions and was eventually assigned to organizing productions and ensembles himself. He left the army in 1920, returned to Moscow, studied Japanese, and worked with the Proletkult (Proletarian Cultural Movement) theater. Soon he became its co-director, working on more than twenty productions, and became the most noteworthy theater director in the Soviet Union. Proletkult was dedicated to developing a distinctly proletarian theater and art to replace that of the bourgeoisie. Soviet artists of the time, including Eisenstein and his associates, took it for granted that art should serve political ends.

Eisenstein's theory of montage

Central to Eisenstein's film work and film theory is the idea of montage. While still a theater director he wrote a manifesto, "Montage of Attractions," for Lef, the literary journal for the Left Front of the Arts, rejecting the idea that dialogue is the dominant element in theater and claiming instead that all the elements, or "attractions"—set design, lighting, costumes, sound, movements of actors—functioned on equal terms and formed a fusion, or montage, that made the entire work.

Montage in film, as Eisenstein understood it, means that a film should be constructed not in narrative fashion but from brief segments that serve to reinforce and counterpoint one another—what someone once called, derisively, "chop, chop, chop" editing. Montage theory holds that meaning arises from the interplay of elements, so that quite different types of scenes can be intercut to work towards a larger meaning. The sum is supposed to be greater than its parts. As in the Marxist theory of dialectic, where thesis and antithesis collide to produce something new, the juxtaposition of shots and "attractions" in montage is supposed to create new meaning. Instead of film editing as a smooth linkage of scenes, according to montage theory the interplay and synthesis of these colliding, different, and even contradictory shots was supposed to shock the audience into new recognitions. Eisenstein performed long research into this area, and developed what he called Intellectual montage. His published books, The Film Form and The Film Sense, explain his theories of montage, and they have been influential to some directors.

Eisenstein's films were didactic, but Professor David Bordwell, author of The Cinema of Eisenstein, has stated, "He saw no contradiction between creating propaganda and achieving powerful aesthetic effects." He sought to "stir proletarian consciousness," to "meld the imperatives of heroic realism with avant-garde experimentation," to "romanticize revolutionary action," and to "extract compositional methods from diverse traditions and turn them to immediate ends."

Some Eisenstein films

In the spring of 1924, Eisenstein proposed that Proletkult undertake a series of films portraying the Russian revolutionary movements before 1917. Working with cameraman Eduard Tisse, a Latvian newsreel photographer who would go on to be the cameraman on all his films, Eisenstein took on the making of Strike, the fifth film in the series. In Strike there is restlessness and planning for a strike in a factory during Czarist rule. Spies and external agents are brought in by management. A worker hangs himself after being falsely accused of stealing, and this leads to a strike. At first there is excitement and joy in workers' households, but as the strike continues and management rejects the workers' demands, hunger and distress mount. Eventually the military arrives to break up the strike. Those details, however, are not the main importance of the film—it is the startling images and their juxtaposition through montage. In fact, nearly every shot in every Eisenstein film is stunning; they would make remarkable still photographs. Strike used montage to compare and contrast the workers with the bosses and the police informants. In the end, however, Strike is something of a structural mess. Too many things are put into the film simply because they are visually compelling or ideologically "correct." Moreover, all the characters are caricatures—something that would be true in every Eisenstein Film. The film was startling and unusual enough that most ordinary workers were likely mystified by it.

In 1925, Eisenstein made his second and probably his greatest film: Battleship Potemkin. This concerns a mutiny carried out by sailors on board the Russian warship, Prince Potemkin in the Black Sea fleet off Odessa. The central sequence of this film is the Odessa Steps massacre of citizens by the czar's troops. Potemkin is a more unified and successful film than Strike. Here revolutionary fervor spreads from the sailors to the people of Odessa to a navy fleet, which allows the mutineer's ship pass in a chorus of "Brothers!" The ship's officers are portrayed by Eisenstein as rapaciously repressive, the czarist troops as relentlessly brutal, and the citizens of Odessa as ordinary people caught up in an event of momentous importance. Here the montage works: Scene after scene of shocking "attractions" build up to arouse strong emotions, including the wormy meat fed to the sailors, the attempted execution of sailors covered by a tarpaulin (the sailors who are given the order to fire on their fellow-sailors refuse and put down their rifles), a vigil over the slain sailor, Vakulinchuk, and especially the slaughter on the Odessa Steps. The highlight of that sequence is a baby carriage with a child in it bouncing unattended down the steps during the slaughter. This was a horror not previously seen in any film and it immediately became famous, probably the most famous image from Eisenstein's career and one of the most famous in film history. (It has been copied and parodied in numerous subsequent films.)

After its release in 1926, Potemkin became the best known and most influential montage film ever.

In 1927, Eisenstein and his collaborator Grigori Alexandrov began working on The General Line (also known as Old and New), about rural life and the collectivization of Soviet agriculture. The notable feature here was Eisenstein's use of complex photographic effects achieved by Tisse, as well as a new structural approach that Eisenstein called "overtonal" montage. This was organization of lesser or subsidiary aspects of the composition in order to augment or undercut the main part of the imagery.

The finish and release of Old and New was delayed to 1929, however, because early in 1927, Eisenstein and his collaborators were commissioned to make a film on the 1917 revolution, entitled October (also known asTen Days That Shook the World). This film was made hurriedly and underwent many revisions because of conflicts both within the Soviet leadership and in the views of Soviet authorities about the role of art and how it should be made. October recreated the October revolution and the storming of the Winter Palace, contrasting the pusillanimity of Alexander Kerensky and his underlings with the vigor of the revolutionaries. This film garnered a great deal of criticism within the Soviet Union and was denounced as being too formalistic and incomprehensible to the masses.

Conflict with Soviet officials

Eisenstein's vision of Communism brought him into conflict with officials in the ruling regime of Joseph Stalin; frequent attacks on him and then subsequent rehabilitation would be a repeated pattern throughout Eisenstein's life. Like a great many other Bolshevik artists, Eisenstein envisioned the new society as one which would subsidize the artist totally, freeing him from the confines of bosses and budgets, thus leaving him absolutely free to create. Yet, budgets and producers were as much a part of the Soviet film industry as the rest of the world, as were intervention and criticism and control by producers and overseers. Furthermore, Eisenstein's experimental films, while often successful critically abroad, were not terribly interesting to Soviet film audiences, who wanted action films with more comprehensible stories. The average Soviet simply wanted a version of The Mark of Zorro or Metropolis with the hero a Communist and the villain a capitalist.

Additionally, as Stalinism infiltrated Soviet film criticism and film theory during the mid to late 1920s, the Soviet films were required to be in the form of socialist realism—a highly propagandized script filmed simply and literally by the director; the scenarist was to be considered the auteur.

Eisenstein's popularity and influence in his own land thus waxed and waned with the success of his films and the passage of time. Battleship Potemkin was a critical hit worldwide and popular in the Soviet Union. But it was mostly his international critical renown which enabled Eisenstein to direct The General Line (also known as Old and New), and then October (also known as Ten Days That Shook The World). The critics of the outside world praised them, but at home, Eisenstein's focus in these films on structural issues such as camera angles, crowd movements, and montage, brought him under fire within the Soviet film community—along with like-minded directors, such as Pudovkin and Dovzhenko—forcing him to issue public articles of self-criticism and commitments to reform his cinematic visions to conform to socialist realism's increasingly specific doctrines.

Europe and Hollywood

In the Fall of 1928, with October still under fire in many Soviet quarters, Eisenstein left the Soviet Union for a tour of Europe, accompanied by his perennial film collaborators Grigori Aleksandrov and cinematographer Tisse. Officially, the trip was supposed to allow Eisenstein and company to learn about sound motion pictures and to present the famous Soviet artists, in person, to the Capitalist West. For Eisenstein, it was also an opportunity to see landscapes and cultures outside those found within the Soviet Union. He spent the next two years touring and lecturing in Berlin, Zurich, London, and Paris where, in late April, 1930, he was approached by Jesse L. Lasky on behalf of Paramount Pictures to make a film in the United States. He accepted a short-term contract for $100,000 and arrived in Hollywood in May, 1930.

Unfortunately, this arrangement failed. Eisenstein's idiosyncratic and artistic approach to cinema was incompatible with the approach of American studios. Eisenstein proposed a biography of munitions tycoon Sir Basil Zharov and a film version of Arms And The Man by George Bernard Shaw, and more fully developed plans for a film of Sutter's Gold by Jack London, but on all accounts failed to impress the studio's producers. Paramount briefly suggested a film of The War Of The Worlds by H. G. Wells, and finally settled on a movie version on Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. This enthused Eisenstein, who had read and liked the work, and had met Dreiser at one time in Moscow. Eisenstein completed a scenario by the start of October, 1930, with his two associates and the British author Ivor Montagu; but Paramount disliked it completely. Seventeen days later, by mutual agreement, Paramount and Eisenstein declared their contract null and void, and the Eisenstein party was treated to return tickets to Moscow at Paramount's expense.

Eisenstein was faced with returning home in failure: He had failed to conquer Hollywood as an artist; the Soviets were solving the sound-film issue without him, and his films, techniques, and theories were becoming increasingly attacked as ideological failures and prime examples of formalism at its worst by the Stalinists who increasingly controlled the Soviet film industry.

The Que Viva Mexico! debacle

At the last minute Charlie Chaplin arranged for Eisenstein to meet with a benefactor: The American Socialist author Upton Sinclair. Eisenstein and Sinclair both knew and admired each other’s work, and Sinclair looked forward to the opportunity to assist the artist. He secured an extension of Eisenstein's, Aleksandrov's, and Tisse's absences from the USSR, and permission for them to travel to Mexico to make a film to be produced by Sinclair and his wife, Mary Craig Kimbrough Sinclair, and three other investors organized as the Mexican Film Trust.

On November 24, 1930, Eisenstein signed a contract with the Trust to make a film in Mexico. The contract stipulated that the film would be non-political, that immediately available funding was to come from Mrs. Sinclair in an amount of at least twenty five thousand dollars, and that the shooting schedule would be from three to four months. Eisenstein agreed that all pictures made or directed by him in Mexico, all negative film and positive prints, and all story and ideas embodied in the Mexican picture, would be the property of Mrs. Sinclair. A codicil, dated December 1, allowed the Soviet Government to have the finished film free for showing inside the U.S.S.R. Verbally, it was clarified that the expectation was for a finished film of about an hour's duration.

By the December 4, 1930, Eisenstein, Alksandrov, and Tisse were en route to Mexico by train. Preceding them was Mary Sinclair's younger brother, Hunter Kimbrough, a young banker with no prior involvement in the motion picture industry, much less production, sent along to act as a line producer.

But Eisenstein's foray into Mexico became a complete fiasco. Mexico, then a right-wing dictatorship with no diplomatic ties to the Soviet Union, insisted on censorship rights over all footage shot as a condition of admitting the Soviet filmmakers to Mexico, so every reel of negative was sent back to Los Angeles for development and a print was struck and returned to the Mexican authorities for review and comment, which they were not inclined to do in any hurry. Eisenstein had no story or subject in mind for a film about Mexico, but nevertheless embarked on a full-scale photographic expedition, filming anything and everything of personal interest without a clear idea what he would be doing with it. He planned to create something without use of a script, to utilize local people rather than professional actors for any human role, and to shoot the film silent. Delays in the project arose almost immediately.

Eisenstein should have returned with the finished film by the end of April 1931, but it was six months later before he produced a brief synopsis for a six-part film which would come, in one form or another, to be the final plan Eisenstein would settle on for his project. The title for the project, Que Viva Mexico! was decided on some time later.

Months dragged on and Eisenstein continued to film at random, completing not one of the six parts before moving to another, meticulously staging individual shots and having them photographed from various angles, and traveling to various scenic locales around the country. By then the Sinclairs had managed to raise a total budget of $65,000 with the plan of keeping $15,000 aside for post-production expenses once Eisenstein had returned to Los Angeles, where it was intended he would edit the film. Sinclair put increasing pressure on Eisenstein to define the film's plot and finish the filming as more and more of the money was being spent. Eisenstein responded by continuing to expose film prolifically, leaving each section in part unfinished, and not being further explicit to his producers exactly what the final product was supposed to be.

In November, 1931, Sinclair got an agreement from Amkino Corp., the Soviet film distributor in the United States, to put $25,000 into the venture, mostly for post-production work. He notified Eisenstein of this turn of events, and Eisenstein immediately got him to release the remaining $15,000 originally set aside for post production, for use in continued shooting. One month later the Soviet film industry underwent a major reorganization, including Amkino, whose new director repudiated their deal concerning Eisenstein.

Because of his prolonged absence from the Soviet Union, the Soviet film industry was now pressing Stalin to have Eisenstein declared a deserter. Eisenstein contacted Sinclair and lay the blame on Kimbrough for the failure of the film to be completed and so much money to be spent. He accused Kimbrough of drunkenness, debauchery, and extravagant personal spending. All this caused first Mary, then Upton Sinclair to become ill enough from stress to require hospitalization. Sinclair ordered Kimbrough back to Los Angeles to discuss the accusations with the Trust. Eisenstein continued to film and spend recklessly. Satisfied by Kimbrough's version of events, the Trust returned Kimbrough to Mexico with instructions to Eisenstein to submit entirely and directly to Kimbrough in all matters regarding the film.

Almost nothing had been shot yet on one part of the six anticipated segments, which was to be about the Mexican Revolution. Eisenstein finally completed the other five segments, and planned to start on the sixth. Kimbrough supported him in this matter. However, on February 5, 1932, Sinclair received a telegram from Soyuzkino, to forward to Eisenstein, ordering Eisenstein immediately back to the U.S.S.R, leaving Aleksandrov and Tisse to finish the film. But Eisenstein was still blaming Kimbrough, and now also Sinclair and his wife for the film's problems. Furious, Sinclair therewith shut down production and ordered Kimbrough to bring himself, the remaining negatives, and the three Soviets back to the United States to make what they could of the film on hand. At this point, the tally of footage exposed by Eisenstein amounted to somewhere between 182,000 and 250,000 (sources vary) linear feet of film.

Return to the U.S.

When Eisenstein arrived at the American border, a customs search of his trunk revealed, along with several reels of negatives, sketches of bizarre homoerotic sexual fantasies. Kimbrough was barely able to prevent their arrest and confiscation of the entire cargo. Simultaneously, it was determined that Eisenstein's re-entry visa had expired, and Sinclair's contacts in Washington were unable to secure him an additional extension. Eisenstein, Alexandrov, and Tisse were, after a month's stay at the U.S.-Mexico border outside Laredo, Texas, allowed a 30-day "pass" to get from Texas to New York, and thence depart for Moscow.

Eisenstein planned to edit the film in Moscow. However, Eisenstein took the entire 30 days to tour the American South, and repeated his blaming of Kimbrough to the Soviet film people in New York. Additionally, once Eisenstein had left the U.S., the Soviets agreed to allow him to cut the film in Moscow but expected the Mexican Film Trust to pay for the duplicate negatives and shipping of the material, then began insisting on the original negative being sent. Mary Sinclair, on behalf of herself and the other trust members, balked entirely at that juncture. The Trust was virtually broke, and all trust by the investors toward Eisenstein was also broken. Eisenstein was officially off the project and someone else, in the U.S., would be found to edit the film.

It took another year to find someone to deal with Eisenstein's Mexican footage. Other than two general descriptions of each part of the film, Eisenstein had provided no descriptive material to work from. The major studios were not interested in either trying to figure out a continuity for the mass of film or to market a silent picture. Finally, in mid-1932, the Sinclairs secured the services of Sol Lesser, who had just opened his own distribution office in New York and was marketing documentaries and docudramas. Lesser agreed to supervise post-production work on the miles of negative—at the Sinclairs' expense—and distribute any resulting product. Two short feature films and a short subject—Thunder Over Mexico, Eisenstein in Mexico, and Death Day—were completed and released in the U.S. between the Fall of 1933 and early 1934. Sinclair's refusal to let Eisenstein work on the films made at least the first title an object of ire and scorn among American Communists and other Eisenstein fans. But none of the films did very well, perhaps did not even return the original investments to the investors.

Back to the USSR and more films

Eisenstein never saw any of the Sinclair-Lesser films and would publicly maintain that he had lost all interest in the project. But his foray into the West caused the staunchly Stalinist film industry look upon him more suspiciously, and this suspicion would never be completely erased. He was accused of being too independent and "formalist." During his absence, Left Cinema, the movement with which Eisenstein was associated, had been denounced as too intellectual. October and Old and New were especially charged with being "formalistic" experimentations, incomprehensible to peasants and nonintellectuals. Eisenstein apparently spent some time in a Soviet mental hospital in Kidslovosk in July 1933. He was subsequently assigned a teaching position with the film school, GIK. He explored with the Soviet film industry three or four projects, but was denied permission to begin serious work on any of them.

Finally, in 1935, he was allowed to undertake direction of another's project, Bezhin Meadow but the film was afflicted with many of the same problems as Que Viva Mexico. Eisenstein unilaterally decided to film two versions of the scenario, one for adult viewers and one for children; failed to define a clear shooting schedule; shot film prodigiously, resulting in cost overruns and missed deadlines. When he was sidetracked with a case of smallpox, the Soviet producers and critics began examining the product and found it awash in "formalism." Production was stopped and furious debate ensued over whether the film could be salvaged to the government's expectations; it was decided it could not. Eisenstein was publicly excoriated and all but a few stills and footage samples were destroyed. He was forced to recant and, to avoid arrest, composed a manifesto, "The Mistakes of Bezhin Meadow." He also wrote to Stalin asking for another chance.

The thing which appeared to save Eisenstein's career at this point was that Stalin ended up taking the position that the Bezhin Meadow catastrophe, along with several other problems facing the industry at that point, had less to do with Eisenstein's approach to film making than with the executives who were supposed to have been supervising him. Ultimately this came down on the shoulders of Boris Shumyatsky, "executive producer" of Soviet film since 1932, who in early 1938, during the Great Purges was denounced, arrested, tried and convicted as a traitor, and shot. (The production executive at Kinostudiya "Mosfilm", where Meadow was being made, was also replaced, but without loss of life.)

Eisenstein was thence able to ingratiate himself with Stalin for "one more chance," and he chose, from two offerings, the assignment of a biopic of Alexander Nevsky. This time, however, he was also assigned a co-scenarist, Pyotr Pavlenko, to bring in a completed script; professional actors to play the roles; and an assistant director, Dmitry Vasiliev, to expedite shooting. The result was a well-played and well-made film that was critically received by both the Soviets and in the West, an obvious allegory and stern warning against the massing forces of Nazi Germany. This was started, completed, and placed in distribution all within the year 1938, and represented not only Eisenstein's first film in nearly a decade, but also his first sound film.

In Alexander Nevsky Eisenstein exchanged his earlier montage structure for a more discursive one that focused on and developed individual characters to a greater extent. This was partly his response to the call for Socialist Realism in the arts. The most notable sequence in Nevsky is a battle between the Russians and the Teutons that takes place on the ice. Nevsky is also noteworthy for Eisenstein's close collaboration with composer Sergei Prokofiev, who wrote the score. Eisenstein called Nevsky "a fuge on the theme of patriotism," and montage "the method of the fuge." Nevertheless, today the film will likely seem mostly slow moving and dull to viewers. Nevsky did restore Eisenstein to his previous honorable place in Soviet cinema. He was given the Order of Lenin and awarded the title of Doctor of the Science of Art Studies. In 1940, he was appointed artistic head of Mosfilm.

Unfortunately, within months of its release, the mercurial Stalin entered into his infamous pact with Hitler, and Nevsky was promptly pulled from distribution. Thwarted again on the morning of triumph, Eisenstein returned to teaching and had to wait until Hitler's double-cross sent German troops pouring across the Soviet border in a devastating first strike, to see "his" success receive its just, wide distribution and real international success.

With the war approaching Moscow, Eisenstein was one of the many filmmakers based there who was evacuated to Alma-Ata, where he first considered the idea of making a film about Czar Ivan IV, aka Ivan the Terrible, whom Stalin happened to admire and came to see, in his imagination, as the same sort of brilliant, decisive, successful leader as he (Stalin) fancied himself.

His film, Ivan The Terrible, Part I, presenting Ivan IV of Russia as a national hero, won Stalin's approval and a Stalin Prize, but the sequel, Ivan The Terrible, Part II, was not approved of by the government. All footage from the still incomplete Ivan The Terrible: Part III was confiscated, and most of it was destroyed (though several filmed scenes still exist today).

Eisenstein suffered a heart attack the very evening he completed work on Ivan, Part II—February 2, 1946. He lived on for two more years, however, dying on February 11, 1948, a few days after his fiftieth birthday. An unconfirmed legend in film history states that Russian scientists preserved his brain and it supposedly was much larger than a normal human brain, which the scientists took as a sign of genius.

He is buried at Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

Eisenstein's legacy today

Critical assessment of Eisenstein outside the Soviet Union was generally favorable until the fall of the Berlin Wall. For decades after the release of Battleship Potemkin he was hailed by radical intellectuals as the model of the truly creative director, shaming those who had supposedly prostituted themselves to commercial cinema. But even commercial cinema was impressed. David O. Selznick said that Potemkin was unquestionably one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.

Inside the Soviet union itself, assessment of Eisenstein tended to follow the political winds of the day. He was praised at some times and vilified at others for being unresponsive to the needs of the masses. A large number of his projects and proposals were rejected or thwarted by the Soviet authorities.

An enormous literature exists connected with Eisenstein–possibly greater than for any other film director. Eisenstein himself wrote a huge amount: Theater and film theory and studies, accounts of his travels and investigations, screenplays for both his finished and unfinished films, autobiographical material, and voluminous correspondence with many people. Only some of this has been edited and published, but even that runs to many volumes. In addition, there are hundreds of articles and books on him and his work, including a number of full length biographies.

Eisenstein is usually seen by serious film scholars and cineastes today as an exponent of Modernism, devoted to formal complexity.

It must not be overlooked that Eisenstein's films (with the possible exception of Ivan the Terrible, Part II) were unabashed and enthusiastic propaganda for Communism and the Soviet system. While many of his fellows were swept up in internal Soviet political oppression and died in prison or by execution, he survived, mostly by toadying to Stalin. On the other hand, while all that was certainly heinous, he also brought a restless and searching intelligence and interaction with the world to his teaching, theatrical work, and film making.

Today he seems mostly to be a fading star. Present day moviegoers are almost certain to find most of his films to be excruciatingly boring. Quite often his montage—while perhaps intellectually interesting and profitable for shot-by-shot analysis and study for the allusions and associations it creates—in actual viewing becomes, ironically, something less than the sum of its parts. Although montage may have been interesting in theory, it was too cerebral and cold to offer much in actual viewing. His films were supposedly in service to the people, but they are actually often not much more than cold and soulless propaganda.

Critic David Thomson has given an even harsher assessment: "With Eisenstein you confront a demonic, baroque visual theatricality, helplessly adhering to the confused theories of his writing on film." He suggests that Ivan the Terrible, even Part II, is an endorsement of authoritarianism and of the tyrant.

In retrospect, Eisenstein may be more interesting as a character than as a filmmaker. In 1988, honor of the ninetieth anniversary of his birth, and exhibition of his drawings, paintings, and other material was mounted in England. In that exhibition one could be impressed, as Thomson was, with "the crowded life of Eisenstein, the range of things he read, saw, and was intrigued by … the astonishing graphic work … the delight in dance, gesture, and theatrical movements. The movies were but a part of the whole, and not necessarily the most lively."

Eisenstein's films and film writing seem to appeal today mostly to highly intellectual cineastes. But at least some interest remains because things continue to be written about him from time to time. Moreover, Battleship Potemkin still stands as a film monument.


  • The Battleship Potemkin (Броненосец „Потёмкин“, 1925)
  • Strike (Стачка, 1925)
  • October (Октябрь: Десять дней,которые потрясли мир, 1927) (aka "Ten Days That Shook The World" - 1928 U.S. title)
  • The General Line (Генеральная линия aka Старое и новое, 1929) (also known as Old And New—1930 U.S. title)
  • Que Viva Mexico! (unfinished) (1930-1932)
  • Thunder Over Mexico (1933)
  • Eisenstein In Mexico (1933)
  • Death Day (1933)
  • Bezhin Meadow (Бежин луг, unfinished, 1935–1937)
  • Alexander Nevsky (Александр Невский, 1938)
  • Time In The Sun (1940)
  • Ivan The Terrible, Part I (Иван Грозный, 1945)
  • Ivan The Terrible, Part II (1946/1958)
  • Ivan The Terrible, Part III (1946, unfinished)
  • Que Viva Mexico (1979)

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bergan, Ronald. Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1999. ISBN 087951924X
  • Bordwell, David. The Cinema of Eisenstein; With A New Preface by the Author. New York: Routledge, 2005. ISBN 0415973651
  • Eby, Lloyd. "Eye on Eisenstein: Greatness Reconsidered." The World & I, 13:6, June 1998, 100-105.
  • Eisenstein, Sergei M. Edited by Richard Taylor. The Eisenstein Collection, London: Seagull Books, 2006. ISBN 1905422008
  • Eisenstein, Sergei M. Towards a Theory of Montage, 1937-40. Edited by Richard Taylor. London: BFI Pub., 1996. ISBN 0851702066
  • Eisenstein, Sergei M. Film Form; Essays in Film Theory, and The Film Sense. Edited and translated by Jay Leyda. New York: Meridian Books, 1957.
  • Eisenstein, Sergei M. Immoral Memories: An Autobiography. Translated by Herbert Marshall. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983. ISBN 0395331013
  • Geduld, Harry M. and Ronald Gottesman, eds. Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair: The Making & Unmaking of Que Viva Mexico! Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970. ISBN 9780253180506
  • Ivor Montagu. With Eisenstein in Hollywood, A Chapter of Autobiography by Ivor Montagu, Including the Scenarios of Sutter’s Gold and American Tragedy. New York: International Publishers, 1969.
  • Leyda, Jay and Zina Voynow. Eisenstein At Work. New York: Pantheon Books Museum of Modern Art, 1982. ISBN 0394412621
  • Leyda, Jay. Kino: A History Of The Russian And Soviet Film. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983. ISBN 0691040079
  • Thomson, David. A Biographical Dictionary of Film, Third Edition. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. ISBN 0394581652

External links

All links retrieved January 26, 2023.


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