Sergej Eisenstein

Sergej Eisenstein (1898–1948) was one of the leading directors of the Soviet cinema. Born the son of an architect In Riga on 22 January 1898, Eisenstein discovered film through the experimental theatre of Vsevolod Meyerhold. During the 1920s he made four films about the Russian revolution, of which “Battleship Potemkin” is the outstanding example, that brought him worldwide fame as a director. His work impressed with its experimental visual composition, similar to cubism, an innovative and effective montage technique that bracketed sharply contrasting images together, and a dramaturgy that dispensed with individual heroes and focussed instead on the actions of groups and crowds. In 1929 Eisenstein left to travel to Europe and America in order to learn the new technique of sound pictures. He worked on various projects, including a broad ranging film about Mexico that would remain incomplete. Eisenstein was ordered by the authorities to return to the Soviet Union in 1932, where the climate of cultural politics had changed dramatically. New films by the director – who had now fallen out of favour – were either rejected or banned until in 1938 he was given permission to film “Alexander Nevsky”, which portrays the victory of the Russians over the knights of the German order in the Middle Ages. One key ingredient of the film is its musical score by Sergei Prokofiev, who was closely involved in the process of its development. The great success of “Alexander Nevsky” led to Eisenstein being personally commissioned by Stalin himself to create an historical film about the Czar Ivan IV. Eisenstein planned the film as a trilogy and once again worked together with Prokofiev. He was able to complete Part One of ‘Ivan the Terrible’ in 1944, however, Part Two fell victim to the censor and was not shown until 1958. Eisenstein died on 11 February 1948, without being able to complete the trilogy. In addition to his films, he also wrote numerous radical theoretical works and an autobiography.

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