Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (January 10, 1898, Riga, Livonia, Russian Empire – February 11, 1948, Moscow, RSFSR, USSR) – Soviet theater and film director, artist, screenwriter, art theorist and teacher. Professor of the VGIK, honored worker of arts of the RSFSR (1935), doctor of arts (1939), winner of two Stalin prizes of the first degree (1941, 1946). Author of fundamental works on the theory of cinema.
Thanks to “Battleship Potemkin” his name became synonymous with the Soviet cinema of the 1920s. In 1958, as a result of a survey of film critics from 26 countries at the World”s Fair in Brussels, “Battleship Potemkin” was declared “the best film of all time”.
His father, the civil engineer Mikhail Osipovich Eisenstein (originally Moses Iosifovich Eisenstein), came from a Jewish merchant family in the Vasilkovsky district of Kiev province. His maternal grandfather, Ivan Ivanovich Konetsky, was born in the city of Tikhvin. According to stories, he came to St. Petersburg on foot. There he entered into contracts, married a merchant”s daughter and opened a business – the Neva Barge Steamship Company. After Ivan Konetsky”s death, his wife, Iraida Matveyevna, took over his business. Konetzky was buried in the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. Iraida lived in an apartment on Staro-Nevsky Prospect with her daughter, Julia Ivanovna, who married the engineer Mikhail Osipovich Eisenstein. He later became the architect of the city of Riga and rose to the rank of a civil councilor, which entitled his children to hereditary nobility. Iraida Konetskaya died of a stroke on the church porch while praying in front of the over-the-gates icon. Mikhail Eisenstein died in Berlin and was buried in the Russian cemetery in the Tegel district.
Childhood and Youth
Sergei Eisenstein was born in Riga on January 10 (22), 1898 in a wealthy family of town architect Mikhail Osipovich Eisenstein. He was baptized February 2 (14), 1898 in the Cathedral. His godmother was his grandmother, the merchant of the first guild, Iraida Konetskaya.
Thanks to the dowry of his mother, Julia Ivanovna Eisenstein, the family lived well, had servants and hosted the city”s largest officials. At the same time Sergei Eisenstein described his childhood as “a time of sadness. His parents loved him, but, being busy with themselves, did not pay him enough attention. In 1906, during the First Russian Revolution, the family went to Paris. It was there that Sergei first saw a movie. Upon his return home in 1908, he enrolled at the Riga Normal School. In addition to his basic education, he received lessons on the piano. He learned three languages: English, German and French; he mastered the art of photography and caricature. At Easter and Christmas, he went to his grandmother in St. Petersburg.
The four-year divorce proceedings of his parents ended in divorce on April 26, 1912. The boy remained with his father, while his mother lived in St. Petersburg at 10 Tavricheskaya Street since 1908. The son visited her at Easter and Christmas. In letters to her signed “Kotik” or “Your Kotik. By Eisenstein”s confession, he treated his mother with “cautious sonly affection.” Sergey grew up an obedient boy and tried to be guided by his father: for example, did not start smoking, because his father did not smoke. He, in turn, was preparing his son for his future as an architect.
In 1915, Eisenstein graduated from a practical school and entered the Petrograd Institute of Civil Engineers.
Soldier of the Revolution
After the February Revolution, Eisenstein was a militiaman of the Narva unit. In the spring of 1917 he was called up for military service and enrolled at the school of warrant officers of engineering troops. In the autumn of that year, together with his detachment stood near Krasnoye Selo and on the Moscow highway, waiting for an offensive to Petrograd Cossacks and the “Wild Division”. The offensive did not happen.
In January 1918, after the disbandment of the Warrant Officer School, Eisenstein returned to the Institute of Civil Engineers. On March 18, 1918 he voluntarily joined the Red Army, was enrolled as a technician in the 2nd military construction of Petrograd district (later the 18th military construction). On September 20 he left with an echelon of the 18th Military Construction to the North-Eastern front. On September 24 arrived in Vozhega, Vologda province, was listed as part of the 6th Army, in the 3rd division of the 2nd Military Construction. Took part in performances of the Communist Club in Vozhega as a director, scenic designer and actor, developed sketches of the scenery for “Mystery Buff” by Vladimir Mayakovsky.
In two years Eisenstein also visited Dvinsk, Holm, Velikie Luki, Polotsk, Smolensk, and Minsk. He built fortifications, and in between battles staged amateur productions. In Polotsk he was at the disposal of the theatrical part of the Political Department of the Western Front. In Smolensk he was employed as an artist-decorator in the theatrical unit of the Political Department of the Western Front. In Minsk, among other things, painted agit-trains. Carried a lot of books, kept diaries, describing his travels, reflecting on art and theater in particular. In his “Autobiography” 1939 Eisenstein wrote:
From theater to film
After demobilization Eisenstein, together with two comrades-in-arms, Pavel Arensky and Leonid Nikitin, was sent to the Academy of the General Staff to study Japanese. He learned about these courses from Arensky and became interested in them. His interest in Japanese culture, his desire to move to the capital, and the free rations for students at the Academy also influenced his decision. On September 27, 1920, Eisenstein arrived in Moscow, sharing a room with Maxim Strauch. He soon abandoned his Japanese and took a job as a scenic designer with the First Workers” Theatre of the Proletkult. At that time, like many, Eisenstein was fascinated by the idea of destroying the old art and “revolutionizing” the theater.
In 1921 Eisenstein entered the State Higher Directing Workshop (GVRM), headed by Vsevolod Meyerhold, but continued to work at the Proletkultura. The young decorator participated in Valentin Smyshlyaev”s production of “The Mexican” by Jack London”s short story. According to Strauch”s recollections, Eisenstein “quickly pushed aside” Smyslyaev and “actually became the director. After Eisenstein worked on several productions, including a free interpretation of the play by Alexander Ostrovsky “For every wise man has plenty of simplicity. In 1923, he turned this classic comedy into a so-called “montage of attractions. This concept was coined by Eisenstein himself and explained in his article of the same name published in LEF magazine. Attraction is everything that is capable of giving the viewer a strong “sensual impact”; and “montage” in this case – is the combination of various elements, “attractions”, selected at random, but subject to the development of the theme of the work. In The Wise Man, only the names of the author and the characters remained from the original, everything else was transformed into a montage of attractions: the stage became a circus arena; a rope was stretched over the heads of the audience, on which the actors danced, and so on. Among those attractions was a pre-produced short film called “Glumov”s Diary,” Eisenstein”s first cinematic experience.
Eisenstein began his journey into cinema by remounting Fritz Lang”s Dr. Mabuse, the Player. At that time it was a common practice for foreign films. In the USSR, Lang”s remounted film was released under the title Gilded Rot. Then with the Proletkult, Eisenstein conceived a cycle of seven films, From the Underground to the Dictatorship: 1) “Geneva to Russia,” 2) “The Underground,” 3) “May 1,” 4) “1905,” 5) “The Stachka,” 6) “Prisons, Riots, Escapes,” and 7) “October.” Only one part of this “encyclopedia of revolutionary movement” was realized – “Stachka”, screened on April 28, 1925. In it the novice director had solved a number of experimental artistic problems: he structured the composition as a chain of “attractions” strongly affecting the viewer, was looking for cinematic metaphors, new montage constructions, sharp and unusual angles. “Stachka” was called a revolutionary and innovative film, but at the same time criticized for the complexity of cinematic language.
After the success of The Stachka, the government commissioned Eisenstein to film The Year 1905. The script was written by Nina Agadzhanova-Shutko and covered the main events of the 1905 revolution – from the Russian-Japanese war, the Bloody Sunday of January 9, through the Baku, Ivanovo strikes, to the revolutionary unrest on the Black Sea and the December battles in Moscow. But there wasn”t enough time. Eisenstein came to Odessa with a group and realized that by recreating on the screen the rebellion on the battleship “Prince Potemkin-Tavrichesky” one could convey the pathos of the revolution and the idea of invincibility of revolutionary masses. The shooting took place on the place of real historical events, on the old battleship “Twelve Apostles”, serving at the time as an ammunition depot. The premiere of the film “Battleship Potemkin” took place on December 21, 1925 at the Bolshoi Theater at the gala meeting devoted to the Revolution”s anniversary. On January 18, 1926 it was released. The language of the film was strikingly new. The striking metaphors, the unusual composition of shots, the rhythm of montage – all this made “Battleship Potemkin” a masterpiece of world cinema. The success of the film worldwide was unprecedented, later film critics declared it “the best film of all times and peoples”.
In 1926, Eisenstein joined the editorial board of the monthly journal ARK Kinozhurnal, an organ of the Association of Revolutionary Cinematography.
In 1927 on behalf of the government Eisenstein, his student Grigory Alexandrov and cameraman Eduard Tisse began work on the anniversary film dedicated to the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. As before, Eisenstein began with a broad coverage of events and, gradually narrowing the material, created a historical epic about the revolutionary events of February – October 1917 in Petrograd. With the help of intelligent editing the director tried to express in the film “October” such concepts as tsarism, religion, power. He sought to synthesize artistic images and scientific concepts in the language of film. However, not all of his experiments were understood by the audience. There were heated debate in the press. Especially vividly discussed the first attempt in the history of cinema to create the image of Lenin actor means. Many (eg, Vladimir Mayakovsky) harshly criticized the worker Nikandrov, selected only for the striking resemblance to the leader of the revolution. The very possibility of “playing Lenin on the screen” was called into question. However, many filmmakers and almost all of the old Bolsheviks, participants of the revolution, praised Eisenstein”s film. For the sake of “October”, work on “General Line”, a monumental large-scale film epic about the transformations in the Soviet countryside, was suspended. In it, Eisenstein also sought to express scientific political concepts by the method of intellectual cinema, that is, through montage, images, and metaphors. Under the title “The Old and the New,” the film was released on November 7, 1929.
Foreign business trip
August 19, 1929 Eisenstein, together with Grigory Alexandrov and Edouard Tisse went on a foreign mission “to master the sound film technique. He participated in the International Congress of Independent Film, organized under the patronage of Andre Gide, Luigi Pirandello, Stefan Zweig and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, which was held September 3-7, 1929 in the castle of La Sarra in Switzerland. On September 5, with the participation of “Eisenstein”s group,” a mock short film, “Storm over La Sarra,” was made about the struggle of Independent cinema with Commercial cinema. In Switzerland, Eisenstein also acted as a consultant for the educational film about abortion “The Woe and Joy of Women”, directed by Edouard Tisse. In France, he was artistic director of Grigory Alexandrov”s experimental musical film Sentimental Romance. In Berlin, he helped the novice director Mikhail Dubson to finish shooting his film Poison Gas. He used his trip to the West to promote Soviet culture, giving lectures and reports in Zurich, Berlin, Hamburg, London, Cambridge, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris.
On April 30, 1930 Eisenstein signed a contract in Paris with the American film company Paramount. In Hollywood he wrote the scripts “Zutter”s Gold”, “Black Majesty”, “American Tragedy”. In the latter he developed a method of internal monologue, which allows to embody on the screen the inner world, the psychology of man. These scripts by Eisenstein were praised by Theodore Dreiser and Upton Sinclair, Charles Chaplin and Walt Disney, but Paramount refrained from producing them.
Then, with money provided by Sinclair, Eisenstein, Alexandrov and Tisse went to Mexico, where within a year they shot the film epic Long Live Mexico, dedicated to the historical struggle of the Mexican people. There was not enough money to complete the film. Sinclair appealed to the Soviet leadership with a request to partially reimburse their costs. On November 21, 1931 Stalin sent Sinclair a telegram in which he spoke unflatteringly about Eisenstein:
Eisenstein lost the trust of his comrades in the Soviet Union. He is considered a deserter who has broken with his country. I am afraid that people here will soon lose interest in him. I am very sorry, but all these allegations are a fact.
Eisenstein and his associates had to return to the USSR. Hopes of buying Mexican material and completing the work in Moscow did not materialize. Sinclair sold the material to Paramount. The craftsmen made several films out of it that distorted Eisenstein”s idea.
Return to the USSR
In May 1932, Eisenstein returned to Moscow. After a three-year trip home, great changes awaited him. On June 4, 1932 Stalin wrote from Sochi to Kaganovich:
Pay attention to Eisenstein, trying through Gorky, Kirshon, and some Komsomol members to get back into the main cinematographers in the USSR. If he achieves his goal, thanks to the mouthiness of the kultprop, his victory will look like a prize to all future deserters.
Eisenstein tried to forget the demise of his Mexican film in his work. He taught at the Film Institute, headed the department of directing, wrote several theoretical and journalistic articles and screenplays, tried to work in the theater. But his creative ideas were not supported. The eccentric comedy “M.M.M.” and the cinema epic “Moscow” remained unrealized.
On January 8, 1935, at the First All-Union Meeting of Creative Workers of Cinematography, Eisenstein made a big speech in which he tried to define his place in the new political and cinematic situation, to revise his montage theories in accordance with the new requirements of the cinematography of “drama and characters” and promised to enter production soon.
By the decree of the CEC of the USSR of January 11, 1935 on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Soviet cinematography a number of directors were awarded orders. Eisenstein was not on the list of those awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor. Stalin proposed to award him the title of honored worker of arts of the RSFSR.
In the spring of 1935, Eisenstein began work on the film Bezhin Meadow, based on a script by Alexander Rzheshevsky. The story of the pioneer Stepka Samokhin unfolded at Rzheshevsky in Turgenev”s places not far from Bezhin Meadow. It was based on the actual murder of the pioneer Pavlik Morozov, who had informed the village council of his father”s collusion with the opponents of collectivization. This murder, committed in the Northern Urals on September 3, 1932, was one of the many evidences of the brutal class struggle in the village. But Pavlik Morozov”s tragic fate has become a legend, which is also reflected in Rzeszewski”s “emotional scenario.
As always, the theme and the material became for Eisenstein only the impetus for the flight of thought, for the development of the idea of the eternal conflict of father and son. His directorial script differed significantly from the literary original.
In the autumn of 1935, during the director”s illness, the material of the first version of the film was quite often shown to cinematographers and writers. On November 25, 1935 the Main Directorate of Film and Photography Industry recommended a revision of the concept, accusing the authors of mysticism, biblical form, “features of eternity”, “doom”, “holiness”. As a result, Eisenstein was forced to rewrite the script, replace several actors, and instead of the scene of the defeat of the church (“transformation into a club”), which caused the greatest criticism, introduce a dynamic scene of fire fighting. Nevertheless, March 17, 1937 ordered the Chief Directorate of Cinematography work on the film were suspended. Eisenstein had to make a public self-criticism in the press. The article, he wrote, called “The mistakes of” Bezhin Meadow. As punishment for his mistakes, he was excommunicated from teaching. The only copy of the film disappeared during the war. According to a legend, the film was put in a container and buried on the territory of “Mosfilm” studio. After returning from the evacuation it could not be found. The film “Bezhin Meadow” was left with 8 meters of film, two versions of the director”s script, notes, drawings and the most important thing – the pictures made by the film editor Esfir Tobak. On their basis, in 1967, the photo film was edited.
The fate of the film “Alexander Nevsky” was not easy either. Its literary script, titled “Rus””, was sharply criticized as a “mockery of history”. By April 1938 Pyotr Pavlenko and Sergey Eisenstein rewrote the script twice taking into account the remarks of the historians. On December 1, 1938 the film “Alexander Nevskiy” was released and was a great success with the audience. The struggle of the Russian people against foreign invaders in the thirteenth century was depicted in it as a topical warning against German aggression. “Patriotism is our theme,” Eisenstein wrote, directly comparing the Teutonic Crusaders to the German National Socialists. For this film the director was awarded the Order of Lenin and received the title of Doctor of Art. However, immediately after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact “Alexander Nevsky” was withdrawn from distribution, as the Soviet government wanted to avoid worsening relations with Germany. Nevertheless, in March 1941 Eisenstein was awarded the Stalin Prize of the first degree for it. With the beginning of the Great Patriotic War “Alexander Nevsky” returned to the screen and played a mobilizing role in the struggle against the German invaders.
In November 1939, Samuel Samosud, the chief conductor of the Bolshoi Theater, approached Eisenstein with a proposal to stage Wagner”s Die Walküre. Eisenstein, who had never staged an opera before, had to agree. Samosud explained to him that the staging of “Valkyrie” is of “important national and international importance. Upon learning of its preparation, the Germans even offered to send conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler to Moscow.
On February 18, 1940, in a radio broadcast in German on Moscow Radio, Eisenstein praised the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as a contribution to a “fundamental improvement” in political relations between the Soviet Union and Germany and as a “basis” for strengthening and further developing “friendly relations” between the two countries. During the production of Valkyrie, he worked on an article on German mythology and wrote that Wagner was close to him “for the epicism of the theme, for the romanticism of the plot, for the amazing imagery of the music, which appeals to the plastic and visual solution. Eisenstein set out to create a “sound and visual synthesis.
In October 1940, he was appointed artistic director of the Mosfilm studio.
The premiere of Valkyrie took place on November 21, 1940, and was timed to coincide with Molotov”s visit to Berlin. In addition, Wagner was Hitler”s favorite composer, which gave the production even more political significance. However, Eisenstein”s stage direction and techniques were too modernistic and avant-garde to meet the expectations of his clients. The German diplomats present at the premiere were “flattered and discouraged,” and the Romanian envoy remarked that it was “the death of the gods” and “a Cossack ballet” at the same time. The Austrian Communist Ernst Fischer saw in the production “an impertinent parody of Wagner,” which “took a step from the sublime to the ridiculous” and thus undermined, as it were, the basis of the Soviet-German pact. “Valkyrie” was removed from the repertoire of the Bolshoi Theater on February 27, 1941 after six showings.
Social activities during the war
On June 27, 1941 Eisenstein published in the newspaper Kino an article entitled “The Dictator. Charlie Chaplin”s Film” – about the film “The Great Dictator”. The next day the article was reprinted with cuts by Komsomolskaya Pravda. On July 3, he spoke on the radio for the United States about the Patriotic War of the Soviet people. On July 8 his article, “With Stalin to Victory,” was published in the newspaper Kino. On July 11, the Moscow Military District newspaper Krasny Voin published his article “Fascist Atrocities on the Screen” – about the military issues of the German newsreels of the UFA studio. On July 19 in the newspaper “Red Fleet” he published his note “Crush, crush the vile invaders.” On July 18 he published in the newspaper Kino the note “Hitler is clamped in the pincers.
On August 7, in connection with the successful work of the “Mosfilm” studio during the Great Patriotic War, Eisenstein, as the artistic director of the studio, was awarded a commendation. He was included in the editorial board of the “Battle Film Collections”. He made a report at Mosfilm at the meeting on the defense film collection.
On August 24, on Stalin”s personal orders, Eisenstein, as a Russian representative of the Soviet intelligentsia, spoke at a rally of representatives of the Jewish people in Moscow:
In a deadly battle now met the bearer of a brutal ideology – fascism with the carriers of the humanistic ideal – the Soviet Union and its great associates in this struggle – with Great Britain and America.
He signed the collective appeal “Brothers of the Jews throughout the world!” published in the newspaper “Pravda” on August 25, 1941.
On October 6 he was released from duties of the art director of “Mosfilm” studio while working on the film “Ivan the Terrible”. On October 8 he published an article “Cinema Against Fascism” in the Pravda newspaper. On October 14 together with the studio he left for Alma-Ata to evacuate. On November 16, 1941 he was approved as a member of art council of the Central United Film Studio (CIKS) in Alma-Ata.
On May 24, 1942, he signed a collective appeal “To the Jews of the World!”, adopted at the Second Rally of the Representatives of the Jewish People held in Moscow.
On July 26, 1944 Eisenstein returned from Alma-Ata to Moscow. On September 5, 1944 he became a member of the artistic council of the Committee on Cinematography of the Sovnarkom of the USSR.
Ivan the Terrible
Just before the war Eisenstein began working on the historical film epic “Ivan the Terrible”. On September 5, 1942 the director”s script was approved, and on April 22, 1943 shooting began. He created a majestic tragedy in the conditions of evacuation in distant Alma-Ata. The controversial figure of Ivan IV, with his progressive aspirations to unify the Russian lands, to annex Kazan, to enter the Baltic, but also with his monstrous cruelty, terrifying loneliness and painful doubts, was portrayed by Eisenstein and actor Nikolai Cherkasov with rare force. The first series of the film had the core idea “For a great Russian kingdom,” the second posed the problem of the tragedy of power and loneliness: “One, but one.
The first series of “Ivan the Terrible” was released on January 16, 1945, and was unanimously recognized by audiences and critics both in the Soviet Union and abroad. In 1946 Eisenstein was awarded for it the Stalin Prize of the first degree. At the I Locarno International Film Festival the film was awarded by the jury for the best camerawork. It was especially important that such a complex and perfect polyphonic film was made in a bloody, fighting country. However, the second series under the title “Boyarsky plot” was criticized in the resolution of the Central Committee of the VKP(b) about the film “Great Life” of September 4, 1946:
In the second episode of Ivan the Terrible, director Sergei Eisenstein discovered his ignorance of historical facts by presenting the progressive army of oprichniks of Ivan the Terrible as a gang of degenerates, like the Ku Klux Klan, and Ivan the Terrible, a man of strong will and character, as weak-willed and weak-willed, something like Hamlet.
On the screens the second series of “Ivan the Terrible” was released only September 1, 1958.
Eisenstein took the fate of his film hard. He worked until his last day to fix it, as always, combining creativity with theoretical, journalistic, pedagogical and social activities.
The last years of his life
On February 2, 1946, Eisenstein had a myocardial infarction in the House of Cinema at a ball in honor of Stalin Prize winners. He began to write his memoirs at the Kremlin Hospital and later at the Barvikha sanatorium.
On November 23, 1946, he was awarded the medal “For Valorous Labor in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.
On June 19, 1947, Eisenstein was appointed head of the Film Sector of the Institute of Art History of the USSR Academy of Sciences. During this period he worked on the study “Pathos”, a series of essays “People of One Film”, “Ivan the Terrible”, on the study “About Stereo Cinema” and returned to the article on color in cinema.
On January 21, 1948, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the director”s birth, the USSR Ministry of Cinematography interceded to award him the Order of Lenin. On February 13, 1948, a note by the deputy head of the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (of Bolsheviks) Vasily Stepanov: “In view of the untimely death of Comrade S. M. Eisenstein, we ask that he be awarded the order of Lenin. S. M. Eisenstein, the request of Com. Bolshakov”s request is no longer necessary.
Sergei Eisenstein died of a heart attack on the night of February 10 to 11, 1948 at the 51st year of life. He was buried in Moscow at Novodevichy Cemetery (plot No. 4).
Eisenstein drew from an early age and left a huge archive of drawings, sketches, sketches, storyboards, which are still a wealth of material for research. During his lifetime he was not appreciated as an artist. Only one small exhibition of his drawings was shown in America, and he was pleased to quote in his memoirs a laudatory review of it in The New York Times, but it was above all an exhibition of a world-famous filmmaker. Nine years after Eisenstein”s death, a large solo exhibition of his drawings was held at the Central House of Art Workers in Moscow. In 1961 the publishing house “Art” published Eisenstein”s first book of drawings, thanks to which he became widely known as an artist.
His wife (from 1934) was the journalist and film critic Pearl Moiseevna Vogelman (November 18, 1900 – September 23, 1965), curator of S. M. Eisenstein”s archives and one of the compilers of his posthumous collection of his works in six volumes (1964-1971). Among other things, she compiled the 1940 anniversary album Soviet Film Art, 1919-1939, published by Goskinoizdat.
Orders and medals:
In September 1965, in a two-room apartment at 10 Smolenskaya Street, allocated by Mossovet to the director”s widow Pere Atasheva, the Scientific Memorial Study of S. M. Eisenstein was opened. Since December 2018, it is located at the VDNH in the former Pavilion “Land Reclamation and Water Management”.
In 1968, the 4th Agricultural Prospect in Moscow was renamed Eisenstein Street.
On April 26, 2016, 2nd Kolkhozny Lane in Odessa was renamed Eisenstein Lane.
In Riga there is also Sergei Eisenstein Street.
In 2018, a derivative adjective from the director”s last name, Eisensteinian, was included in the Oxford English Dictionary.
- Эйзенштейн, Сергей Михайлович
- Sergei Eisenstein
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