Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (Russian: Сергей Михайлович Эйзенштейн) (January 23, 1898 - February 11, 1948) was a Russian director noted for his films Battleship Potemkin and Oktober, both based loosely on a true story and presented in a realistic fashion, causing an immeasurable influence on early documentary directors owing to his innovative use of montage.
Eisenstein was a pioneer in the use of editing. He believed that film editing was more than merely a method used to link scenes together in a movie; he felt that careful editing could actually be used to manipulate the emotions of the audience. He performed long research into this area, and developed what he called "montage". His published books The Film Form and The Film Sense explain his theories of montage, and they have been highly influential to many directors.
In his initial films, Eisenstein did not use professional actors. His narratives eschewed individual characters and addressed broad social issues, especially class conflict. He used stock characters, and the roles were filled with untrained people from the appropriate class backgrounds.
Eisenstein's loyalty to the ideals of Communism brought him into conflict with a number of officials in the ruling regime of Josef Stalin. Stalin was very much aware of the power of motion pictures as a propaganda tool, and he considered Eisenstein to be a controversial figure. Eisenstein's popularity and influence waxed and waned with the success of his films. The Battleship Potemkin was a popular hit worldwide, and its success was a factor in Eisenstein being selected to direct October: Ten Days That Shook The World as part of a grand 10th anniversary celebration of the October Revolution of 1917. However, the film was not nearly as successful as Potemkin.
In 1930 Paramount Pictures invited Eisenstein to Hollywood with a $100.000 contract. He arrived in New York on May 20 and continued to California. Paramount wanted him to make a movie version on Theodore Dreiser's An American tragedy but the disagreements about casting made them part company by October. Josef von Sternberg finished the film.
Eisenstein journeyed to Mexico, where he tried to produce a partly-dramatized documentary entitled Que Viva Mexico!. Before it was finished, Stalin demanded that Eisenstein return to the Soviet Union. Eisenstein gave the unedited footage into the care of novelist Upton Sinclair who was also the movie's main financier, on the understanding that it would be sent after Eisenstein to the Soviet Union at the first available opportunity, with the intention that Eisenstein would edit the film in Moscow. It never arrived. The footage was eventually screened in New York in 1933, in a form edited by producer Sol Lesser without Eisenstein's input, with the title Thunder over Mexico. Since then, numerous films have been assembled from Eisenstein's footage, with varying degrees of fidelity to his intentions.
Eisenstein's foray into the west made Stalin look upon him with a more suspicious eye, and this suspicion would never be completely erased in the mind of the Stalinist elite. Political red tape forced the cancellation of Eisenstein's next two film projects, and an "official" supervisor was appointed to look after Eisenstein during the making of Alexander Nevsky.
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 hemorrhage and died at the age of 50. 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.
The Battleship Potemkin (1925)
October: Ten Days That Shook The World (1927)
The General Line (aka Old And New) (1929)
Que Viva Mexico! (unfinished)
Bezhin Meadow (unfinished)
Alexander Nevsky (1938)
Ivan The Terrible, Part I
Ivan The Terrible, Part II
Ivan The Terrible, Part III (unfinished)