Sergejs Eizenšteins
Film Director and Scriptwriter
Time has no power over Sergey Eisenstein's reels. Intellectual and artistic originality, powerful effect of his films. and vividly depicting heroic events of the Revolution and the creation of Russian state system, working class movement. class struggle in the countryside, captivated wide movie audiences. The main idea of Eisenstein's works is invincibility of revolution, natural phenomenon of history movement forward to the perfection of human society. And if we tried to determine his place in the history of artistic culture of mankind by saying only one word - the word would be "revolutionary". We can say that because of his glorifying Revolution, his searching for new revolutionary forms, realising the possibilities of cinema, the newest and the most popular art.
In January we commemorate Eisenstein's 100th anniversary. Not only his films. scripts, theoretic research work and drawings do exist nowadays and are admired by film-goers and readers. but his personality and image are memorable to those who knew him personally saw his films and read his works.
His colleagues admired his industry, energy and knowledge. They passed by word of mouth Eisenstein's apt remarks and witty joke read his articles, listened to this speeches and lectures, studied the laws of cinematic art, discovered by him. Eisenstein shared his vast knowledge with everybody.
What thinkers of the past has he not referred to in order to support this theory of cinema art, what artists, writers, poets and, musicians has he not turned to in search of creative ways, what historic events, scientific discoveries, social processes has he not tried to comprehend in order to use their ideas in socialist culture! The more we study Eisenstein's heritage, the deeper we think about his life, the more evident become his honesty, unselfishness, considerate attitude to young people, ability of rejoicing at other people's success, helping others ad sharing his experience.
Since Eisenstein's death forty years passed but it seems that Sergey Mikhailovich is alive, that he is still working among us. His works are popular, with audiences at home and abroad. In many countries his works are being published, his drawings are being exhibited and the following words, said by him are translated into many languages. "If Revolution has led me to art, then art has led me to Revolution. The merging into Party history and revolutionary past of Russian people has given that ideological base without which true art is impossible... I'll give myself and I'll give all myself to the great cause of building communism." That is why Eisenstein's works and the whole life of this artist of Revolution are so dear and instructive for us.
He was born on the 22nd of January, 1898 in Riga two years after cinema was invented. His father, a well-known engineer and architect, and his mother, who descended from the family of Archangel merchants (old believers) gave their only son excellent education. Since his childhood he had been reading a lot, drawing, going to theatre and cinema, studying German, French and English. After finishing Riga technical High School he enrolled at the Petrograd Institute of Civil Engineering, but after the October Revolution he left it and volunteered to the Red Army as a field engineer. Then he became an artist in a propaganda train team, took part in the army amateur theatre, wrote plays, drew scenery, kept diaries where he put down summaries of works by philosophers and art critics as well as his own thoughts on art.
In 1920 he joined the Proletcult Theatre at first as artist and later as director and artistic director.
In 1921-l922 he studied at the Higher Film Directors' Studio of Vsevolod Meyerhold. Being an artist, co-director and scriptwriter he staged "A Mexican" based on Jack London's story; then together with the poet Sergey Tretyakov, a member of LEF (Russian art and literature association, 1922-l929) made an adaptation of Ostrovsky's play "No Man Is Wise at All Times" titled "A Wise Man", aimed at counterrevolution. A short film "Glumov's Diary" was made for this performance. Such Eisenstein's disciples as Grigory Alexandrov, Maxim Shtraukh, Ivan Pyriyev and others took part in it. In LEF magazine edited by Mayakovsky he published an article titled "Montage of Attractions'; which established a new principle of dramaturgy: producing B strong effect on the audience by means of combining posters, slogans, circus, variety show, gymnastics, scenery and theatre effects. He stayed two plays by Sergey Tretiyakov "Moscow, Do You Hear Me?" and "Gas Masks" at the Proletkult Theatre. They were a great success (though sometimes - a scandalous one) and were reviewed by the press. But soon Eisenstein got disappointed in creative perspectives of this theatre and turned to film directing.
At that time Soviet cinema was making its first steps. The young directors Lev Kuleshov, Dziga Vertov, Vsevolod Pudovkin and others, who started career in other walks of life - painting, journalism, poetry and who had already gone through the war. Sincerely and deliberately they dedicated themselves to the Revolution, to creating works which could not only entertain and educate people but also helped them in building new life and socialism. Eisenstein took a notable place among them.
His first film "The Strike" was planned as generalization of various means of revolutionary struggle of the Russian proletariat. While studying foreign film reels Eisenstein understood that their success was based on the entertaining and acting of popular film stars. "Our cinema must be quite different: instead of film stars there must be a collective hero - people - consisting of individual typical characters - persons of distinctive social appearance with an expressive style of performance, and instead of a plot there should be a combination of strong means of influence, such as tricks, devices, metaphors, on the audience. This made the film "The Strike" complex and not all movie scenes were accepted by the public. But the best of them - mass scenes (workers' rebellion in the plant, turning out masters from workshops, revolutionary meetings, dispersal of demonstration with fire-pumps savage reprisal of women and children by cossacks - captivated movie audiences with dramatism and sharpness. Rhythmic montage, sharp foreshortenings, bold film metaphors were also inimitable. The picture was shot by the remarkable cameraman Eduard Tisse, a former war reporter who later became Eisenstein's friend for life.
"Pravda" newspaper called "The Strike" "the first revolutionary work of Soviet cinema". The Soviet government offered Eisenstein to make a film in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the First Russian Revolution, 1905.
At first he tried to include in the script "1905" written in cooperation with Nina Agadzhanova - Shutko, all the main events of the Revolution. But time was passing. The first shootings in Leningrad delayed because of the bad weather and they had to move to Odessa, where Eisenstein, impressed with the eye-witness accounts, decided to take only one episode, but the most dynamic, dramatic and typical one, which could embody the image of the Revolution. He meant the sailors' uprising at the battleship "Prince Potyomkin Tavrichesky". Eisenstein made the film in Odessa where the real events took place: in the port, on the staircase and on board of the old battleship, transformed into an ammunition depot. Dramatism of all the parts of the film and their harmonic combination are amazing: scenes of different emotional force, rhythm if is faultless film metaphors are impressive. Armed fighting of sailors with officers on board of the battleship. Growth of resentment on the shore, in the-port. Hoisting up the flag at the battleship (the flag was coloured by hand!) Massacre of old men, women and children sympathising to sailors on the staircase descending to the sea... And at last, the passing of the revolutionary battleship through the squadron which was sent to disarm sailors, but did not dare to start the battle. In such a way has been embodied the idea of invincibility of the Revolution and immortality of revolting people.
The film was shown both at home and abroad. In many countries it was forbidden, confiscated and disfigured with cutting. But even nowadays "The Battleship "Potyomkin" is a success where there is a revolutionary situation. For film workers it still remains an encyclopaedia of technical devices. Not once international juries called it "the best film of all times and peoples."
Eisenstein, his young co-author Grigory Alexandrov and cameraman Eduard Tisse made another film by the 10th anniversary of the Revolution of 1917. It was "October". The shooting of workers' demonstration in July, the taking by storm of the tsarist citadel Winter Palace, Lenin's speech from the top of the armoured car, fraternization of workers with counter-revolutionary troops... Dramatism of these mass scenes is immemorable. The idea of possibility to express scientific and political concepts by means of metaphors (intellectual cinema, as Eisenstein called it) was embodied in some complicated but extremely expressive montage combinations - metaphors. For the first time the image of Lenin was created in a feature film. Up to now this film is considered to be the best representation of the great events and is still shown on revolutionary holidays.
In their next film "Old and New" Eisenstein and his colleagues showed using means of art the struggle for the collectivisation of the Russian country.
In 1929 Eisenstein, Alexandrov and Tisse were sent abroad for studying the technique of making sound films. But they came to Paris, Berlin, London and other cities of Europe and later of America not as shy disciples. They showed their films, read lectures on Soviet culture and development of cinematic art. However, they did not manage to produce a movie picture in Europe: enterprisers were afraid of dealing with revolutionary artists. The same happened in America. Eisenstein's script of "Zutter's Gold" (based on B. Sandrar's novel) and "An American Tragedy" Cadaptation of Th. Dreiser' work) were no accepted because of their revolutionary ideas. They contained a lot of new devices. Sound was used in various ways. Psychologic monologue was used widely, such a combination of picture and sound which allowed to merge into thoughts, feelings, psychology of the heroes.
The Soviet film masters went to Mexico at the expense of the writer U. Sinclair and filmed there a lot of first-class material on the history and the present of this interesting country. But there was a lack of money and the film was not finished. The film material was used by different American directors. And only in 1979 in accordance with Eisenstein's idea Grigory Alexandrov restored the film "Viva Mexico!" based on materials, bought by Gosfilmofond of the USSR from various people. The posthumous work of the great film master was universally recognised and received numerous awards and prizes.
On his return home Eisenstein started working on a poetic film about Moscow and on a comedy, besides, he had a lot of plans but misfortune was after him: his film "Bezhin Meadow", nearly finished, was misunderstood and rejected. And only in 1971 Sergey Yutkevich managed to restore this reel using montage cuts and photos.
But at last the time of new triumph came. In 1939 Eisenstein's film "Alexander Nevsky" (photographed by Tisse, music by Sergey Prokofiev, starring Nikolay Cherkasov) was released. The story of fighting of the Novgorod Prince against the Teutons had much in common with the situation in Europe at that time: fascism was making preparations for the intervention to the Soviet Union. "Patriotism is our theme", - wrote Eisenstein and the heroic deed of the Russian people embodied by him in the film, became an inspiring example for Soviet patriots. The film had a great response during World War II. It finds a broad response nowadays as it affirms the right of peoples to freedom and independence.
In 1939 Eisenstein returned to theatre, staged Wagner's "Die Walkure" at the Bolshoi Theatre. He was interested in the opera as in a combination of literature, music, acting and scenery. During the Great Patriotic War Sergey Eisenstein, Sergey Prokofiev, Nikolay Cherkasov, cameramen E. Tisse and A. Moskvin actors Sofia Birman, Pavel Kadochnikov, Amvrosiy Buchma, Mikhail Kuznetsov, Mikhail Zharov and others made the film "Ivan the Terrible". In this tragedy they showed the conflict of the tzar Ivan with boyars and the controversial traits of the personality of Ivan the Terrible who realised his ideals by means of cruelty, persecution and massacre.
Artistic quality, acting and music of this film (one part of it is in colour) are remarkable. The first series of the film was highly appreciated, but the second one at first was rejected. It was released only in 1958 and at once was universally recognised. Many film critics consider "Ivan the Terrible" one of the best historical films of the world cinema. S. Eisenstein filmed just a few motion pictures, but each of them as well as his theoretic and journalistic works and drawings made a great contribution to the world artistic culture.
Each day, each hour of Sergey Mikhailovich was filled with work: he was engaged in literature, pedagogic and social life.
His heart could not stand the burden and he died at the age of fifty in February, 11th, 1948. But as all the great persons who gave their lives to people, progress of mankind and lofty ideas Eisenstein became immortal. - Home
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