Eisenstein, Sergei Mikhailovich

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Eisenstein, Sergei Mikhailovich

Eisenstein, Sergei Mikhailovich (syĭrgāˈ mēkhīˈləvĭch īˈzənshtīn), 1898–1948, Russian film director. An architect and engineer, he became interested in a theatrical career and worked as a scene designer and stage director (1920). He began his film career in 1924 with Strike, followed by Potemkin (1925), which brought him world fame. Eisenstein developed a system of editing techniques, called montage, through which he made complex statements visually rather than through dialogue. His most famous sequences, the massacre on the Odessa steps in Potemkin and the rising of the drawbridge in October (1927), were composed of hundreds of shots edited according to his precise instructions. His only American project, Que Viva Mexico!, filmed in Mexico in 1930, was taken from his control and later edited by others. His Alexander Nevsky (1938) was an international success, but his projected trilogy Ivan the Terrible (1942–46) met with government disfavor. Part I was released in 1946, but Part II was withheld by the Soviet Film Trust until 1958. Eisenstein died before he could start Part III. He wrote The Film Sense (tr. 1942, rev. ed. 1947), The Film Form (tr. 1949), and Notes of a Film Director (tr. 1959).


See biographies by Y. Barna (1974) and R. Bergan (1999).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Eisenstein, Sergei Mikhailovich


Born Jan. 10 (22), 1898, in Riga; died Feb. 11,1948, in Moscow. Soviet motion-picture director, theoretician of art, and teacher. Honored Artist of the RSFSR (1935). Doctor of arts (1939).

Eisenstein, the son of an architect, studied at the Petrograd Institute of Civil Engineering. In 1918 he went to work on Red Army agitational trains. In 1920 he was in charge of stage design for the First Proletkul’t Workers’ Theater in Moscow. He studied under V. E. Meyerhold at the State Higher Directing Studios in 1921–22, and together with S. I. Iutkevich he staged a series of performances at the Mastfor Theater (Foregger’s Workshop). His first independent production was The Wise Man, based on A. N. Ostrovskii’s comedy Even a Wise Man Stumbles (1923). In 1923, Eisenstein published the article “The Montage of Attractions,” in which he expressed his fundamental theories of effecting social change through art.

Eisenstein’s Strike (released 1925) was the first film to depict the revolutionary masses as the moving force of history. The ideological and aesthetic principles of Strike were developed in Battleship Potemkin (1925), one of the greatest achievements of Soviet and world film-making. With classical perfection the film embodied the theme of revolution as a struggle for class equality, freedom, and human dignity. At the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels it was ranked first among the 12 best films in history. In October (1927), Eisenstein, director G. V. Aleksandrov, and cameraman E. K. Tisse re-created the events of 1917 and made the first attempt to depict V. I. Lenin in a feature film. Advances in montage enabled Eisenstein to promote the idea of the “intellectual cinematographer” as a synthesizer of art and science. In 1929 he completed Old and New, the first Soviet film about cooperation and collectivization in the countryside.

Between 1929 and 1932, Eisenstein, Aleksandrov, and Tisse worked in France, the United States, and Mexico. The conditions of capitalist film-making prevented Eisenstein from realizing his artistic dreams. Que viva Mexico! remained unfinished, although it did mark the beginning of Mexican film-making.

After returning to his homeland, Eisenstein continued to work as a director, theoretician, and teacher. From 1935 to 1937 he worked on Bezhin Meadow, based on the murder of the pioneer Pavlik Morozov, but the film was not completed. Alexander Nevsky (1938), a patriotic film about the defeat of the German knights in the 13th century, became a triumph of Soviet filmmaking. Eisenstein’s last motion picture, the tragedy Ivan the Terrible (part 1,1945; part II released 1958), dealt with the theme of power. With its profound historical subject matter and intensive use of the expressive devices of the cinema, it became Eisenstein’s second masterpiece.

Eisenstein’s enormous theoretical heritage covers the fundamental problems of artistic creation, from general aesthetic concepts to concrete problems of film-making. He also wrote sociopolitical articles, essays, and memoirs. His drawings, which have been shown at posthumous exhibitions, reveal his unusual talent in the graphic arts. Eisenstein taught at the State Technicum of Cinematography from 1928, becoming a professor in 1937 (in 1938 it was renamed the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography).

Eisenstein was awarded the State Prize of the USSR (1941, 1946), the Order of Lenin, the Order of the Badge of Honor, and several medals.


Izbr, soch., vols. 1–6. Moscow, 1964–71.


Iutkevich, S. I. “S. Eizenshtein.” In his Kontrapunkt rezhissera. Moscow, 1960.
Iurenev, R. N. “Bronenosets ‘Potemkin’” S. Eizenshteina. [Moscow, 1965.]
Zorkaia, N. M. “S. Eizenshtein.” In her Portrety. Moscow, 1966.
Shklovskii, V. B. Eizenshtein. [Moscow, 1973.]
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.