A Profile in the National Identity of Russia

sergei mikhailovich eisenstein


by Lauren C. Liebes, February, 2000






Eisenstein was accepted into the theatre section of the government run art program. He studied under the great Vsevelod Meyerhold. (Meyerhold was killed by Stalin's firing squad in 1939.) Under Meyerhold, Eisemstein explored the different aspects of the theatre, including directing and designing.


In his first film, Strike, Eisenstein glorified the working class. Funded by the Proletkult Theatre, in what was supposed to be the first in eight episodes of the film series Towards the Dictatorship, he depicts the "development and destruction of a strike in Tsarist Russia" (WS, 3). Eisenstein also introduced a concept called "montage." "Montage became for Eisenstein a method of penetrating reality. Montage is the unity and conflict of opposites in art. It was an attack by Eisenstein on the traditional method of constructing a film-the linkage of sequences in smooth, undisturbing manner" (WS, 4).


In 1925, the Communist Party  commissioned the film "Potemkin" (also called "Battleship Potemkin") to celebrate the anniversary of the 1905 Revolution. "Potemkin is a conscious, scientifically calculated effort not only to capture on film the movement and spirit of the masses and the brutal reaction of the Tsarist government, but to evoke very powerful emotions in the viewer as well" (WS, 5).

Eisenstein achieved this emotional reaction by paying close attention to detail and to history. Eisenstein was acclaimed around the world for his groundbreaking work and to this day is most well known for this film.




After the success of Potemkin, Eisenstein made only a few more films. The film, October, recounts the history of the Revolution of 1917. However, since this film was made during the height of tension between the Left Opposition and the bureaucracy, Eisenstein was forced to edit about one-third of the film to Stalin's standards. It is reported that one night during Eisenstein's editing sessions, Stalin stopped by for a private viewing of scenes from October.


Stalin ordered Eisenstein to cut about 3,000 feet of footage, including a speech by Lenin. Stalin is quoted as saying, "Lenin's liberalism is no longer valid today" (Barna, 123).








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