Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein 1898-1948 Eisenstein: early biography



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Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein

  • 1898-1948

Eisenstein: early biography

  • Born in Riga, Latvia, into the family of a prominent architect and engineer
  • Father Jewish, mother Russian
  • Graduated from the Institute of Civil Engineering in Saint Petersburg
  • In 1920, joined the Proletkult (“proletarian culture”) Central Workers’ Theatre in Moscow
  • Studied in the School for Stage Direction under Vsevolod Meyerhold in early 1920s

Eisenstein Filmography

  • Strike 1923
  • Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  • October (Ten Days that Shook the World) 1928
  • The General Line (The Old and the New) 1929
  • Que viva Mexico! (unfinished – abandoned 1932)
  • Bezhin Meadow (1935 – undistributed, destroyed)
  • Alexander Nevsky 1938
  • Ivan the Terrible Pt. I 1944
  • Ivan the Terrible Pt II (finished 1946, released only in 1958)

Key Concepts in 1920s films, esp. Eisenstein

  • new cinematic language rejecting “literature” (narrative) and “theatre” (psychological realism of stage)
  • montage of attractions: collision (juxtaposing) of visual images to create a third meaning : (A + B = C)
  • typage: rejection of actors, preference for facial “types”

Eisenstein and the Theatre

  • Worked under Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874-1940)
  • antirealist theatre
  • theatre of the grotesque
  • clowning, acrobatics
  • abstract, “constructivist” sets

Eisenstein’s essay “Montage of Attractions” (1923)

  • “Montage of attractions”: cinema compared to theatre and circus
  • Tr.: “sequence of tricks”
  • first experiment in film: grotesque intermezzo inserted in play

The Real versus Realism

  • Avant-garde film rejected the “psychological realism” of Stanislavskian theatre.
  • Eisenstein: “The Moscow Art Theatre is my deadly enemy. They string their emotions together to give a continuous illusion of reality. I take photographs of reality and then cut them up to produce emotions… I am not a realist, I am a materialist. I believe that material things, that matter gives us the basis of all our sensations. I get away from realism by going to reality.”

Commedia dell’arte and the Grotesque

  • Jacques Callot (1592-1635):
  • French artist, engravings of Italian actors
  • Masks: Pantalone, Petrushka, dottore
  • Serious characters (innamorati): lovers joined at end of comedy, become heroic revolutionaries
  • For Russian theatre/film: source of grotesque – deformation of the human form, and expressive facial expression as mask

Film Strike (1923) as a commedia dell'arte

  • First feature film, about workers’ strikes before the revolution
  • Serious heroes: revolutionaries
  • Dark comedy, the revolutionaries are suppressed.
  • Masks: factory managers, spies…

October (1927) by Sergei Eisenstein First non-documentary featuring Lenin

Sergei Eisenstein’s October (Ten Days that Shook the World) (1927)

  • Based on book by John Reid
  • Made to commemorate 10th anniversary of Bolshevik seizure of Power
  • Historical inaccurate: the myth, not the literal truth
  • Political message conveyed visually
  • Film technique: editing
  • The narrative...what the story trying to tell?

October: the events

  • Hardships of war
  • 23-27 February 1917 crisis
  • 15 March 1917 Tsar Nicholas II abdicates
  • Confrontation between Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet (Workers' Council)
  • April 1917 Vladimir Lenin returns via the Finland Station
  • July Demonstrations broken up, Lenin goes into hiding
  • October 24-25 (7 November) 1917
  • Storming of the Winter Palace in Petrograd and removal of Provisional Government

“Typage” as development of Mask in October (1927)

  • Typage (use of types): “Lenin” is played by a worker who looked similar.
  • No acting: simple gestures.
  • Lenin arrives at Finland Station

Montage

  • Radical intercutting of unrelated shots to create emotional shock or intellectual impact.
  • Developed from “Kuleshov effect”
  • Early “shock” montage from Strike:
  • The killing of the workers and end of the strike.

“Intellectual” montage

  • Montage of two shots to create comparison or metaphor: A + B = C
  • Intellectual Montage in October
  • “God and country” in
  • Montage of recognizable figures - anti-Communist leaders Kornilov and Kerensky - with dolls, e.g. Napoleon

October

  • Sound through montage
  • the suppression of the workers’ July demonstration

Eisenstein's October

  • Historically inaccurate: the myth, not the literal truth
  • Political message conveyed visually
  • Film technique: editing
  • Use of types: “Lenin” is a worker who looked similar.
  • No acting: simple gestures
  • Montage of faces, e.g. Kerensky, with dolls, e.g. Napoleon

“Moving masses” in October

October

  • Sound through montage
  • - the suppression of the workers’ July demonstration


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