Eisenstein, Sergei Mikhailovich (1898–1948) By Eubanks, Ivan
Sergei Eisenstein was an early Soviet film director and theorist who produced widely acknowledged masterpieces of both silent and sound cinema, such as Strike (1924), Battleship Potemkin (1925), October (1927), Alexander Nevsky (1938) Ivan the Terrible I (1944), and Ivan the Terrible II (1958). He is widely known for devising influential theories on montage as the basis for cinematic art.
Although acclaimed for his cinematic masterpieces and film theory, Sergei Eisenstein began his career in theater. He joined the Red Army in 1918 after studying civil engineering, and he was assigned to a theatrical troupe where he worked as set designer. After being demobilized in 1920, Eisenstein found employment at the Proletkult Theater in Moscow, where he worked under the tutelage of Vsevolod Meyerhold, who would have a lasting influence on him. After spending approximately five years in theater, Eisenstein wrote “Montage of Attractions” (1923), outlining the theory that he had conceived while directing his first play for stage, Alexander Ostrovsky’s Enough Stupidity in Any Wise Man (1868). Defining “attractions” as calculated emotional shocks delivered by a play, Eisenstein claimed that an accumulative series of affects could guide audience members to adopt a given ideology. Thus, he believed, a good script consisted of a plan for engendering attractions in a compelling sequence. He implicitly de-emphasized character-driven plots and suggested that attractions prove most potent, not when arising from the context of a story, but rather when originating with extra-textual associations triggered by action. By 1924, however, he deemed action less effective at evoking such extra-textual associations than images, the fundamental vessels of meaning in cinema, and he therefore resolved that film provides the more powerful means of generating attractions. He thus adapted his theory to cinema, which became the basis of his work in that medium.