In This Article Sergei Eisenstein

  • Introduction
  • Eisenstein in the Discourses of Film Theory and Historiography
  • Biographies
  • Anthologies: Primary Sources
  • Anthologies: Secondary Sources
  • Special Issues of Journals
  • Eisenstein’s Writings: Publications in Russian
  • Drawings
  • Correspondence

Cinema and Media Studies Sergei Eisenstein
by
Masha Salazkina, Katarina Mihailovic
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0134

Introduction

Sergei Eisenstein (Sergei Mikhailovich Eizenshtein, b. Riga, Latvia, 1898–d. Moscow, 1948) remains one of the most celebrated filmmakers and theorists in the history of cinema. He achieved this status internationally during his lifetime, and since his death the overall volume of critical and theoretical writing exploring his work, life, and legacy is surpassed only by that on Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. At least one of his films—Battleship Potemkin (1925)—is inevitably included in every list of “the greatest films ever made,” and both his films and his theoretical writings are a regular part of the standard curriculum of film studies. Eisenstein’s canonical status as a filmmaker from the 1920s through the 1980s can largely be accounted for by the fact that his films have been seen as models for radical political filmmaking, combining antirealist avant-garde cinematic technique with a commitment to the transformation of the political consciousness of the spectator. The availability of archival materials and restorations of unfinished films in the 1980s and 1990s, combined with a renewed interest in historiography within the field of film studies, has led to a reconsideration of Eisenstein’s film legacy. The enduring question that has shaped much of the critical and historical writings on his films has been about the relationship between the ideological mandates of the Soviet state, particularly of the late Stalinist period (1930s–1940s), and the evolution of Eisenstein’s cinematic style.

Eisenstein in the Discourses of Film Theory and Historiography

The reception of Eisenstein’s theoretical writings and his appropriation into the discourses of film studies reflect the development of the discipline and its shifting theoretical foundations. Scholarship on Eisenstein can therefore be successfully measured against the evolution of film studies itself. André Bazin’s famous discussion of Eisenstein, which placed the Soviet director in opposition to realism in cinema (Bazin 1967–1972; essays originally published in French between 1948 and 1957), left an impact on the reception of Eisenstein’s work, but also tied the discussions of Eisenstein’s montage theory to any discussions of Bazin’s own theoretical approach, and Gilles Deleuze’s subsequent use of Eisenstein as a key example of “movement-image” followed the same trajectory (Deleuze 1986). Eisenstein’s Russian Formalist-influenced approach to the study of cinema as a systematic and scientific discourse was seen as a prototype for the development of the discourse of semiotics and structuralist film theory in the 1960s and 1970s (Metz 1974, Burch 1973); in the 1980s and 1990s, with the increased interest in early cinema historiographies in film scholarship, Eisenstein’s theorization of the essence of cinema based on the “montage of attractions” influenced the discussions of the relationship between cultures of modernity and the apparatus of early cinema (Gunning 2008); in the 1990s and 2000s, Eisenstein’s emphasis on the sensory impact of cinema was reappropriated in discussions of the affective and visceral structures of film spectatorship (Sobchack 2004).

  • Bazin, André. What Is Cinema? 2 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967–1972.

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    The essays “An Aesthetic of Reality: Neorealism” (originally published in Esprit in 1948), “The Evolution of Language of Cinema” (a composite of several articles originally published in Cahiers du Cinema in 1950), and “The Virtues and Limitations of Montage” (originally published in 1953) provide extremely influential discussions of Eisenstein and Soviet montage seen in opposition to the aesthetic of realism.

  • Burch, Noël. Theory of Film Practice. London: Secker & Warburg, 1973.

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    Burch draws heavily on the achievements of Eisenstein’s formal dialectics in his discussion of the parameters of the formal possibilities of cinematic expression.

  • Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

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    Soviet montage and Eisenstein’s contribution to it form an important part of Delueze’s discussion of movement-image, drawing on the juxtaposition and division of images and reinforcing the idea that Eisenstein gives the abstract notion of dialectic a cinematographic meaning.

  • Gunning, Tom. “The Cinema of Attraction[s]: Early Film, Its Spectator, and the Avant-Garde.” In Early Cinema: Space, Frame, and Narrative. Edited by Thomas Elsaesser and Adam Barker. London: British Film Institute, 2008.

    E-mail Citation »

    Taking Eisenstein’s early concept of cinema as “montage of attractions” as a point of departure, Gunning formulates his influential notion of a distinct visual regime of early cinema. Originally published in Wide Angle 8.3–4 (1986): 63–70.

  • Metz, Christian. Film Language: A Semiotics of the Cinema. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

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    Metz champions the understanding of Eisenstein’s work, both theoretical and experimental, as providing the grounds for understanding cinema as language.

  • Sobchack, Vivian. Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

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    Sobchack draws on Eisenstein’s theorization of sensory thought and interests in synesthesia to give a historical account of the origins of interest in the relationship between cinema and “the sensate bodies” within film history.

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