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Sergei Eisenstein

Filmmaker

Born: 23 January 1898
Died: 11 February 1948 (heart failure)
Birthplace: Riga, Russia (now Latvia)
Best known as: Russian director of the film The Battleship Potemkin
Russian filmmaker Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein is considered one of the architects of the language of cinema, a director-theorist whose reputation rests on a handful of films made in the 1920s and '30s. His post-revolution propaganda films for the new Russian state made him a national hero and a celebrity in the new international film industry. Strike (1925), October (1928), The General Line (1929) and The Battleship Potemkin (1925) made his career, their dynamism and groundbreaking editing techniques more than making up for the heavy-handed politics. Eisenstein is famous for his use of montage -- the purposeful juxtaposition of images -- and his emphasis on editing as a storytelling device. He tried Hollywood briefly (1930-32), then embarked on an ill-fated film project in Mexico (sponsored by American writer Upton Sinclair) before heading back to Russia. Back in Moscow after 1932, he lectured, wrote about film theory and managed to finish some projects, despite conflicts with the temperamental dictator Joseph Stalin. His other films include the patriotic epics Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Ivan the Terrible (1944), both of which were scored by composer Sergei Prokofiev.
Extra credit: A standard for film students is Eisenstein's "steps sequence" from the film The Battleship Potemkin. A violent crowd scene, it illustrates the power of editing to set the tone and pace of the narrative. The most famous part involves shots of a baby carriage rolling down the steps unattended, intercut with the faces of stunned observers.

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