Monday, January 23, 2012

Sergei Eisenstein (January 23, 1898)

Sergei Eisenstein grew up in Latvia and St. Petersberg, and became an important early-Soviet film maker.

"Battleship Potemkin," about the 1905 Odessa uprising, is his most famous film. It especially memorialized the image of the landmark stairway that links the upper city of Odessa to the lower port area. Above all, the film is remembered for the image of a baby carriage rolling out-of-control down these stairs. The scene has been visually quoted in subsequent movies, notably in The Untouchables in a shootout between Eliot Ness (Kevin Kostner) and Al Capone's henchmen.

Charles King's history of Odessa states:
"Today it is almost impossible to separate our understanding of 1905 from the way in which the events were mythologized twenty years later. All of the key images, in fact, come from the skillful hands of one man, Sergei Eisenstein, the master of early Soviet cinematography. Through his 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin, Odessa became the tocsin that heralded the coming of revolution, ground zero for the emergence of triumphant Bolshevism, and by extension the truest birthplace of the Soviet Union." (Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams, p. 189)
Among other changes, Eisenstein left out the vicious pogrom that occurred during the events of 1905 in Odessa. He located the violence and heroism on the famous stairway, assigning this to a central role in the uprising. In fact most of the violence occurred elsewhere, and was mainly directed at Jews. The permanence of the imagery comes from Eisenstein's imagination.

Eisenstein's mother was Russian Orthodox, but his father was Jewish, which maybe made him especially representative of the new Soviet citizen to whom religion didn't matter. Or not.

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