Eisenstein reportedly commented, “What a monument you would have raised in my memory if I had died straight after The Battleship Potemkin! I’ve made a mess of my own biography!” While this may be a bit of an overstatement, Eisenstein was correct that he peaked early in his career. However, Eisenstein tended to exhibit some of the autocratic control that his films sought to expose in various governments, overseeing every aspect of his films to the point of obsession, a quality that hindered much of his later work.
Internal and external conflict furthered restricted his genius. As a young man, he and his father were at odds during WWI and the October Revolution in Russia, resulting in irreparable harm to their relationship. As an artist, he frequently found himself being chastised by the new Soviet government and often fought with producers and studios. Perhaps because of these experiences, conflict—both societal and personal—is at the front of all his great films. In examining the role of government in the lives of the proletariat, Eisenstein was a pioneer in using mood, lighting, and montage to convey heroism and villainy. In a time when silent films were usually one-reelers, he crafted epics, filled with sweeping crowd scenes and disturbing images, some of which couldn’t be shot today, such as the plummet of a live horse from a raised drawbridge into the river below.