Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein was born in Riga, Latvia, on 23 January 1898 into a Jewish family of German descent; he was the only son of the architect Mikhail Osipovich Eisenstein and his wife Julia Ivanovna nee Konetskaya. He went to a technical grammar school in Riga and continued his education at the Institute for Civil Engineering in St.Petersburg.
A participant in the Bolshevik Revolution he volunteered for the Red Army in 1918. He subsequently became a member of the Proletkult theatre movement in 1919 where he designed stage sets and directed a number of experimental plays. In 1921 he joined the Director's Workshop of Vsevolod Meyerhold and 1923 the Cinema Workshop of Lev Kuleshov. The same year he published his fundamental text 'The Montage of Attractions'. In 1924 he directed for Goskino the film Strike which was the beginning of his collaboration with the cameraman Eduard Tissé, an artistic symbiosis which resulted in 1925 in the production of Battleship Potemkin shot in Moscow and Odessa, premiered in 1926 in Moscow and Berlin.
October (Ten Days That Shook the World), ordered top coincide with the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution, was released in 1928. Eisenstein started teaching a director's course at the State Technical School for Cinematography GTK and commenced working on his last silent film The General Line. Re-edited according to Stalin's dictate, it was released in 1929 under the title The Old and the New.
1929 marked the beginning of three years of travel for Eisenstein, his cameraman Tissé and assistant Grigorij Aleksandrov. They went first to Berlin to promote October and to study the technique of sound-film production at the UFA studios. Their travels took them to Lausanne, Paris and London.
With permission of the Soviet leadership Eisenstein signed in early 1930 a contract with Paramount and went with Tissé and Aleksandrov to Hollywood. He submitted scripts for three films which he hoped to realise: The Glass House, Sutter's Gold and An American Tragedy. The studio rejected them all.
Financed by the novelist Upton Sinclair and his wife Mary Craig, Eisenstein and his team went to Mexico in 1931, to shoot the film ¡Que viva México!. At the height of his creativity he also produced a great number of drawings inspired by Mexican life. Unedited scenes of the film which were shown to critics and investors were highly praised for their visual beauty. Due to financial difficulties and Stalin's insistence on Eisenstein’s return to Moscow film work was halted.
Early in 1932 Eisenstein returned to the Soviet Union, with no chance to finish his film. He proposed several films like The Black Consul, the comedy MMM and Optimistic Tragedy, but these were rejected. He gave all his energy to teaching directing at the State Film School and wrote his great theoretical works. From 1935 to 1937 he produced Beshin Meadow, a film which was condemned for ideological reasons and destroyed.
From 1937 to 1938 he made Aleksandr Nevsky, for Mosfilm with the music by Sergei Prokofiev. The film brought him back into favour with Stalin and he was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1939. In 1940 he was appointed artistic director of Mosfilm. In 1941 his book 'Film Sense' was published in Britain. The project for Ivan the Terrible, a film epic in three parts, was started 1943. The first part of Ivan the Terrible, for which he received the Stalin Prize, was premiered in 1945. The second part was completed in 1946, but was shelved immediately; the third part remained fragment.
In the last years left to him Eisenstein lectured and continued expanding his film theory. He died on 10 February 1948 in Moscow.