Vsevolod Pudovkin, the Russian film director who pioneered the use of montage

Vsevolod PudovkinVsevolod Pudovkin was a maverick Russian film director, screenwriter and actor who developed ground-breaking theories of film montage that have influenced countless filmmakers around the world. Today he is not particularly well-known, despite at one time being able count amongst his many followers the legendary director, Alfred Hitchcock, who adopted much of Pudovkin’s techniques in his classic 1927 thriller, The Lodger, which starred the popular British leading actor, Ivor Novello. 

Film Technique PagePudovkin put pen to paper in 1929 and published his ideas and theories in a book entitled Film Technique. I’ve been fortunate enough to get a copy of the 1933 edition, which now takes a prominent place on my film bookshelf, alongside my copy of The Lodger on DVD. The book, which was translated and annotated by Ivor Montagu, a British filmmaker, screenwriter, critic, writer, actor, table tennis player and Soviet spy during the Second World War, contains seven key sections; The Film Scenario and its Theory, Film Director and Film Material, Types Instead of Actors, Close-ups in Time, Asynchronism as a Principle of Sound Film, Rhythmic Problems in my First Film, and Notes and Appendices.

This edition provides an invaluable insight into the craft of early filmmaking, which demonstrates that although the technology we use to make and watch films has changed markedly over the decades, the fundamental principles of truth, character and emotion have not. For anyone with an interest in the history of filmmaking this is an invaluable contribution, along with similar titles from Adrian Brunel, a leading British director from the 1920s and 30s.

Pudovkin was born on 16 February 1893 in Penza, then part of the Russian Empire, and later studied at Moscow University.

Pukovkin on LocationHe served with the Russian army during the First World War and was taken prisoner by the Germans. After the war he entered the fledgling Russian film industry, working initially as a screenwriter, before trying his hand as an actor and then as an art director. Soon he progressed to become assistant director to Lev Kuleshov, who co-founded what is regarded as the world’s first film school, The Moscow Film School.

In 1926, Pudovkin directed one of the masterpieces of silent cinema, Mother. It was during this film that he first developed many of his theories around the use of montage. The following year he completed his first feature-length work, The End of St. Petersburg (1927) and Storm Over Asia (1927), which combined create a trilogy on the Bolshevik revolution.

Mother 1926 - Pudovkin

In 1928, with the imminent introduction of talking pictures, Pudovkin collaborated with two other leading Soviet filmmakers, Sergei Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov to create their innovative Manifest of Sound, in which they discussed the possibilities of sound as a complement to the image in moving pictures. Pudovkin’s first talking films included A Simple Case (1932) and The Deserter (1933).

Pudovkin’s career spanned more than thirty years. He died in Riga in the Soviet Union on 30 June 1953, aged 60.