Though there are many differences between the two silent films Birth of a Nation, directed by D. Griffith, and The Battleship Potemkin, directed by Sergei Eisenstein, it is their similarities that are most intriguing. Both directors were attempting to get the audience to take an active participatory role while watching these films. Both directors chose to integrate historical events as well as symbols into their storylines. Griffith in particular relies much on this method, while Eisenstein breaks new ground with his introduction of the montage. .
The portrayal of historical events in Birth of a Nation is intended to have a dual affect on the audience. First and foremost it forces them to become drawn into the film because of their own sense of history and how they personally relate to it. For instance the tableau of President Lincoln is in his office signing documents, then again during his assassination, we see our main characters right there with him. Eisenstein uses real events to draw his viewer in as well. For example the mutiny on the Potemkin truly happened, though the Odessa Step Sequence was completely fabricated. .
Griffith is found of using animals to symbolize ideas. The perfect example of this is when we see a close-up of Lillian Gish's face followed by a straight cut to a close-up of a squirrel. Here Griffith is making a connection between the innocence and delicacy of a white southern girl and that of a squirrel. Eisenstein is a bit more subtle. He uses a boiling pot during a montage to symbolize the increasing excitement of the men prior to battle. Both of these instances are intended to force the viewer to react, therefore becoming involved.
Eisentien, however, raises the bar when he introduces a powerful new cinematic tool: the montage. Though he is the first to use this potent new device he uses it very effectively throughout the entirety of the film. The first montage we see is a double-hitter, in that it is demanding the audience's attention on at least two levels.