Strike deserves a place alongside Battleship Potemkin and Man with a Movie Camera in a trifecta of films from the Soviet Union that while reflecting political agendas most certainly influenced film as a medium. Honestly, it’s a film that’s hard to pin down exactly. It’s the debut of a man named Sergei Eisenstein, who at this point had very little experience, although he would gain renown in later years. It’s a film to glorify the state that commissioned it by depicting events before the state was ever founded. Is this a comedy, solely propaganda, or a social drama?
It’s a film commenced with a quote by Lenin and broken into sections like, Reason to strike, The strike draws out, and Extermination. And yet words or plot summary is not enough, especially with a filmmaker like Eisenstein. How do you describe the impact of a man hanging himself? How do you explain the hordes of people fleeing the police? Wives and children suffering without food and provision, because the men of the house are striking. It’s a mass protest certainly, but when you break it down to the individuals, that’s where you begin to see the real pain.
Maybe I’m forgetting something, but I’d almost rather watch Strike than Eisenstein’s undisputed masterpiece Battleship Potemkin. In some ways, I found this strike and uprising more exciting and vibrant. In itself, the Odessa Steps is an amazing sequence and literally textbook stuff, but this film feels more fun thanks to a lighter initial tone. The common men are throwing the baddies out of town. There are spies with the greatest code names, pocket watch cameras, and antagonists who are great big caricatures.
Instead of feet on steps, it’s hands with fire hoses that become the focal point of the retribution. By the end, it feels like we’ve been manipulated by a wicked sense of humor. We have slowly been descending deeper and deeper into chaos. People running. A cow getting slaughtered. Carnage. Eisenstein effectively plays with the emotions and it’s not without impact. Although the last chapter is somber, Strike feels very accessible for a silent film. There’s a lot to be seen here and like Man with a Movie Camera or Battleship Potemkin, it’s much more than propaganda. I’m not communist and the ways of Lenin and Stalin have generally gone out of fashion as far as I know. However, the work of Eisenstein has remained pertinent, and his inventiveness and investment in the film-making craft are immense. At a basic level, he knows how to elicit emotions persuasively and that is a powerful aspect of film.