October: 10 Days that Shook the World (1928)

Octyabr_posterIt’s curious that the first image October conjures up is a biblical nightmare from the book of Daniel. In that instance, the Babylonian king is frightened in his dream by a giant statue that comes tumbling to the ground. Of course, in that context, it had a lot of the same connotations, that his kingdom would come crashing to the ground with a resounding thud.

Obviously, there is an overarching narrative which holds importance, but Eisenstein always was a filmmaker of emotion elicited through moving images. So if I’m to be completely honest, the exact particulars of October don’t altogether interest me that much. Certainly, the Russian Revolution is an interesting and cataclysmic moment in 2oth century world history. However, all its crevices and nuances could just as easily be found in a textbook or piece of historical literature.

October is engaging visually, as not only a piece of historical documentation, but of propaganda, and artistic expression through a highly visual medium. Sergei Eisenstein is one of the forefathers of editing and even to this day how he decided to cut his films is fascinating. Part of this is his complete and utter break with the classical Hollywood style of editing that most of us have been born and bred on. Eisenstein is in complete juxtaposition with these normal sensibilities, and that gives his work a perplexing quality that carries a great deal of weight in its own right.

There are scurrying people, smiling faces strung together with montage and quick cutting. It’s grand chaos that is stirring even as it’s, at the same time, rather frightening to behold. The images are bursting forth with fervent energy and vigor for a cause still very much on the rise across the contemporary landscape.

The sheer mass of the mayhem is mind-boggling rather like Metropolis. Its frames are inhabited by seas of people, forests of guns, earthquake of feet hitting the pavement, constantly reverberating and repeating at different intervals. The grizzled yet ecstatic faces of the common man lend credence to Einsenstein’s unifying message waving the banner of the Communist nation.The palace being overrun by hoards is difficult to discount as is the spliced together images of varying religions. These are only a few of the eclectic pieces of the train that make up October. It is a document of a time and place that just happened to be St. Peterburg Moscow on October 27th, 1917. The clocks at the denouement suggest that it had a universal impact on the entire world. If the Cold War is any indication, then Eisenstein might be right.

4/5 Stars

Strike (1925)

Strike_(film)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.

4/5 Stars