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Sergei Eisenstein vol.1

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Russia In Revolt
September 2007 SITE MAP   SEARCH

cast: Maxim Staukh, Grigori Alexandrov, Mikhail Gomorov, and I. Ivanov

director: Sergei Eisenstein

87 minutes (PG) 1924
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
Eisenstein's first film is an astonishingly confident debut. Even today, the camerawork and editing still have the power to stun the viewer and many of the techniques that he employed in Strike (aka: Stachka) were probably being used for the first time. A couple of damage streaks at the very start of the film may give cause for alarm about the state of the master print, but the rest of the film is in very good condition indeed and can be enjoyed without worry.

The story arc is very simple. In a train factory in Czarist Russia the workers are unhappy about their lot. When one worker is falsely accused of stealing by the management, he hangs himself in shame. This is the final straw, and the workers strike. The strike is violently suppressed by troops.

Eisenstein rejoices in the choreography of the proletariat. The masses are his hero and they move as one in their intentions. It is like watching industrial ballet. Curiously, it is the villains who are given individuality in Strike. The informers, spies, officials and criminal underclass have a base, animalistic screen presence. The informers have codenames, such as 'Owl' or 'Fox', and Eisenstein morphs their features into those of the relevant animal and back again.

It's a reminder that he was making the film for an audience that, in many cases, would be incapable of reading the titles. But he then goes on to do something quite remarkable and has the informers taking on the characteristics of their animal. In one delightful scene, Owl emerges from a massive, bark-like clump of rope and edges up to overhear what the workers are discussing. Of course, Stanislavsky had long been active in Russian theatre and his book, My Life In Art, containing the origins of Method theory was published the same year as Strike was made. Eisenstein must have been aware of his work.

quick, fetch a bobby!

Eisenstein also utilises his trademark montage effect during the massacre of the workers by inter-cutting it with scenes from a slaughterhouse. Be warned, ye of a squeamish nature - this is real documentary footage from a time when animals were not stunned before being slaughtered. It might make you consider vegetarianism, which, although not Eisenstein's aim, is testament to the effectiveness of the imagery.

There is now, of course, a layer of irony over the film that was also unintended. The Stalinist terror that followed it, with its informers and state oppression, is identical to the capitalist oppression portrayed here. That the film has survived the hammer of history and is still valid is down to the genius of its creator.

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