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Gabriel de Gravone
In Russia's factory region during Czarist rule, there's restlessness and strike planning among workers; management brings in spies and external agents. When a worker hangs himself after being falsely accused of thievery, the workers strike. At first, there's excitement in workers' households and in public places as they develop their demands communally. Then, as the strike drags on and management rejects demands, hunger mounts, as does domestic and civic distress. Provocateurs recruited from the lumpen and in league with the police and the fire department bring problems to the workers; the spies do their dirty work; and, the military arrives to liquidate strikers. Written by
More so with the Soviets than with any other film school, we need to resupply the context. The image reigns supreme but not in ways we may understand today, as aesthetic accomplishment or space for contemplation. It is about immediate understanding as formed in the eye so that narrative - the tool by which the Czarist or the bourgeois wrote history, thus a suspicious element - is bypassed, the eye and not the mind is thus tasked to construct. Meant to instruct ideological fervor in a generally unsophisticated audience, these films, propaganda we call them now, stirred into action, not thought. This was in tacit understanding with Marxist principles, that demanded history be foremostly changed than understood.
Change; action; seeing. This is the causal chain the Soviets immersed themselves in, looking for the keys that guide vision.
So, these people eventually grew to know more about the mechanisms that control the image than any other group of people anywhere else in history. They were theoreticians, scientists of film, as well as the actual makers; a now extinct combination, much to our dismay. Eisenstein - and Vertov - were key figures; I mean, here was a man who studied Japanese ideograms to understand synthesized image; who discovered that editing to the beats of the human heart affected more.
So, we are talking about a reflexive cinema, about rhythm as opposed to melody. It's just as well with these films that the narrative content is pretty much discarded by now, even though the agitprop often agitated in the right direction; or have we forgotten that workers, at some point, were truly horribly exploited and that the 8-hour workshift was a bloody struggle? But, being able to quickly sift through caricatures - the fat, capitalist factory owner, the well-groomed, pigheaded stockholders slobbering on their fat cigars - and process the easy distinctions between collective good and the individual selfishness, means we can concentrate on rhythm. On how these thin caricatures that should have been harmless, yet are charged with a power that moves and affects.
It's about the mechanisms that control the image; it is a unique opportunity to have this film, it shows the very image being controlled. The end of the first part, with the shot of huge factory machinery whirring into motion as already the uprising is being set into motion; and later, the hand of the cruel stockholder superimposed over the crowd of strikers, clutching, controlling.
Eisenstein is so adept in his touch that the film is, at times, action, comedy, chamber drama, detective film, policier, paean, sobering catastrophe.
The most amazing sequence; we are with the strikers in an outdoors gathering, as the leader is laying down their demands, yet immediately transported to the lavish mansion of the stockholders as they read them with anger; there is some talk and eventually, satisfied, gleeful, they break out the drinks, an intertitle informs us of their answer to the demands, a polite, civilized refusal 'after careful consideration', while immediately the mounted police is storming the outdoors camp.
It is a stunning display of cinema, how time and space are contorted to accommodate for our passage through and yet the result is a dialectic between images as eminently designed for the eye - not the mind. We see, ergo we know - and are.
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