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Russian master Sergei Eisenstein's first feature film is a
tour-de-force of cinematic technique. He appears to have a pretty
speedy learning curve, beginning straight away with a picture that is
confidently crafted and extremely watchable even today.
With the exception of Que Viva Mexico (which he made outside Russia), this is Eisenstein's purest film, the one most free from the constraints of the Bolshevik propaganda machine. There is one mention of the Bolsheviks, but it's inconsequential. This is essentially a film about self-organisation of the workers a placeless and timeless story which acts as a case study in how a strike can begin, how it can be made successful and how it can be defeated.
Strike has an incredibly exhilarating pace to it and, aside from its political message works as a pure action film. Perhaps unusually for a debut film, this is also the closest Eisenstein came to making a comedy. In a style that would mark all his films, he characterises the villains of the piece the factory management, police chiefs and government bureaucrats as exaggerated and often ridiculous figures of fun. The factory owner is the stereotypical capitalist a top hat-wearing fat controller.
As usual with early Soviet cinema, Strike is essentially characterless. The story is told through the masses, and the proletariat as a whole is the hero. Eisenstein was ideally suited to this, as even in this early film he gives an unprecedented realism to the crowd scenes, and uses every technique at his disposal to create drama from mass action. Eisenstein also demonstrates early on that he has the rather unusual talent of directing large groups of people being massacred. It's an image that would crop up in nearly all of his films.
The only real weakness of Strike is that it too often slips into pretentiousness. Some of the techniques are little more than showing off. There are just a few too many superimpositions and mirror images shots. The symbolism is also often a little too heavy-handed and abstract the two kids dancing on the table during the interrogation scene certainly baffles me; god knows what the Russian public made of it.
Eisenstein is often described as a pioneer, a founding father of film technique. However, in truth most of the techniques he used had been developed earlier, in particular by D.W. Griffith. It's just that Eisenstein pushed the possibilities of editing to their extreme. He's more of a maverick than a pioneer, as there really has been no-one like him since. Having said that, I can identify three new uses of the editing process that Eisenstein invented with Strike.
Firstly, he often uses a sequence of similar shots to give the impression of the same action being done by lots of people. For example, three shots of tools being thrown to the ground tells us quickly and effectively, in the context of the scene, that the entire workforce is downing tools. Secondly, he edits rhythmically to punctuate action. For example, a quick, dynamic action like someone throwing a punch or a door slamming shut will be punctuated by a film cut, giving it much more impact. This is particularly effective in silent film, as the jarring cuts mean you can almost hear the action in your head.
The third editing technique debuted here was the most abstract and the least influential. Whereas Griffith would edit back and forth between two or more literally related scenes (for example, between someone in trouble and someone coming to rescue them) to build up tension, Eisenstein edits back and forth between unrelated images to create a metaphor. The well-known example of this in Strike is the cutting from the workers being gunned down to shots of cattle being slaughtered the cattle dying is nothing to do with the plot, but it makes a point. It's a clever idea, but one that was rarely imitated as it breaks up the flow of a film's narrative.
On a totally different note, a little hobby of mine is spotting modern day look-alikes in old films, and Strike has one of my favourites. The king of the beggars is a dead ringer for Shane MacGowan, right down to the missing teeth. Amazing.
Strike has to be one of the most remarkable and mould-breaking debut films of all time. It's not quite up to the level of masterpiece yet, but it's an incredible experience and genuinely gripping entertainment.
Eisenstein's most purely enjoyable film, possibly because the theorems are
more lifelike. In many ways a comedy, as the villains (military, police,
factory owners, underworld scabs) are caricatured and dehumanised, which
makes the eventual horrors all the more shocking. The workers are, of
course, idealised, but their paradise of laziness seems odd for a
Montage is the thing, as ever with Eisenstein, both in terms of connecting images to create startling insights, and in making tense, exciting and inevitable the action; but there is an astonishing attention to compositional detail too, most haunting perhaps being the empty, abandoned, impotent, machine-heavy factories, or the vast-stepped drawing rooms of the bloated capitalists.
Sergei Eisenstein's "Strike", like his more well-known films, is interesting
and contains some memorable imagery. The story is worthwhile in itself, and
it repays careful attention because of the considerable detail that is shown
using Eisenstein's distinctive approach. It lacks any particularly
interesting characters, but then, so did "Battleship Potemkin". Only an
occasional lack of polish sets this apart from Eisenstein's later
The story starts with the situations that provoke the strike, and then follows developments on both sides of the dispute. It becomes surprisingly involved for what seems at first to be a simple confrontation. There is quite an assortment of situations, settings, and characters. On occasion, the images are overdone, occasionally even off-putting, but you can already see the creative use of imagery that Eisenstein would later use so effectively.
"Strike" will probably be of interest mainly to those who already appreciate Eisenstein's films, but it is worth seeing. It is really only a cut below "Potemkin", which itself, though generally the most-praised of his films, might actually be surpassed by some of his later works. In any case, "Strike" displays the same kind of style, and has several of the characteristics of the fine classics that were to come.
This is an impressive looking piece of Communists propaganda, that
glorify the common worker, from Russian movie-making pioneer Sergei M.
It's one of Eisenstein's first movies, which also means that he was experimenting a lot in the movie, with many different compositions and with fantastic fast editing that give the movie pace and make the sequences more exciting. Some of the sequences are highly creative and artistic looking, with great cinematography and camera-angels. It makes "Stachka" real eye-candy to watch. It's a real innovative movie and by watching it you realize that there was a real craftsman at work. It's an absolutely brilliantly directed movie!
Of course if you're looking for a movie with a good story and compelling characters, look further. The movie itself is pretty simple with its story and uses deliciously stereotypical characters, such as the capitalistic, fat, cigar smoking and drinking factory owners. The movie uses so many stereotypes that the movie intentionally also works out as an humorous movie. It's very welcome, since the movie in general in its story is very serious and tries to send out a message.
The story is perhaps easier to follow than in most other Eisenstein movies. It's a very simple story that on paper sounds to weak and uninteresting to fill a 90+ movie with. Yet the movie never bores and always remains interesting and 'enjoyable' to follow, also not in the least thanks to the rapid editing that makes sure none of the sequences go on for too long and allow the sequences to speak for itself, rather then relying on the actors their performances or title-cards.
An essential viewing for movie-lovers!
It takes place during the 1912 Factory Strike in Russia. This was the
brilliant debut of Sergei Eisenstein which introduced the idea of montage.
Done before Potemkin, Stachka/Strike(1925) is a film about the struggle of
the working class against the Tsar. The film showed of things to come for
the career of Eisenstein. This was to be part of a series of films
concerning the events that led to the 1917 Revolution. He shows the working
class as the main protagonist in Strike. Was co-written by frequent
co-writer Grigori Aleksandrov.
Stachka and Battleship Potemkin would be the only films in which Eisenstein would have complete artistic control. Like Potemkin, it also features a grand massacre sequence. Eisenstein's direction is nothing short of first class. October(1927) can be looked upon as a sequel to Strike. The images of this is an example of why the silent period was the last truly great era of visual filmmaking. Strike would be the first of many great movies from a master artist. A fine scene is the superimposition of a slaughtered bull over a scene of massacred workers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Strike was the first film of one of the early masters of cinema, Sergei Eisenstein, of the Russian formalist school. This film as a debut is as important as Citizen Kain by Welles, both featuring novel directorial methods. This film captures the soul in the world of pre-dictatorship Russia, portraying it in utmost experimentation with inter-cutting, expanded time sequences, editing and most especially, his montage techniques.
The story itself is basic in plot, yet of great magnitude in theme: the exploitation of hard workers by the lazy cigar-smoking bourgeoisie. The story is set in a pre-dictatorship town where, in a industrial factory, a man is accused of stealing a micrometer. The man, though innocent, is to be fired so he commits suicide out of escape from the stigma of being a thief, leaving a note behind to his fellow comrades declaring his innocence and also some deplorative statements about the ruling class. This sets off a few other incidents which lead to the inevitable slaughter of the workers at the hands of the police.
This film, though not tied together in as much unity as Battleship Potemkin(1925), with it's consistency of technique, purpose and vision, still shows unique signs of an original director and thinker of cinema, who was not concerned about the straight material that the camera received, but how it changes through a formulation process into parallel images, hieroglyphic symbols and conceptions themselves. Though living in the USSR and his themes being 'communist', or agitprop in nature, his techniques often surpass his material and make for necessary viewing to anyone who is a film buff, directorial hope-to-be-er, Russian historian or, activist.
A superb piece of theme depiction, directorial work, agitprop and art in general.
012: Strike (1925) - released in Russia 4/28/1925; viewed 8/4/05
A law is passed in Tennessee prohibiting the teaching of evolution. The Great Tri-State Tornado tears through Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. F. Scott Fitzgerald publishes The Great Gatsby.
BIRTHS: Rod Steiger, George Cole, Eugen Weber.
KEVIN: Sergei Eisenstein's debut feature Strike was something else entirely. Every single frame of this film from the shots, the editing, the lighting, the over-the-top performances and even the themes were beyond anything we've seen so far. People must have thought Eisenstein was crazy to make films the way he did, especially on his first feature. With the kind of imagery he put on the screen, it must have been hard for his film crews to keep up with his mind. This film definitely has an underdog quality that would continue into Eisenstein's future films, most notably Potemkin. This film does have a gritty sense of reality, even though the characters are fairly two-dimensional and over-the-top. The way the camera moves with the close-ups and the very sharp focus is incredibly unique for the period, as are the kinds of harrowing images that we see over the course of the story. Here we see things happening, like the rioters being sprayed with fire hoses and the cops dropping babies off balconies, that other directors like Griffith or Murnau would never have the guts to shoot.
DOUG: It would be silly to watch all these silent films and not watch anything from Eisenstein. It is clear right from the start that he was doing things on film that no other filmmaker had dreamed of doing. The look of the shots, the lighting, the angles, the way the camera moves, and of course the editing, all of it is very unique for the time, and in fact looks very modern. Many scenes could be filmed shot-for-shot today, in color, with sound, and they would not look the slightest bit old fashioned. The editing is quite unique; Eisenstein recognized that editing could be used as stylistically as the writing or the directing to tell the story and set the mood, and used it thus in virtually all of his films. I noticed a few similarities to Potemkin, like the citizens rising up to battle the oppressive government. Eisenstein seems to have been interested in showing the steadfast camaraderie unique among the working class of Russia (perhaps it was a Communist thing). The music in this version was quite memorable; I kept on thinking of the band Stomp, who perform songs by banging trashcan lids and broom handles. There are cues in the musical score that are meant to work as sound effects.
Last film: Seven Chances (1925). Next film: The Gold Rush (1925).
The Movie Odyssey is an exhaustive, chronological project where we watch as many milestone films as possible, starting with D.W. Griffith's Intolerance in 1916 and working our way through, year by year, one film at a time. We also write a short review for each film before we watch the next, never reading the other's review before we finish our own. In this project, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the time period, the films of the era, and each film in context, while at the same time just watching a lot of great movies, most of which we never would have watched otherwise.
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.
Never in a silent picture have I seen political issues juxtaposed with
astonishing camera work to the effect seen here. Eisenstein has created a
moving work with breathtaking surrealist images. The end result is a
sincerely affecting piece of drama and a palette of images far ahead of its
A must-see. A masterpiece.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This title is bad. It should be THE strike, but they translated word
for word and in Russian they do not have articles. It gives to the
title an abstract look or feel that is not at all what the film is
about. In fact the film is just the contrary. It is purely concrete,
pragmatic, in no way reflexive or trying to analyze and understand that
brutality in the repression of a strike that started before even having
an objective or a reason. This brutality is in many ways typical of
some periods in the history of the industrialization of our countries,
Russia, the USA or Western Europe. It stopped or became more limited
when the leaders and managers, both politicians and economic bosses,
understood that this violence was menacing the establishment in the
long run far more than some compromises along the way. What is
surprising is how Eisenstein in 1924, at the end of the war communism
of the civil war and at the beginning of the New Economic Policy of
Lenin who was on the brink of dying, some kind of delayed
assassination, painted a world that was cut in two, and nothing else
but these two. And far away from Mayakovski or the other poets of that
time, all of them militants and committed to the revolution, he depicts
a situation in which there is no culture, no mind, no humanism, no
nothing, especially not any thinking. All is shown as being primary,
physical, at the simple level of instincts and senses, on both sides.
The workers go on strike because they feel dissatisfied but they don't
know why. It is an urge in them to do it and any reason is good enough
to start and then to force everyone, and I insist on this "force", to
get into the strike with violence of course and that working class
violence is natural, isn't it? On the side of the bosses it is not
better, but it is not worse either. It is just pure refusal because
their instinct is to say no. They are in no way different from their
workers. The police and army are even worse because they enjoy using
violence. They have no humaneness, no sense that they are from the
people, no patriotism that would mean some feeling, some sentiment, or
some recollection that they were born from the people, among the
people, in the people, as members of the people. That vision is so
extreme that we do not feel any sympathy or compassion for that kind of
discourse. But yet, and the first part seems to go that way, I just
wonder if Eisenstein did not make it all a charade, a grotesque farce,
or even a monstrous carnival. He uses his camera so well that he is
able to concentrate on masses of people instead of individuals or
faces. Few close-up shots but a lot of moving, running crowds, his
specialty, and it is that focusing on these movements that make the
discourse funny, unreal, surreal, surrealistic even. Was Eisenstein
already seeing the new master of the USSR coming up to take over? Was
Stalin a haunting ghost in this film? Was Eisenstein making that
caricature of history in order to make people think? I doubt it very
much. He used all his genial art and competence with a camera and an
editing bench to fascinate the crowds who were discovering the cinema,
the magic of electricity and the new media in order to make them
politically supportive of the revolution. He could not even be
considered as naive since he shows very well that all starts from a
minority that manages to push along or force the working class into
action. Then the rest is nothing but stubbornness and there is only one
resistance to the hardships of such a period and it comes from women,
and men are obliged to force them down into obedience to their will.
All I say there is going against the grain of that Soviet revolution,
and that is why I say Eisenstein was doing what he had to do but at the
same time was keeping a tongue in his cheek. What happen to that tongue
had to come later, but he did not forget to put one of his Solomon's
numbers in the film with six geese strutting around in that factory.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines, CEGID
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