A peasant comes to St. Petersburg to find work. He unwittingly helps in the arrest of an old village friend who is now a labor leader. The unemployed peasant is also arrested and sent to ... See full summary »
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Having revolutionized film editing through such masterworks of montage as Potemkin and Strike, Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein emigrated west in hopes of testing the capabilities of the American film industry.
Sergei M. Eisenstein
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A peasant comes to St. Petersburg to find work. He unwittingly helps in the arrest of an old village friend who is now a labor leader. The unemployed peasant is also arrested and sent to fight in World War I. After three years, he returns ready for revolution. Written by
Erik Gregersen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Pudovkin, it is said, would visit Eisenstein late at night to discuss theories of montage. They were both key figures of the movement, but polar opposites; so one can imagine how heatedly - how excitedly, at the prospect of discovery - the ideas must have been debated back and forth, and is montage the means of collision between images that scream or the scaffold that builds into song?
But whereas Eisenstein was grounded into Freud, Joyce, Banshun and Japanese poetry, Pudovkin - as a British journalist puts it - argued theory like a schoolteacher. So, it makes some sense that he hasn't endured in critical thought like his more famous counterpart, or like Vertov and Dovzhenko. But having read some of Pudovkin's writings, he was indeed one of the great engineers of cinema, at the time when cinema was truly engineered; his theory of human perception as a series of edits, thus how the objective world is arranged movie-like into the mind into a narrative, has far-reaching imports. It implies a way out of the editing mind, and back into the eye.
It's something that I have been looking for in my meditation - how to extinguish these lapses, edits, of mind narrative so that only the silence behind the forms echoes. This is a literal thing btw, I'm not talking about a fancy metaphor. In meditation, you become tangibly aware of intruding thoughts as narratives, lapses during which the surrounding reality is dimmed into a haze. Back into Pudovkin though.
But with the advent of sound, he petered out; the last significant experiment we find is in his first talkie, Deserter, and it is about subjective sound. Here though, he still mattered. The two friends and theoretical rivals were commissioned by the Soviet state to make films that commemorated the ten years since the Revolution. Eisenstein turned out a film on the grand scale, Pudovkin on the other hand something more intricate.
Oh, eventually there is battle and revolutionary spirit rippling through a society of oppressed, exploited proles. Flags are waved from balconies, the streets festively rained with paper as the Reds turn the tide against both Germans and White Russians. By the end, the enemies of the people are shown to have been really few, a handful of pathetic officers scattered in a field. St. Petersburg turns eventually, joyously for the film, into the City of Lenin.
But there is stuff that matters before we get into the simple paean, all pertaining to the mechanisms that control the eye.
I don't know what you will be looking to get out of these films, but to me they matter because these people, erudite engineers of film, were hard at work devising ways by which to unfetter the eye from narrative. Oh, the perception they enabled was the farthest thing from true, but we can discard the politics and focus on the actual engineering; how to make film in a way that seeing and what is seen become one, unmediated by any thought between them?
Look, for example, how Pudovkin edits the scene with the young man at the police headquarters, arguing the release of a man from the same village as he; individually the images may not make perfect sense, the intertitle seems to be a disembodied voice that belongs to no one in particular, but it precisely this scaffold rigged for the eye that makes it resonate. It is only upon seeing, and seeing only, that it translates.
Painterly beauty elsewhere, fields of hay rolling in the distance, the shots of windmills and overcast skies that predate later poetics of Soviet cinema. Or, once in the city, the stark desolation in empty cityscapes that could only be so purely expressed by a film tradition, rooted in Marxist politics, that rejoiced at the sight of masses and crowds.
It is fine, fine stuff. As with other Soviet films of the era, I recommend that you see as 'films', not as 'agitprop' from where we, enlightened viewers of the West, are called to salvage a few cinematic notions of historic importance. Oh yes, the imports of good and evil are simple-minded, but were they any more intricate with the expressionists in Germany or contemporary Hollywood?
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