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In documentary style, events in Petrograd are re-enacted from the end of the monarchy in February of 1917 to the end of the provisional government and the decrees of peace and of land in November of that year. Lenin returns in April. In July, counter-revolutionaries put down a spontaneous revolt, and Lenin's arrest is ordered. By late October, the Bolsheviks are ready to strike: ten days will shake the world. While the Mensheviks vacillate, an advance guard infiltrates the palace. Anatov-Oveyenko leads the attack and signs the proclamation dissolving the provisional government. Written by
This, Eisenstein's third film, represents the peak in development of his montage technique. It is arguably the "biggest" film he had made to date in the sense that it was made with the largest number of extras and highest budget he had yet handled. Also, it steps further into the characterlessness of his previous silent films, being in many ways closer to a documentary than a historical feature.
The montage in October is taken to new heights. In an early scene in which a machine gun regiment opens fire on a demonstration, incredibly rapid editing back-and-forth between a shot of a gun barrel and the mean look on the gunner's face suggests both the action and the sound of the gun. Another aspect of the montage which Eisenstein makes extensive use of in October is expressing ideas by editing in shots of objects from outside the setting or at least unrelated to the narrative. For example, images of the Tsar's clockwork toys are spliced into a scene in which the highly unpopular provisional government ministers meet together. In another scene a series of increasingly primitive looking religious statues from all over the world are paraded to ridicule the church. While often ingenious, this crosscutting can sometimes be a little heavy handed and obvious. For example, do we really need to flit back and forth so many times between a shot of Kerensky and a statue of Napoleon to understand what is being implied? As well as the allegories conveyed through montage, there are also a few metaphors in shot composition or basic action. When the red guards are ransacking they have a laugh amongst themselves when pulling a decorative cushion off an ornate chair reveals a commode. There are also plenty of Eisenstein's trademark funny faces particularly ugly or bizarre looking actors are cast as people Eisenstein wanted to appear ridiculous, such as the Mensheviks and provisional government ministers.
Eisenstein's direction of crowds is, as ever, flawless. So much so in October that parts of it have been mistaken for actual historical footage of the revolution. A very convincing look-alike of Lenin also pops up from time to time, although I have to say the guy who plays Trotsky looks more like a young Rolf Harris. The events portrayed do seem to be largely historically accurate, albeit from a skewed angle. The Bolsheviks are hero worshipped out of proportion to their actual importance at the time, and Eisenstein constantly promotes the Leninist notion that the masses cannot progress without the guidance of the party. Still, this was the philosophy of the dictatorship in which Eisenstein was operating.
October may be the most technically proficient and finely crafted of all Eisenstein's films. However, it lacks the humanity of Strike and Battleship Potemkin. It's an incredible film, just highly impersonal, which can make for difficult viewing. One final note the only version available on DVD here in the UK is from Eureka, which as well as having no extras has some terribly translated intertitles, although I understand there are very nice editions of all Eisenstein's films available on Region 1 from Criterion.
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