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Sergei M. Eisenstein
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
an early Soviet classic of visuals that should be seen by anyone serious about editing
I think that Sergei Eisenstein, who has (rightfully) been credited as one of the grandfathers of modern cinema, is sometimes forgotten as someone who can really direct great epic scenes along with making them expertly edited. The filmmaker here knows he's pushing along an ideology, one that is not only encouraged but all but required of him to give to the public. But he also knows that to put out the message there needs to be some conviction, surprise, something to catch eyes as the information's already known. Perhaps even to a greater extent than Battleship Potemkin, October: Ten Days That Shook the World puts on display a director with total confidence not only in his flourishing, insistent style, but in that of his mostly non-professional actors, crowds, real-locations, sets, and his crew. It's one of the most assured pieces of silent film-making I've ever seen, and it's taken a few viewings to take in everything in one sitting (I ended up watching half an hour, and then sitting back trying to remember everything I just saw, or thought I saw).
Some uses of montage in the film- make that most if not all- rival those of even the better editors working in commercials and music videos today. Like those editors, they're working with images meant to be dynamic and to the point. Here it's the story of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia, where Lenin took control of the reigns of the provisional government with left the country at a stand-still in poverty. Or, at least, that's how the film would definitely lead things onto. Watching a film like this and seeing 100% accuracy is irrelevant. But watching it to get a sense of what cinema is supposed to- and can do- with tricky subject matter, is completely worthwhile. Some of these scenes are just pure masterpieces of crowd control; when the people mass together in the town square, for example, one might immediately think of the Odessa stairs from Potemkin. Here, however, there's more than one chance for such operatic takes on harsh realities. The beginning- where they tear down the statue- is striking enough. But just watch when the crowd has to disperse and runs around early on in the film, or especially the storming of the Winter Palace. Could you do the same material with computers today? More than likely, but not with the same conviction and 'this-was-really-happening' feel that a camera (recreating) on the scene could get. And, sometimes, as when the monument/statue gets 'put back together', it's almost amusing but still convincing of what the medium can do.
And soon enough Eisenstein reaches his climax, the immense lot of 10 days that brought the country to a peak of change and possible prosperity for its people. It's like October for the Russian people of the time is like a thousand or so snapshots of that time and place in the world. The one point that Eisenstein poses for his viewers- not just for his of-the-period silent film crowd but for those watching today- is that he is not making it boring for those who can give themselves to the images, the moments taken with some shots more than others. Anyone getting into editing, I think, should see at least some of Eisenstein's films to get an idea of where the smoke of post-modern film-making generated. October is probably one of his prime examples; if you want to watch it for purely historical or political contexts it may be hit or miss depending on point of view, but it is hard to see as a misfire in telling a story using spectacular and imaginative compositions with the frame, lighting, and with specific, profound musical accompaniment by Edmund Meisel.
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