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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
I first saw this film in the late 80s at the NFT (UK National Film Theatre) with a piano accompaniment. The print was scratchy and the inter-titles longer than several of the scenes. I was expecting it to be interesting as an example of Eisenstein's use of montage and cross-cutting (and indeed the audience seemed to be composed mainly of film students), thus worthy and perhaps a little dull. Instead, I was stunned. Now released on DVD with a Shostakovitch score and sparse sound effects, the film is revealed as masterpiece which surpasses both Battleship Potyomkin (1925) and Alexander Nevsky (1938) in its use of these two, and many more, filmic devices.
It's a young man's film and completely of its time and place, that is to say it gives a romanticised and idealised view of the Bolshevic revolution and its origins. The Tsar is directly compared to a horse's arse, Lenin harangues from the front of a steam engine, the proletariat are the true beneficiaries of the revolution. Statues fall apart and are re-formed in reverse motion, the people re-enact the storming of the winter palace (and climb its real gates), the battles cross-cut from faces and hands to carefully staged set pieces. In the second most famous sequence in early film history (the other being the Odessa steps from Potyomkin), a young woman's hair flops over the edge of a rising bridge while a cart and dead horse drop into the water.
The film is politically naive but decades ahead of its time in every other respect. The young people who inhabit these pages might like to compare its editing and pacing with that of the average music video and CGI-driven special effects film. I contend there is essentially nothing in these which they will not find in Eisenstein, and in October (Oktyabr) in particular. Yes, it's black and white, and silent but for the lately added score, and yes, it's from the early 20th century (by no means the earliest history of film), but it still stuns after repeated viewing. This is where modern film-making started, and everything we think we know about it (slow motion, montage, cross-cuts, reverses, you name it) had its origins in Eisenstein. The inter-titles (not sub-titles) still go on too long, though.
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