Monday, 13 June 2011

Sergei M. Eisenstein: Strike - Стачка, (1925)

Directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein.
Writers: Sergei M. Eisenstein, Grigori Aleksandrov,
Stars: Grigori Aleksandrov, Maksim Shtraukh, Mikhail Gomorov

Sergei Eisenstein was a brilliant and original film-maker and theorist, but his reputation has been eroded over the years. Yet as Ronald Bergan points out in his study of the director, A Life in Conflict, he was much more than a "cold-blooded montage maniac of the Russian Revolution who regarded the people as more important than individuals".

Eisenstein was an intensely cultivated man who preferred art and philosophy to political theory, and adored the best of Disney and Chaplin as much as he hated the worst of Stalin. But the fact that Bergan feels it necessary to defend him tells its own story.

The films do lack a certain humanity. Battleship Potemkin and October were masterpieces of technique, to which film-makers still bow today. Alexander Nevsky and the two parts of Ivan the Terrible were operatic and often grotesque, but classics too. Only Strike, his first feature, showed his basic humanity, and it is arguably his best because of it.

The film, which some people persist in thinking was only a rough sketch for Potemkin, but which has the freshness and audacity of something more than that, is the story of a strike by factory workers in the Tsarist Russia of 1912 and its brutal suppression. It was supposed to be the first of a series of films on the development of the workers' struggle but was the only one actually to be made.

It was shot almost entirely on location so that it seems like a reconstruction of genuine events, though its theatrical origins are obvious and its caricatures of the factory bosses are hardly realist - especially when dwarfs do a tango for them on a table groaning under caviar and champagne. But, though it was about "the workers" rather than individuals, and opens with a worthy quote from Lenin, several characters stand out, like the two young leaders of the strike and the worker who hangs himself when falsely accused of theft. ...


Pietro A. Shakarian said...

Good film! The "Liquidation" sequence, involving the execution of the workers and the slaughtering of the cow, must have been especially powerful for its time.

Francis Ford Coppola tried to a semi-homage to this in "Apocalypse Now," but, IMO, it didn't come close to the original. The brutal reality of Eisenstein's images really gives this work its punch.

Pietro A. Shakarian said...

Excuse me, I meant to say that "Francis Ford Coppola tried to DO a semi-homage to this" not "Francis Ford Coppola tried to a semi-homage to this."

Sorry. I hate typos.