Saturday, September 13, 2008

21. Stachka (Strike) - 1924

Director: Sergei Eisenstein

Synopsis: Workers of a factory strike after being treated poorly and a worker suicide. The factory directors are none too happy about this. Neither side will give in and the results are violent.

Review: "The strength of the working class is organization. Without organization of the masses, the proleteriat is nothing. Organized, it is everything. Being organized means unity of action, the unity of practical activity." Lenin, 1907

That quote opens Strike. This quote, intercut with eyes staring angrily at the viewer (pictured above), closes Strike:


So...Eisenstein wasn't taking a subtle approach with Strike but he once said, "I don't believe in kino-eye, I believe in kino-fist" assuring that a subtle approach wasn't to be expected...ever. Propaganda films, as this film undoubtedly is, rarely go work at a level below beating the audience over the head with its message.

While watching--but before researching--this movie, I was struck most by the juxtaposition that Eisenstein (over)uses. A large percentage of the shots reference the preceding or succeeding shot in a way to alter both had they been shown separately.

For example, the opening of the movie has an intertitle claiming the "all is call at the factory." The next shot is dozens of men and women coming in and out of a hallway filled with doors. Neither means that much when seen separately; the factory looks abnormally busy, but not enough to warrant much notice. When seen together, it comes across as a much busier--almost humorously so--factory because we are told the factory is calm.

This juxtaposition is called Soviet montage theory and Eisenstein considered it "the nerve of cinema." Again, Eisenstein wasn't one for subtlety and montage is overused. One could say that Strike is propaganda for the usefulness of montage theory. At the least, this is a primer for how to use it in film and it has been used as such--compare the finale of Strike and Apocalypse Now or most of Blood Of The Beasts or a section of Walkabout or...

I want to comment on one particular non-montage shot that works using juxtaposition but doesn't fit in the film. It is probably my favorite shot in the movie though. This pair of legs:
walk in reverse motion to reveal this pair of smokestacks reflected in a puddle: I think the shot works only because of the similar visual composition. It make little sense within the scope of the movie. There is no reason to start with the legs upside down without context except to mirror the smoke stacks. There is no reason to have everything happen in reverse except to make this shot have smooth water in the puddle. Within this movie, it feels like complete wankery.
If this were the only film Eisenstein had done, his montage theory would be enough to make this, and him, important.

Score: 7/10

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