Saturday, 4 August 2012

Oktyabr (1927)

I do not think I will ever become really good friends with Eisenstein. ”October” is the third on the list and concludes the silent contribution from Eisenstein. It is also the most difficult of the three.

In this one Eisenstein takes his particular style to the extreme. The other two on the list, “Strike” and “Battleship Potemkin” were also heavy on the montage style, but here he is going absolutely banana. Eisenstein is trying to tell a story by using symbols, metaphors and caricatures. All very arty. The door to the Winter Palace is a peacock showing its feathers. The big statue of the zsar is a symbol of the old regime. Taking it apart is the object of the revolution. Putting it together again is the work of the “counter revolution”. We already saw in “Strike” how animals are used to symbolize people. Here not only people, but concepts, emotions, places have a symbolic equivalent. The military boots are the symbols of oppression, the Napoleonic statues symbols of imperialism.

We see a lot of people shouting and a lot of slogans as intertitles, which give a feeling of action and urgency. Too bad that the subtitles often became white upon white, making it impossible to read them.  Unfortunately it is necessary to read them because Eisenstein wants to show us all the fractions, all the decisions and meetings and riots and eventually the only this that keeps it from becoming a blur is the labels on the intertitles. Otherwise it is just a lot of shouting angry people.

“Oktober” is an example of how history is written by the victorious. Not for a second are you in doubt who are the good guys and who are the baddies. Since this is supposed to give a historical account of a monumental event this kind of bias rub me in a really bad way. With even a fleeting knowledge of the Russian Revolution you would be aware that things were not exactly that black and white. Especially Kerensky is getting vilified and it is also clear that when this movie was made Trotskiy was also long out in the cold.

So “October” is made to agitate the masses, to show the Soviet proletariat what a glorious victory they won against a corrupt and evil regime (here Kerensky’s provisorial government and the Zsar empire is just the same thing), hurrah hurrah. Unfortunately I think only an intellectual elite and a political one at that would have fully understood the movie. The rest would just have become confused and honestly bored. You can only see so many shouting people in a movie. Without a focus, where is the common viewer supposed to find the thread? If somebody out on the factories were thinking that somebody is actually laughing at them, I would not blame theme.

For me I had some difficulty focusing my attention on the movie. It kept drifting and it was not only because it was late in the evening. There were some highlights. The Women’s Death Battalion for example. Some really bad-ass bitches. Or the central Asian soldiers from The Savage Brigade. They were awesome. But in between? Yaawn.


  1. Outside of the Soviet Empire, only a historian or a political scientist could understand this. However, I strongly believe that Eisenstein made this film with the sole purpose of indoctrinating the Soviet people and for other world-wide communist organizations to show at their recruitment meetings. Oktyabr is one of his weakest entries in the book, though.

    1. I wonder what the proletarian masses in Russia were thinking when they saw this movie? Did they get it? As a propaganda film I think it failed. You need some clear cut messages and this is just too arty and too confusing.