How far can film support a revolution?

Throughout this blog, we will be exploring the famous cinema and its techniques at the beginning of the Soviet Union after the 1917 uprising. Particularly Sergei Eisenstein and his effective use of montage to reflect the aim of the revolution, which essentially was to overthrow the Tsarist leadership ending years of widespread poverty for lower classes, censorship and a heavy exploitation of violence and oppression(Tian-Shanskaia, 1993, pp. 141). Following this, this sparked a controversial yet needed approach to Cinema which Lenin began to enforce which essentially aimed to consolidate power and spread information(100 Years Of Cinema, 2016). Lenin was very big on cinema and labeled it as “the most important of all arts is the cinema” (Kenez, 1985, p. 106). This allowed him to use film to indoctrinate the Soviets and create propaganda films which sometimes also caused agitation (‘Agitprop’).  Lenin believed the propaganda would be ‘a vehicle for the revolutionary message and it could be a bait for attracting audiences.’ (Kenez, 1992, p.30). Eisenstein created many films which were seen to be symbolisation of a communist outlook on life, most importantly The Battleship Potemkin(Eisenstein,1925) which uses his famous techniques such as multiple types of montage to arguably show a reflection of the revolution.

lenin

With the new found infatuation with cinema under Lenin, meant filmmakers could try out new techniques, e.g cinematographers with hand-held cameras (Davendish, 2013, pp. 8) and Eisenstein with different styles of montage. Eisenstein used montages in his films to stress the importance of communist ideologies through depictions of struggle and achievement. The Battleship Potemkin(Eisenstein,1925) was labelled as the ‘pride of Soviet Cinema’ (Taylor, 1988 pp.7) and was about the mistreatment of sailors in extremely harsh conditions. The sailors revolt and kill the officers of the ship to gain their freedom. The sailors leader is also killed, and the people of Odessa believe he is a symbol of revolution. Tsarist soldiers arrive and massacre the civilians to attempt to quell the uprising. Eisenstein uses rhythmic and metric montage to encapsulate the idea that the group of sailors/city of revolters are the key to success rather than one hero itself, symbolising the Soviets communist views as they believed in collective identity. This was particularly entrenched in the famous massacre of Odessa Steps scene.

Through the use of metric and intellectual montage, Eisenstein managed to create a scene in Odessa Steps, where the civilians become one with the soldiers and revolt against their officers, which Taylor suggests allows the viewer to coercively “direct the spectator”(Taylor, 2001, pp. 82) to sympathise with the past experiences of the former leadership and encourage the end results of the revolution to continue, and for communist values to thrive. Eisenstein does this by using fast, emotive cuts of the public between shots of violence from the massacre to highlight the pain it caused others. In the middle of the scene, a child gets injured and loses his mother and many rapid cuts are used to visualise a moral panic. This is another communist agitprop technique as we later see other civilians carrying him to safety, This could imply Eisenstein used these techniques to support Lenin’s communist values further and the idea of a collective identity.

To conclude, ‘Battleship Potemkin’ (Eisenstein, 1925) can easily be argued to demonstrate a revolution, as even though the film is set before the infamous 1917 revolution, it has underlying messages of a favoured communist movement of the time of Lenin and the use of montages by Eisenstein especially in Odessa Steps was a great way for the communist message to be published as “Films were important in the history of Soviet society as an instrument for spreading an approved message” (Kenez, 1992, p. 5).

 

Bibliography:

Davendish, P., (2013), The delirious vision: the vogue for the hand-held camera in Soviet cinema of the 1920s, In Studies In Russia & Soviet Cinema, 7(1)

 

Eisenstein, S. (Director). (1925). Battleship Potemkin [Motion Picture]. Soviet Union: Mosfilm.

 

Kenez, P. (1992). Cinema & Soviet Society 1917-1953. New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

One Hundred Years of Cinema. (Producer). (2016, August 8) 1925: How Sergei Eisenstein Used Montage to Film the Unfilmable [Video File] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5WbeoP_B8E

 

Taylor, R(1998). The Eisenstein Reader. London: British Film Institute
Tian-Shanskaia, O. S., (1993), Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia, Bloomington: Indiana University Press

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