Time was, filmmakers like Woody Allen & Brian De Palma (THE SIMPSONS, too) could count on audiences to recognize a classic film quote from Russian director Sergei Eisenstein. But the master of Agit-Prop & Revolutionary montage is less in the conversation than he once was. His big three (POTEMKIN/’25; IVAN I & II/’45), in a critical decline parallel with that of the old Soviet Union. Whatever that might mean! Artistically, the guy needs a reset. Perhaps a move away from the Art-of-Cinema-101 syllabus and back to his debut would help. A swift moving action-melodrama, with wonderfully overdrawn characters, alternately stirring & satirical, it’s loaded with visual wit and strong sentiment, even when narrative turns slightly opaque. (A few extra titles for Non-Revolutionary Russians might help. In fact, one of few things wrong with the generally superb KINO DVD edition is a lack of period feel to the sparse inter-titles. No Cyrillic-looking font for English?) The story, set in recent Tsarist days, and neatly organized in parenthetical chapters, concerns a stolen factory tool; a false charge of theft; the innocent worker’s suicide at his workstation; the quick escalation to general work stoppage & a called strike; an ignored list of demands; the fat-cat owners refusal to negotiate; police & military actions against the struggling workers; a dastardly piece of explosive provocation; a stirring ride to the rescue; the battle lost; and a promise to keep up the social struggle! Power to the Soviet! (Not the people, mind you, the committees . . . but that’s another issue. One that would get Eisenstein into heaps of personal trouble. Including the squashing of what may have been his ultimate masterpiece, BEZHIN MEADOW/’37.) Go for KINO’s fine restoration with its fine score from the Mont Alto Orchestra.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Eisenstein always contended he learned filmmaking largely from D. W. Griffith’s INTOLERANCE/’16. And boy, does this film show it. Near quotes all thru the thing, mostly from that film’s Modern Story which Griffith eventually released separately as THE MOTHER AND THE LAW/’19. For Eisenstein, more jumping off point then homage.
DOUBLE-BILL/LINK: More Eisenstein? Try his lesser known OLD AND NEW/’29 (aka THE GENERAL LINE) ahead of the iconic titles. OR: To see the connections, Griffith’s INTOLERANCE/’16. The recent Cohen Media restoration looks like the one to plump for. Here’s a link to their on-line trailer. http://cohenmedia.net/films/intolerance