A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Strike (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925)

Subtle as a sledgehammer, Sergei Eisenstein's first feature film, Strike, demonstrates the dangerous ability of motion pictures to annihilate thought. With a torrent of images, almost as formidable as the fire hose blasts that mow down the protesting strikers in the fifth "chapter" of the film, the 27-year-old Eisenstein demonstrates a mastery of technique: fast-paced editing, frame-crowding action, provocative close-ups, and powerful montage. The film concludes with a bloodbath -- the "liquidation" of the strikers in their homes, intercut with scenes of cattle being slaughtered in an abattoir -- that makes the Odessa Steps massacre sequence in Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, 1925) look like a Sunday picnic. The film veers from documentary realism in the factory scenes, to gross -- or perhaps Grosz, as in George Grosz -- caricature in its portrayal of the capitalist bosses as fat cigar-smoking men in silk top hats, to a baroque expressionism in the scenes involving the spies and provocateurs who betray the workers. Eisenstein never slackens for a moment -- it's an exhausting film. Is it a great film? That's one for the debaters, a conflict between those who believe in art as a servant of truth and those who believe in art as pure form. I can admire its technical virtues and historical significance, and even admit that it plays on my political sympathies for workers over capitalist bosses, while worrying that the effect of the film is to valorize a dangerous suppression of reason, the unhinged anti-humanism that ultimately betrayed the very revolution Eisenstein supported.

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