A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

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.