Tuesday, December 20, 2022

#2,882. October (Ten Days That Shook the World) (1927) - Spotlight on Russia


Co-directed by Sergei Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov, October (Ten Days That Shook the World) was produced to commemorate the 1917 October Revolution, when Lenin and his Bolsheviks took control of Russia by overthrowing the Provincial Government.

Starting in February of that year, when the new Government first came into power, October then highlights the events leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution, from the arrival of Vladimir Lenin (played by Vasili Nikandrov) at the Petrograd Railway Station to the July massacre of protesting Bolsheviks in Nevsky Square.

With the Provincial Government both incompetent and corrupt, the Bolsheviks gained in popularity, winning favor with the people and the military, all leading up to those fateful days in late October 1917, when Socialist Russia was born.

Along with being a staunch supporter of the Bolshevik regime (he fought with the Red Army during the revolution), Sergei Eisenstein was also a well-respected film theorist and a proponent of the practice of montage, a technique by which a series of seemingly unrelated shots are edited together to tell a story, introduce symbolism, and establish a rhythmic flow. Eisenstein’s reliance on montage went a long way in making his 1925 film Battleship Potemkin an undisputed cinematic classic. Unfortunately, his quick-cut style and sharply contrasting imagery proved more hit and miss in October, and at times even drained the energy from it.

Eisenstein’s rapid editing works well in October’s “big” scenes, like the opening, when an angry mob topples a statue of the Tsar, as well as Lenin’s arrival in Petrograd. It is especially effective in the Nevsky Square sequence, where Bolsheviks were fired upon by the army as they marched through the streets (the Provincial Government ordered a bridge raised to prevent the Bolsheviks from advancing, leading to several unforgettable images when the bodies of the recently killed slide down as the structure gets higher).

Alas, the quick cuts undermine some of the movie’s more serene moments; a scene in which soldiers enjoy a few minutes of camaraderie on the battlefield features so many individual shots that it quickly becomes a distraction. I would venture to guess there isn’t a shot in this sequence that’s more than 2 seconds in length!

While I admire Eisenstein’s commitment to technique, and agree that montage, when used efficiently, can do wonders to further a movie’s story, less “technique” and more “story” would have made October a much better film.
Rating: 6 out of 10

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