Discover more from Movie Night
Sergei Eisenstein was one of the pioneers of cinema, or more precisely: montage. Russian filmmakers were so skilled in the art of cutting disparate images together to shape a narrative that they, along with Eisenstein, eventually had to issue regular apologies to the nascent film-going public for straying from the style that would ultimately become known as Socialist Realism. From a cinema lover's perspective, Russia/ USSR was an exciting country at the forefront of artistic expression via moving images.
Strike (1925) starts with a long quote from Lenin that drips with the promising idealistic language of a country that sort of had its shit together at various points in history. (Now not being one of them.) The quote is stirring because its distillation of the disparity between workers' and owners’ rights still applies today, almost 100 years later. What’s new and exciting are the improved methods and systems by which workers’ rights are scuttled. The WGA strike currently taking place is a prime example. Here’s my prediction: five hundred years from now, when film history is six hundred and thirty-five years worth of movies (as opposed to the one hundred and thirty-five years of history we have today), Strike will be even more noted and relevant than it is now. It’s an outstanding realization of the power of the form: cinematography, camera tricks, and story are combined to galvanize the viewer. It was undoubtedly more effective in its time than anything we could watch today.
Watching a silent film might sound like the most unappealing thing in the world, but let me try and bullet out a few reasons you should try it:
Excellent conversation piece: we’re practically having one now.
Can talk during the film with minimal impact on the ability to take it in.
Unparalleled edible experience.
You might become deaf one day; good to develop a taste for silent film now.
If you don’t become deaf, the musical scores are thoughtful and engaging.
Outstanding visual creativity in most major silent works.
The cinematographic creativity on display in Strike astounds. In one shot of this film, an evil overseer of the workforce was looking at a photograph of four potential moles to hire to uncover the plans of the striking workers. The picture cuts to the overseer’s excited face, showing his glee at finding his moles. The shot then cuts to a close-up of the four men, who suddenly start happily waving at us. Via a carefully staged recreation of the photograph, including big white borders between images, a laugh-out-loud trompe-l'œil is achieved and shrugged off in a split second as the movie returns to its more critical thesis.
The film is laid neatly into several acts (“The boys are restless” or “A reason to strike”) that can be mapped onto any time and any place where power has concentrated to a select few. The big picture might be easy to achieve, but the detailed managerial practices are fully fleshed out. In one scene, for example, managers at different levels within a company, when confronted with issues from workers, send the workers on a wild goose chase of bureaucracy to find a resolution. They eventually give up. In another scene, when an accident injures a worker, the manager flips the workforce's complaints back on them: “Why didn’t you raise an issue with that equipment sooner!?”
By the film’s conclusion, you’ll feel a greater appreciation for the predictable ways humans behave in capitalistic scenarios. As if the systems we built for ourselves in our cleverness can’t escape the preordained laws of nature. Every particle attracts every other particle in the universe with force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers, and also laborers get fucked on the regular.
Strike is the broadest and most applicable worker’s rights film in existence. (This is a good thing.) Its silent form lends it a power it couldn’t have comprehended at the time of its making. Though there is clear history being drawn on for the film, it is mostly lost on modern audiences. This only makes the film stronger. To make it any more specific in historical detail would weaken its message of solidarity among workers and invite historic punditry. It is a paragon of idealistic art that the world sorely lacks today.
Written by Sergei Eisenstein, Grigori Aleksandrov, Ilya Kravchunovsky, and Valerian Pletnev; Directed by Sergei Eisenstein
Stray Thoughts from the Editor
Workers. They make the world go round! For June, we’ll be looking at “blue-collar” movies. What makes a worker a “blue-collar worker?” Great question. Let’s ruminate on the working class over a month of great films. Regardless of perfunctory definitions, let’s also agree that pretty much everyone is underpaid. Maybe some of these movies will have thoughts on what to do about that.