Archive for the ‘Russian cinema’ Category

Strike (Russian: “Стачка”) is a 1925 silent film made in the Soviet Union by Sergei Eisenstein. It was Eisenstein’s first full-length feature film, and it is the story of a strike by factory workers in the Tsarist Russia of 1912 and its brutal suppression. It was shot almost entirely on location so that it seems like a reconstruction of genuine events. It was acted by the Proletcult Theatre, and composed of six parts. It was in turn, intended to be one part of a seven-part series, entitled Towards Dictatorship (of the proletariat), and the project was left unfinished. Most probably The Battleship of Potemkin,- his mature work and more enduring as a film classic, was released later that year and it made such prepraratory work unnecessary. Like Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, Strike reveals the creative energy of an artist given its wings without pulling back.- and it is the liberty of a young film-maker to test the boundaries of film-making, and in Eisenstein it is shown in the way he has tested every rule in the book and rewrote it by adding some of his own. This is evident in Battleship Potemkin and October.
Most of the characteristics of Eisenstein’s film style can be seen in part derived from his early influences. Before he came into filmmaking he was attached to a military construction unit, and also note-worthy is that his father was an architect. He is probably the most architectural of directors, evidenced by his film sets in which architectural elements add to the dramatic tension. In part his style is derived from masters like Griffith and Chaplin. But with Strike he enlarged the vocabulary of cinema especially in the area of montage. His influential essay, Montage of Attractions was written between Strike’s production and premiere. (See also quote from Metalluk’s review -epinions.com)

The film opens with a quote from Vladimir Lenin.

На заводе всё спокойно / At the factory all is quiet

Using typography, the word “но” (but) is added to the title of the chapter, which then animates and disolves into an image of machinery in motion. The facory bosses have set their sights on the workers and they are seen reviewing a list of agents with vivid code names such as as The Monkey, The Fox, The Owl, Bulldog, and Fly-by-Night. The job of the spies is to infiltrate the union and ferret out the identities of the ringleaders.
Vignettes are shown of them. Conditions are tense with agitators and Bolsheviks planing a strike.

Повод к стачке / Reason to strike

A micrometer is stolen, with a value of 25 rubles or 3 weeks pay. A worker, Yakov, is accused of the theft and subsequently hangs himself. Fighting ensues and work stops. The workers leave the milling room running and resistance is met at the foundry. The strikers throw rocks and loose metal through the foundry windows. Then locked within the gates of the complex, the crowd confronts the office. They force open the gates and sieze a manager.
Завод замер / The factory dies down

The chapter begins with footage of ducklings, kittens, piglets, and geese. A child then wakes his father who is out of work and they have funtime. The factory is shown vacant and still with birds moving in. The children act out what their fathers had done, wheelbarrowing a goat in a mob. The shareholders discuss  with the director and read the demands. They are dismissive on the workers demands. Meanwhile the police raid the workers, and they sit down to protest. At their meeting the shareholders use the demand letter as a rag to clean up a spill, and a lemon squeezer. It expresses howfar the shareholders are willing go.

Стачка затягивается / The strike draws out

Scenes are shown of a lines forming at a store, which is closed, and a baby needing food. A fight occurs at a home between a man and a woman, subsequently she leaves. Another man rummages through his home for goods to sell at a flea market, upsetting his family. A posted letter publicly shows the administrators rejection of the demands.
Провокация на разгром / Provocation and debacle

The scene opens with dead cats dangling from a structure. A new character is introduced, “King” whose throne is made of a derelict automobile amidst rubbish and he is instructed by Tsarist police  to set fire, raze, and loot a liquor store. A crowd gathers at the fire and the alarm is sounded. The crowd leaves to avoid being provoked but are set upon by the firemen with their hoses regardless.
Ликвидация / Liquidation

The governor sends in the military. A child walks under the soldiers’ horses and his mother goes under to get him and is struck. Rioting commences, and the crowd is chased off through a series of gates and barriers heading to the forge, then their apartments. The crowd is chased and whipped on the balconies. A policeman raises and drops a child from the balcony, killing it. The workers are driven into a field by the army and shot en masse. This bloody scene is shown with alternating footage of the slaughtering of a cow. (ack:wikipedia)

Directed by     Sergei M. Eisenstein
Produced by     Boris Mikhin
Written by     Grigori Aleksandrov
Ilya Kravchunovsky
Sergei M. Eisenstein
Valeryan Pletnyov
Cinematography     Eduard Tisse
Release date: April 28, 1925
Running time     82 min.
Language     Silent film

‘Strike is a veritable catalog of technical innovations and wizardry. There are double exposures, an upside down puddle reflection, shots through windows, reflections in mirrors, fades and melds, side by side panels that then merge, shots of distorted reflections in a glass ball, low angle shots, film reversals, silhouette shots, and much, much more. There are some surreal elements introduced, such as a pair of midgets dancing on a table behind two policemen who are in the process of turning one of the strikers into a snitch. There are a host of out-of-context images, such as nervous eyes turned to the side, juxtaposed to add a sense of paranoia to the main sequences. There are back and forth cuts between a manager squeezing juice from an orange while the Cossacks, who have surrounded a group of workers in a wooded area, tighten the ring around them.

Eisenstein was most fortunate to acquire the services of Edward Tissé as his cameraman for Strike. Eisenstein, though teeming with brilliant ideas, was raw and inexperienced as a filmmaker in 1925, while Tissé was both experienced and talented as a cinematographer. Tissé was able to capture effectively Eisenstein’s conceptions on film. The professional relationship between the two men lasted through most of Eisenstein’s career.

While making Strike, Eisenstein effectively developed his notion of “intellectual montage.” He typically spent many more hours in the editing of a film than in the shooting. Eisenstein’s idea was to create a rapid succession of quick shots (which might be relatively meaningless taken alone) that would acquire meaning through the intellectual process of association. The secondary benefit is that rapid cuts can also add tempo and excitement to a film. To the Soviet authorities, Eisenstein’s editing techniques became known as “formalism,” which they railed against incessantly.

Many of the film’s frames are notable for the intricate detail of the mise-en-scene. Especially impressive are the shots in the factory interior (a labyrinth of wheels, ropes, aisles, and machinery) and the worker’s multistory tenement maze’.

“Eisenstein was supremely the master of film rhetoric.” – Orson Welles
‘The films do lack a certain humanity. Battleship Potemkin and October were masterpieces of technique, to which film-makers still bow today. Alexander Nevsky and the two parts of Ivan the Terrible were operatic and often grotesque, but classics too. Only Strike, his first feature, showed his basic humanity, and it is arguably his best because of it’.( Derek Malcolm-The Guardian, Oct 12, 2000)

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Ballad of a Soldier is a feel-good film, which dwells at length into the nobility of Mother Russia: she had so many children she could spare for the Great Patriotic War. Of course there were gulags too. The film is however concerned for soldiers barely out of their teens. Our hero is Alyosha Skvortsov (Vladimir Ivashov) is one such. His is the story of sacrifice. Ballad of a Soldier is all about giving an identifiable face and context to one who ends up as an unknown soldier.
Filmed in 1958 and released the following year, is a product of the post-Stalin Soviet era. It stands as dynamic proof that an apolitical film could be made despite of an oppressive regime had its grip thoroughly on the minds and bodies of the people.
The story of the film is an odyssey. An elderly, melancholy woman walks along a bleak landscape and stops. She is the mother of a Russian hero whose remains are buried in a distant land, identified only as an unknown Russian soldier. It has been two years since she has seen him  and she knows everything about him till he was sent to the front. The flashback follows.

Our hero is Alyosha Skvortsov (Vladimir Ivashov), assigned an humdrum job of a field observer, manning a radio device from a solitary foxhole. But with such intrepid advance of the Germans he is frantically reporting to his unit two tanks bearing directly down upon him. He holds his position until it becomes clear that the lead tank intends to run over his position. So what does he do? He turns and fires on the lead tank with his rifle. One good turn deserves another. Is it not? So he knocks out both tanks and becomes a hero!

His unit commander would like to recommend him for military decoration. But Alyosha wishes to return home to see his mother and help her fix a leaky roof. The commanding officer allows him six days leave – two days travel each way and two days to complete the repair.
Such a journey is a journey in hope as with the soviet style of hope, to co-mingle with those of several others of various ethnic hues and scars of service for the motherland. Then of course he Alyosha has to bribe a soldier in order to hitch a ride on a freight train. He meets another stowaway- a beautiful dark-haired young woman.

She is Shura (Zhanna Prokhorenko), who claims to be traveling to meet her boyfriend. Soon enough they recognize they are cut of the same cloth in hope and goodness. Despite several disruptions they catch up with one another and they know they are made for each other.
But duty demands their ultimate sacrifice. He has barely reached home hugged his mother before he is back to the front again.
The story is well-paced, rolling along inexorably like the rhythm of the wheels of the trains.

Directed by     Grigori Chukhrai
Produced by     M. Chernova
Written by     Valentin Yezhov
Grigori Chukhrai
Starring     Vladimir Ivashov
Zhanna Prokhorenko
Music by     Mikhail Ziv
Cinematography     Vladimir Nikolayev
Era Savelyeva
Editing by     Mariya Timofeyeva
Running time     88 min.

Language     Russian

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