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October Movie Review

film eisenstein kerensky director

1927 – Sergei Eisenstein, Grigori Alexandrov –

“Formalist excess!”—one of the first and most important reviews of this film was that delivered by the inner ring of the Communist Party. Director Sergei Eisenstein was accused of caring more about film technique than about his film subject of the ten days that shook the world in October 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution. One famous example from Eisenstein's earlier classic, Potemkin, foreshadows his later emphasis on abstract ideas in October. As the battleship levels its guns on the cossacks, three shots of stone lions are intercut into the narrative, one of a lion sleeping, another of one stirring awake, and then a third ready to roar. The sculptured lions are not part of the setting or the dramatic development involving the ship and the cossacks. Eisenstein introduces the montage of the lions solely as a symbol of the awakened revolutionary spirit. Such an abstract idea injected in this limited way into one of the film's climactic sequences works well. It is as if the stones themselves roar in anger at the cossacks.

In October, however, this technique is put to a much greater use, and it cannot help seeming heavy-handed and obtrusive. In the scene when General Kerensky (Nikolai Popov) of the provisional government stands before double doors, the film cuts repeatedly between closeups of Kerensky's polished boots, cocky stance, and glove—and closeups of a peacock. When the doors fan open to admit Kerensky, the film cuts to the peacock's tailfeathers, which also open out widely. Later, the militia of this provisional government is ridiculed when a shot of the real soldiers is followed by one of a row of tin soldiers and then by one of a row of empty wine glasses. This last analogy provides a more subtle touch, suggesting the ornate and essentially decorative function of Kerensky's proud military, but audiences were understandably confused by such rapid, abstract parallels. Eisenstein's ties to the Stalinist regime began to unravel over the unfavorable reception of this film.

October exists in a variety of lengths. One of the director's proudest flourishes is the gods sequence, which was cut from American prints. In it, Eisenstein attempts to discredit the idea of God by arranging, in “descending intellectual scale” as the director put it, images from a statue of Christ to garish pagan idol. The first cut of the film ran just under four hours, but when Leon Trotsky was exiled for planning demonstrations against the Party, Eisenstein had to eliminate Trotsky from the film narrative. This job required five months of recutting and reduced the film to under two hours. The experimental nature of the film has resulted in some impressive moments, but the overall effect is of a brilliant technical exercise rather than a film with a life of its own.

Cast: Layaschenko (Minister), Boris Livanov (Minister), Vasili Nikandrov (Lenin), Nikolai Popov (Kerensky), Edouard Tisse (German soldier) Screenwriter: Grigori Alexandrov, Sergei Eisenstein Cinematographer: Vladimir Nilsen, Vladimir Popov, Edouard Tisse Composer: Edmund Meisel, Dimitri Shostakovich (reissue) Running Time: 104 minutes Format: VHS, LV.

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