By Don Simpson | September 8, 2011
Writers: Sergei Eisenstein, Grigori Aleksandrov, Ilya Kravchunovsky, Valeryan Pletnyov
Starring: Maksim Shtraukh, Grigori Aleksandrov, Mikhail Gomorov, I. Ivanov, Ivan Klyukvin, Aleksandr Antonov, Yudif Glizer, Boris Yurtsev
In 1924, the Proletcult Theater decided to commission a series of eight films; entitled Toward the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the films were to trace the rise of the Communist Party from the late 19th century to 1917. The director of the Proletcult Theater, Valeryan Pletnyov, invited Sergei Eisenstein to collaborate with him on what was intended to be the fifth film in the series: Strike. The only of the eight films that ever achieved fruition, Eisenstein claimed that Strike was the most significant story of the series because it contained “the most mass action.”
Clocking in at 82 minutes, Strike was released as Eisenstein’s first full-length feature film in 1925 (he made the immortally famous The Battleship Potemkin later in the same year). The story goes that Eisenstein had very little technical knowledge before he apprenticed himself in the early 1920s to editor Esther Shub and cinematographer Eduard Tisse at the Goskino studios, thus making the cerebrally complex editing technique developed by Eisenstein shortly afterwards for Strike even more — well — striking.
Visualizing Marxist philosophy by way of his unique cinematic structure, Eisenstein designed Strike as a montage of “attractions” or “shock stimuli” to propel the audience to side with his protagonist. (Eisenstein’s famous essay, Montage of Attractions, was written just prior to Strike‘s world premiere.) Images were chosen for their blunt and forceful manner (a bloody face, a fired weapon, a descending club) or to form visual metaphors by juxtaposing two (or more) images. The most stunning and memorable of the latter is a sequence of cross-cuts that associates cattle being slaughtered in a slaughterhouse with the massacre of the striking workers. (Eisenstein often utilized animals as metaphors for the conditions of individuals.)
Conceived by Eisenstein as a revolutionary assault upon “bourgeois cinema” (narrative cinema of the West), Strike is a government-commissioned celebration of the unrealized 1905 Bolshevik revolution. Strike depicts a fictionalized strike in 1903 by the workers of a metalworks plant in pre-revolutionary Russia. The Czarist regime, unsympathetic to the workers, assists the plant owners and… The workers revolt!!!
The masses become Eisenstein’s hero; Strike‘s collective protagonist is the striking workers in their struggle against the oppressive factory system. There is no singular hero, no character is rendered with more significance than the others. (The collective protagonist is also central in Battleship Potemkin.)
Early on in his career — when he was making films such as Strike and Battleship Potemkin — Eisenstein believed that cinematic montage could produce perceptive, emotive and cognitive responses in the spectator. In other words, directors and editors possess the power to manipulate the audience’s response to the visual image; they just need to master the production techniques to do so. The filmmaker “has to determine the selection of the right people, the right faces, the right objects, the right actions, and the right sequences, out of all the equally possible selections within the circumstances of a given situation.” More so than ever, Eisenstein mastered that craft with Strike and Battleship Potemkin.
Kino Classics, the newly launched Kino Lorber brand specializing in classic films, recently released Strike on DVD and Blu-ray. Bonus features include Eisestein’s experimental short film Glumov’s Diary (1923) and the 37-minute documentary Eisenstein and The Revolutionary Spirit (2008).