(October; Ten Days That Shook the World)
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Production: Sovkino; black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: 103 minutes; length: 2000–2200 meters, originally 3800 meters and then 2800 meters in the U.S.S.R. Released 20 January 1928. Rereleased with musical soundtrack by Shostakovitch, 1966, Paris. Filmed in spring 1927 in Leningrad.
Scenario: Sergei Eisenstein with Grigori Alexwithrov; from 10 Days That Shook the World by John Reed; associate director: Grigori Alexwithrov; photography: Edward Tisse; production designer: Vladimir Kovrighine; camera assistants: Vladimir Nilsin and Vladimir Popov.
Cast : V. Nikandrov (Lenin); N. Popov (Kerensky); Boris Lianov (Minister Tereshchenko); Chibisov (Minister Kishkin); Smelsky (Minister Verderevsky); N. Podvoisky (Bolshevik Podvoisky); Edward Tisse (A German).
Eisenstein, Sergei, Octobre, edited by Jacques Charriere, Paris, 1971; also in Eisenstein: 3 Films, edited by Jay Leyda, New York, 1974, and October and Alexander Nevsky, edited by Leyda, New York, 1984.
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* * *
In 1927 Sergei Eisenstein, along with V. I. Pudovkin and Esther Shub, was commissioned to make a film to contribute to the celebration commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 1917 Revolution. Eisenstein and Edward Tisse were called away from the production of The General Line to begin work on the anniversary project. The film that resulted, Oktiabr, was not the anticipated popular successor to Potemkin but instead a bold experiment in intellectual montage.
Preparation for Oktiabr included research into newspaper reports, news photographs, newsreels, Esther Shub's footage taken in Petrograd during the revolution, and historical memoirs. An additional source was John Reed's Ten Days That Shook The World (the title used for the version of Oktiabr prepared for release abroad). The initial scenario covered the events leading up to the 1917 Revolution through post-Civil War reconstruction. Although the scope of the film was eventually narrowed, an abundance of information remains, which according to critics both in the Soviet Union and abroad was still too extensive. Much of the power of the film is lost because the viewer is faced with not only too much detail, but also with too large a vista—too large a vision to comprehend.
Portions of the film brought criticism even before Oktiabr was screened. As Eisenstein explains, "the timing was accidentally unfortunate. A crisis in the Communist Party and among Government leaders coincided with the completion of a film in which both the now-divided factions were unmistakably represented on the screen." The two factions Eisenstein referred to were the government group headed by Joseph Stalin and the Opposition led by Leon Trotsky. As the date for the anniversary celebration approached, Stalin's offensive against Trotsky and the Opposition reached its peak. Eisenstein, as Yon Barna states, was "expected (by Stalin) to take account of the 'new historical facts."' As a result, only certain select reels of Oktiabr were ready to be screened at the jubilee on November 7, 1927. The film was re-edited and publicly released in March of 1928. Although scenes of Opposition leaders were cut from the film, Trotsky does appear in two scenes of the final version of Oktiabr, but not as a significant figure.
Government leaders, critics, and the general public were anticipating another Potemkin from Eisenstein. Oktiabr, however, never approached the popular appeal of that previous work. Reaction inside Russia to the completed version of the film was mixed. Oktiabr was praised as being the beginning of the Soviet cinema art of the future and also criticized as being too abstract for the masses—the working-class population—to comprehend, often within the same review. The elements of typage and intellectual montage, the main reasons for both the praise and the condemnation of Oktiabr, were first developed in Potemkin and are basic to Eisenstein's theory of the "montage of attractions."
Typage, a concept originating with Vsevolod Meyerhold, involves the use of persons whose physical appearance conveys the personality or spirit of a character as opposed to using trained actors. Through the use of typage, Eisenstein wanted to create visual impressions of models or representative figures so perfect that an audience could know the character at the first glimpse of him on the screen. The use of typage to represent Lenin on the screen in Oktiabr brought much criticism. The worker chosen to play Lenin, V. Nikandrov, resembled him physically but was criticized for an empty portrayal that did not convey the inner character of the man. Rather than a poor representation, however, this use of typage seems to be an attempt by Eisenstein to create a model character that embodies the mass rather than a single individual acting apart from the collective. (Eisenstein is more successful with this particular use of typage in Alexander Nevsky.) Eisenstein's contemporaries and critics since have argued that the symbolism was not comprehensible by the masses. Nevertheless, they did recognize Eisenstein's technique and purpose in the sequences in Oktiabr that are developed through intellectual montage.
Intellectual montage, the use of visual images to express abstract ideas, is the core of Eisenstein's film theory. The specific idea behind intellectual montage is that the juxtaposition of two separate images can convey an idea which is not represented by either of those images when viewed separately. Such sequences in Oktiabr, of which there are many, brought a wider range of responses from the film's reviewers. In one sequence, Eisenstein ridicules the concept of God through a series of symbolic deities in which a Baroque Christ figure is ultimately equated with a primitive idol. The idea of the gradual debasement of the Christ figure is conveyed through the relationships between the images of the deities and not by the individual images themselves. While acknowledging the artistic and cinematic value of this sequence and others like it (Kerensky's climb up the stairs leading to the Tsar's apartment, the association of Kerensky and Napoleon), reviewers criticized the fact that these sequences could not be interpreted by the masses. Oktiabr was commissioned to be part of the celebration of the proletarian revolution, but the proletariat could not understand the film.