STRIKE (Sergei M. Eisenstein, 1924)

The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

“The strength of the working class is organization . . . Organized, it is everything.” — Lenin
     Feverishly inventive, almost peerlessly dynamic, Sergei M. Eisenstein’s second film, Stachka, testifies to a tidal wave of unity among nonunionized workers, at a locomotive factory in tsarist Russia in 1912, who strike once a fellow worker, accused by the foreman of the theft of a micrometer, commits suicide. Nothing good, though, comes of the strike, which triggers a brutal assault by authorities, a mass killing spree, in fact. Prior to this, we also witness the toll that the prolonged strike has on workers, depriving them of hand-to-mouth income, fraying tempers, causing marital discord. Management summons criminals, spies, soldiers—whatever it takes—to crush strikers and their families.
     Of course, despair—here encapsulated by the suicide and the sympathy among workers it engenders—is a poor foundation for serious, committed action, almost guaranteeing a less than satisfactory result. True, it brings about worker unity, but rather more frenzied and self-indulgent than disciplined and organized. It is a fractious “unity.” Moreover, so long as tsarism rules, such worker outrage may constitute little more than a futile gesture. Everything is rigged against labor.
     Behind capitalists stands the Tsar. Rather than the strike, it is the Bolshevik Revolution in the future—which is to say, in 1924, the recent past—that will redress/has redressed worker grievances. In Strike, Eisenstein has conjured a feast of black-and-white images, often rapidly cutting between motion-packed shots. A stunning example of Eisenstein’s visual artistry: outdoors, an angled overhead shot of a wasteland of depressed barrels, out of which human scum—“troglodyte lumpenproletarians,” critic Anna Chen calls them—emerge. Superimpositions, constructivist compositions, reverse motion, traveling shots with the camera strapped on this and that: 26-year-old Eisenstein, flexing his flair for cinema, shoots the works.

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