THE FALL OF THE ROMANOV DYNASTY (Esfir Shub, 1927)

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 first part of a trilogy the other parts of which I haven’t seen, Esfir (Esther) Shub’s Padenie dinastii Romanovykh documents the inequities promulgated by Tsarist rule and the social unrest this fomented, which the First World War brought to a head. It consists of archival footage, some culled from hagiographic material that Tsar Nikolai II had ordered shot. Eisenstein’s mentor in techniques of editing and montage, Shub is often described as a compilationist. Stalin and his ruling establishment considered her a gifted editor, not an artist, failing to grasp the difference between editing for continuity and editing to generate ideas and the feelings that attach to them.
     Consider the film’s opening. The Tsar’s Kremlin palace is represented by three spires, suggesting the Holy Trinity. The next shot is of a cannon, which is made all the more fearsome by its filling almost the entire frame. The juxtapositon declares, “Religion makes war(s).” The next shot is of a long procession of Orthodox priests. They are an army. These priests do not participate in combat, but the juxtaposition of images generates the idea that, in Tsarist Russia, the appetite for war is cultivated by the clergy and activated by the clergy’s influence on power. The two shots that now follow are of the military. The first leaves an impression of messiness: officers are shown milling around. The juxtaposition with the previous shot makes unmistakable that the military, for all its elitist, aristocratic authority, remains under the thumb of organized religion—the military’s tacit master. The next shot is of rank-and-file soldiers. Perfect. Interpreting the sequence, we realize that it is Shub’s opinion that organized religion determines Russian military prerogative and this in turn determines Russian military activity: the fate of real people.
     Fall is art.

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