German stage director-producer Erwin Piscator, for whom Bertolt Brecht wrote, made only one film, the Soviet Vosstaniye rybakov, based on a novella by Anna Seghers. When Hitler became Germany’s chancellor in 1933, Piscator, rather than returning home, remained in the Soviet Union even after filming was complete; but Piscator, who despised Stalin, immigrated to the U.S. in 1939.
Anguished, grimly beautiful, Piscator’s film combines theatrical and cinematic elements. An unseen Greek chorus, one of the former elements, is dubious; the cinematic ones, however, brilliantly contribute to this fierce portrayal of a strike by exploited fishermen—a strike that is undone by its lack of solidarity. It is crushed. Piscator’s film is a call for united opposition to Hitler and Nazism.
There is an extraordinary scene between strikers and strike breakers. The latter group is desperate to feed their starving families; but the strikers are in the same socioeconomic boat, with families of their own. Strike-breaking is so wrong because striking is often the only tool that workers have to affect owners and move them, however reluctantly, toward a more just treatment of workers. By refusing to do their jobs, workers cost owners money, thereby pressuring owners to meet strikers’ demands; these efforts become less effective or ineffective the more workers decide to ignore the strike and go on working. When the two groups confront one another, each making its appeal or explaining its position, instead of cutting from one side to the other, Piscator moves the camera back and forth between them; thus is he able to express the potential for unity between the two divided sides. This is cinema!
But by far the film’s most moving visual accomplishment is its use of dissolves so that individual faces are given a combinate identity.
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