Modern cinema is shaped by the pioneers of cinema’s infancy. So far, this series has touched upon the beginning of filming, embracing fantasy, epics, intimate dramas, basics of film grammar and comedy classics. Strike is the next important step. This film is an early experiment with an indispensable tool briefly toyed with by Abel Gance – Montage. Russian director Sergei M Eisenstein was one of cinema’s earliest film theorists who wrote multiple articles and books on the psychological use and function of montage whilst creating films investigating his theories. Strike is the first in a career of this investigation as a group of oppressed factory workers go on strike.
A founding principle of Eisenstein’s theory states that montage is more than scenes or moments simply linking, but rather a collision which could manipulate visual meaning and emotions at the whim of the director. Strike is an excellent basis for an experiment with montage as form and content mirror one another. The collision of the oppressed workers and the rich factory owners is a simple basis and functions to serves as a backbone without hindering the focus of montage.
However, this is the first of two essential downfalls of Strike.
The second is due to the inherent message of the film. Strike is a propaganda piece for Communism and the importance of Proletariat organisation to overthrow the Bourgeoise. Eisenstein organises his narrative heroes and villains according to this principle. The ‘heroes’ of this piece are the factory workers banding together, but they constantly exist as a large formation, no individual struggle or point of view is distinguished which makes it rather difficult to connect with their plight. Similarly, the ‘Villains’ are distinguished, but are cartoony corporate nasties, Eisenstein caricatures the rich factory owners as ugly, crooked degenerates or bloated laughing suits. This ripple effects the acting which is often exaggerated.
However, Montage is the star of this experimental piece and a shining one at that. Strike is almost entirely montage, moving consistently with little dialogue but many startling sequences and intriguing camera compositions. Eisenstein conjures deliberate atmospheres through the shape of his film, rapidly or rhythmically cutting from one interesting angle to the next which exudes a sense of locations and characters with less importance placed upon lighting.
Though it may be difficult to sympathise deeply with the workers, the tumultuous power of Strike can easily swallow up the viewer in an empowering storm. The open rebellion of the workers battling a corrupt and inhuman police force, throwing down tools in a mass exodus from the factory and the climatic confrontation are incredible sequences with a power rarely seen in cinema before.
This power originates from Eisenstein’s five methods of montage- Metric, Rhythmic, Tonal, Overtonal/Association and Intellectual. In a completed form, it is hard to once again separate a film and truly distinguish why it holds such power, but these concepts enliven the potential force of a film through colliding images and the subconscious readings we make as an audience. For instance, the climatic slaughter is barbaric, but it is more powerful and grotesque as the throats of cattle are slit. This is intellectual montage as we combine the slaughter of the workers and cattle as hopeless and violent. Each individual image is senseless, but a third meaning is created the coalescence.
Strike fails to connect on an emotional level with identification, but succeeds marvellously in an exploration of a film grammar and as an inspiration to all subsequent filmmakers.
A honest worker is accused of stealing. The shame is too much and he hangs himself. The comrades of the factory will not stand for it and begin leaving the factory. In a sequence, we begin with one man’s trouble, by the end an entire factory has been mobilised and organised to stand up for itself. A powerful sequence and a tribute to the storytelling power of montage.