October: 10 Days That Shook The World (1927)

Good editing makes the film look well-directed. Great editing makes the film look like it wasn’t directed at all – Victor Fleming.

Above is a quote by one of Hollywood’s greatest directors on the importance of editing and, more importantly, harmony in storytelling. Cohesion of lighting, sound, acting, camerawork and editing is imperative to fulfil a singular vision. This balance is boiled down further to individual components of filmmaking, such as editing. The Russian Montage Theory depends upon the principle that the cut between separate images induces juxtaposition or relation which in turn creates a third meaning. This art opens new ideas by balancing images together precisely. In this piece, Director Sergei M Eisenstein, reviewed in previous entries Strike and Battleship Potemkin, has placed importance on a singular factor of filmmaking and upset the delicate balance.

October: 10 Days That Shook The World depicts the events of the uprising against the Russian Monarchy and the following inept government. The entirety of the film unfolds in reconstructions of true scenarios but is warped by political bias of financiers and filmmakers alike. That is not to say his other pictures were without bias, to do so would be to ignore the purpose of the films in the first place. But this piece, commissioned by Lenin himself, is so blatant in its intentions that it becomes difficult to swallow.

No insight is divulged to the motives of the uprising nor the reasons behind the Turncoats; the monarchy is evil and the defectors are traitors. Character depth and information title cards remain shallow. Once again, the protagonists are outraged masses and title cards are vehement expressions of the crowd or limited explanations of the advancing process of the rebellion. Any other information is superfluous. But why this is so uncomfortable to watch now is unclear. Potemkin had a basis on real events. Strike was without detailed dedication to the interior motives of the individual. Perhaps it is because October professes to be a reconstruction and the knowledge that the information supplied is tainted is a dissatisfying watch.

And so we come to the interesting but flawed star of this vehicle. The Montage.

Strike, Battleship Potemkin and October can be seen as something of an experimental and political trilogy. Eisenstein’s editing evolves over the course of this period and this piece rockets at a speed which would leave its comrades gasping for breath. Though, this is not a compliment. In October, the editing has become a mere ostentation, a piece of jewellery to show off but without value. Whereas before, Eisenstein’s montage would exude information, parallel or juxtapositional subtleties and rhythmic pacing, October simply gallops at every opportunity.

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The experience is a dizzying blur as action and events steamroll by without a moment to breath. It is like standing in the middle of a hurricane, objects are caught within the grip of the storm but these pass by and disintegrate in a beat. Though it is part of the theory that no shot should take priority over pace, great cinematography is laid to waste in the blizzard of images and whatever pace was desired becomes a rapid mess without distinction. It is pure decadence.

Worse still, subtlety has disintegrated. October plainly illustrates the desired subjectivity ceaselessly until worn out. For instance, military leader Konovalov ascends the stairs of the Winter Palace amongst the whispers of the elite. Eisenstein cuts multiple times from the straight-backed Konovalv to a Napoleon statue. This occurs until the interest and subtlety, if there was any, has been ground to dust.

And then a title card of explanation is thrown in for good measure.

October is an unfortunate documentary style piece swayed beyond repair to blatant propaganda. Lacking the passion for experimentation in Strike or the masterly finesse of Battleship Potemkin, October is a turbulent mess which suggests Eisenstein’s main form of editing was feeding it through a shredder.

Classic Moment… 

The Bolshevik’s storm the Winter Palace is a climatic and enraged assault. An impressive montage of inflamed and impassioned men righting the wrongs of their homeland. Eleven thousand extras swarmed to recreate the event, but safety precautions proved so difficult, more people were injured in the reconstruction than the actual event.

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