Storm Over Asia (1928)

Backed by ideological parties and expressing a subjective view with an aim of inflaming or informing, Russian Montage Theorists films do not engage with politics, they ARE politics. Righteous preaching of a dead ideology can be tiresome, but these films survive, much like Triumph Of Will, because they were forged by master filmmakers. Chaotic action, intelligent editing and interesting camera angles elevate these doctrines to exciting films.

Pudovkin’s Storm Over Asia is the story of Bair who escapes to the mountains following a fight with a greedy British trader over an exquisite fur pelt. Amidst frenetic battles, Bair is apprehended and sentenced to execution, but a last minute revelation of his descent from Genghis Kahn changes the politics of war.

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Critics hailed and peers condemned Pudovkin for his departure from complex Russian issues, but the heavy Soviet intent is still present in the oppressed man of the land struggling against elites wielding unethical capitalism. Pudovkin submerges the communistic message only ankle deep, but it is enough to allow us to float on an entertainment, rather than drown in brainwashing akin to Eisentein’s October. Pudovkin jettisons political alienation for a more accessible picture by veiling his ideology; the Motherland is Eastern Mongolia, the mob marching for revolution is a solitary man, and awe for an ancient culture takes focus over title cards of vexation.

It is admirable for Pudovkin to depart from mob mentality in favour of a singular view, but a lack of experience with this technique among Montage Theorists leads the director to fluctuate between a sprawling eye and Bair’s journey. Often, the hero disappears for great lengths of time or is swallowed up in a cacophony of action sequences. This ultimately results in the pace of the grand sorry stuttering despite the progressive flow of individual sequences.

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The story seems unsure of its point, either beginning an hour too early or finished an hour too late as the grand concept is lost. Bair’s transformation by the elites into a puppet leader for Mongolia is a fascinating concept with many avenues to explore; how ancient cultures can be dominated by outside forces, and even the power of ideology to rule subordinates by those who do not partake in it. But this insight is cut short.

Regardless of the narrative, the power of Soviet cinema lies in the inflammatory, inspiring and intricate scenes of upheaval, and Pudovkin provides some of the greatest. Bair commences the apocalyptic finale after tearing the British base apart by his own hands and a revolution of splintered images depicting a metaphorical hurricane sweeping back choking British soldiers begins. The designed destruction of Russian Montage Theorists variety was rarely surpassed until Saving Private Ryan‘s harrowing opening stormed the cinemas.

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Though it lacks the expertise of Battleship Potemkin and Strike!, Storm Over Asia is film of interest for a portrayal of a foreign land and commendable in its attempt to conceal blatant motives of its predecessors. However, the underwhelming result of the piece may not lie with the film, but myself. A continuous interaction with Communistic propaganda is like a Ludovico treatment. My first experience was empowering and the advancement inspiring, but as the technique of construction became familiar, the undertone of the film rose to the surface. The same insight, the same intention and the same aim result in a blur of cinema and a weakening, not a strengthening, of a reaction.

Classic Moment… 

An intelligent and fascinating scene worth the construction of the entire film. In a opulent dressing room, elites dress in war medals and voluptuous fur coats, in a ancient temple, monks simple shawls. The juxtaposition continues as British wait patiently in the shrine as the reincarnation of the Dali Lama is revealed as a child. So young as not to be able to even speak yet. The elite bow in respect and mark the apex of the scene – simultaneously humorous, interesting and insightful as cultures collide.

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