One one level, Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike is the baldest sort of early Soviet propaganda. The villains are cigar-chomping, top-hatted Capitalists who own a factory in Tsarist Russia, ca. 1903, men who laugh heartily over the money they make exploiting the workers. The factory owners’ despicable henchmen (who have nicknames like “The Fox” and “The Bulldog” and “The Owl” and who look just like the animals they’re named for) are factory stooges who spy on the workers. The police and the firefighters and the army are depicted as the misguided servants of the Capitalist regime, mindlessly attacking the men and women who are their most natural allies. And the workers themselves are uniformly noble and righteous and therefore a bit dull, with little to differentiate them.
But against all odds, Strike is a dynamic and fascinating film, brought to life by the young director’s ambition and his incandescent talent. This was Eisenstein’s first feature, and he runs with it as if this is not just his first film but his last, making every scene compelling and every shot memorable. On purely visual terms, this is the Run Lola Run of 1925, with Eisenstein using the motion picture camera as a bag of tricks that seems inexhaustible. He does everything he can think of, and we get the dizzying sense of what it must have been like to make movies in the very early days of film, when anything seemed possible and everything seemed worth trying: Eisenstein employs double exposures, arch angles, oddball wipes, process shots, POV’s, fourth-wall-breaking asides, even cross-cuts between literal and symbolic images of butchery to get his points across. He shoots into lights and into shadows, layers numerous images on top of each other to create remarkable tableaus, and uses the editing table as a montage-a-matic, presaging the tactics he would use later in his career.
Originally envisioned as the fifth in a series of eight films celebrating the rise of the Soviet Union called “Toward the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, Strike was the only one that got made, but it’s just as well – this muscular, kinetic film makes perfect use of Eistenstein’s “collective protagonist” tactic and contains the sense of righteous, incendiary outrage that makes every good propaganda film work.
This silent classic is a must-see on the big screen, comrades, but as an added bonus all 7:00 screenings will feature live accompaniment by The Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra MN. – Michael Popham
STRIKE screens Friday and Saturday, July 24 and 25 at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday, July 26 at 5:00 and 7:00. Advance tickets are $8.00 ($10.00 for live accompaniment shows) and you can purchase them here.