October Review

Image for October

Though a provisional government headed by Alexander Kerensky has taken over from the Tsar, widespread injustices continue and Russia does not withdraw from the First World War. Organised by Lenin’s Bolshevik party, the proletariat take control of the gove


Distributed internationally under the title of John Reed’s best-selling eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution, Ten Days That Shook the World, this was produced in 1927 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution and the storming of the Winter Palace.

The film was directed and edited by Sergei Eisenstein as a silent, designed to be accompanied by a Dmitri Shostakovich score; Grigori Aleksandrov supervised the effecs track that turned it into a sound picture (if not a talkie).

It’s less impressive than Eisenstein’s earlier Strike and Battleship Potemkin, which deal with smaller, less-contested pieces of pre-Soviet history. Here, undeniable filmmaking genius is most compromised shaping material to suit state sponsors.

Because the official line was that the huge proletariat (rather than the tiny Bolshevik Party) were the victors of 1917, there’s little individual characterisation. Lenin appears briefly to be hailed by a crowd and Stalin never shows up on screen; as ever, Eisenstein is better on ‘villains’, whether it be the well-dressed society ladies who stab a revolutionary to death with their parasols, or Kerensky broods amid leftover Romanov splendours (another ‘Tsar Alexander?’ asks the intertitle) and Trotsky (perversely, the most memorable character in the film) is always seen arguing for the wrong course of action.

Some sequences, shot on the sites of the actual events and with many of the original participants playing themselves, are still spectacular and many images (the huge statue hauled down by ropes, the corpse and dead horse stranded on a raised bridge) remain resonant well after the Soviet Union has gone the way of the Tsar.

Although still worth a look just because it's Eisenstein, undeniable filmmaking genius is compromised shaping material to suit state sponsors