Monday, October 05, 2015

Oktyabr / October

Poster by Stenbergs & Yakov Ruklevsky
Oktyabr. Photos: Collection Austrian Film Museum, Vienna
Октябрь / Lokakuu / Oktober [Ottobre] (Sovkino – SU 1928) D, SC: Sergei M. Eisenstein, Grigori V. Alexandrov; DP: Eduard K. Tisse, asst. Vladimir Popov, Vladimir S. Nilsen; AD: Vasili I. Kovrigin; ass D: Maxim Strauch, Mikhail Gomorov, Ilya Trauberg; C: Vasili N. Nikandrov (Lenin), Nikolai Popov (Kerensky), Boris N. Livanov (Tereshchenko, a minister in the Provisional Government), Sokolov (Vladimir A. Antonov-Ovseyenko), Nikolai I. Podvolsky (himself), Lyashchenko (Konovalov), Chibisov (Skobelev), Mikholev (Kishkin), Smelsky (Verderevsky), Ognev (himself –the sailor who fired the signal from the “Aurora”), Eduard K. Tisse (a German officer), Leningrad workers, Red Army soldiers, sailors from the Baltic Fleet of the Red Navy; filmed: 1927; first private screenings: 14 + 23.1.1928, Moscow; première: 14.3.1928; orig. l: 9317 ft. / 2800 m; 35 mm, 2882 m, 124' (20 fps); titles: RUS; print source: Oesterreichisches Filmmuseum, Wien
    [In the GCM programme schedule a duration of 140' was announced. The actual duration was 127'.]
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. (The Canon Revisited).
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter A. Buchwald, percussions: Frank Bockius, 5 Oct 2015

Daria Khitrova, Yuri Tsivian (GCM catalog and website): "There are canons and canons. Released soon after the instantly canonized Battleship Potemkin, Eisenstein’s October was, it would seem, bound to become every critic’s cherished disappointment. It did; some said the film falsified the very event it was commissioned to highlight; some others pointed at what they thought was a lack of action, thinness of storyline, and the absence of unity in style; in addition, Lenin’s widow detested the fact that a bald-headed extra was hired to impersonate the man she knew so well. All this may be true; with the only exception that Eisenstein’s October did become part of a canon, if in a different, less conventional sense."

"There are canons that glow in their glory and there are ones that grow in their shade. Eisenstein’s October grew with years as the events of October 1917 receded, and it grows on us every time we watch it. In 1928, ten years later, there were still people around who remembered how Lenin looked; wondered where Lev Trotsky disappeared – both from the film and the political scene; or said: wait, wait, I was there when the Winter Palace silently surrendered – where did they see those masses storming the palace with such zest and pomp? Now that only two years remain till the centenary of the actual historical events – you should have waited, Pordenone! – who cares about the real number of people in the Palace Square? Historians might, but then, they don’t begrudge if a film does not. Films have better use for crowds than history does."

"Some canons, philologists tell us, endure because they are changeless; others, because they change. Eisenstein did not direct many films, but any film he directed was strikingly different from the previous one. This devotion to change is what makes the Eisenstein canon indestructible: his oeuvre is internally equivocal. "

"Serious people respect Eisenstein’s official successes, Potemkin and Alexander Nevsky, and dismiss October as a Formalist experiment. Little wonder, therefore, that they are countered by those who extol Strike and October, plus the forbidden Ivan the Terrible (Part Two), and turn a cold shoulder to Eisenstein’s successes, if only for the reason that they are such. One young archivist (be careful: he may be sitting next to you in the Verdi) once told us that Old and New was the only film by Eisenstein which he could watch without ennui. A well-known film director, let his name be forgotten forever, when asked what he thought of Eisenstein, said that his favorite was Romance Sentimentale."

"But note that he did not dare to say: I’ve not seen any. Pray at the wall, sit on the wall, run your head against the wall – the wall is always there. You may like or dislike this or that film Eisenstein made, but there is no way around Eisenstein’s canon."

"One thing that Eisenstein was reluctant to do in his October was ride on the wave of his own Battleship Potemkin – even if another Potemkin was what most people expected him to turn out. His plan for October was more ambitious: to invent cinema anew. This, of course, was but a theoretical ambition, but Eisenstein did do what he could to take filmmaking to the brink of the unknown. Take narrative and wring its neck, was one of Eisenstein’s commandments; undoing the unities of time and space were another two. Viktor Shklovsky, who was one of the few critics who understood what October was trying to do (which does not imply he loved it), called October “a catalogue of inventions.” "

"Some of October’s inventions have been taken up by others, and may not look like inventions anymore; some misfired; others are still waiting to be unpacked."
– Daria Khitrova, Yuri Tsivian

AA: Ever since the acclaimed 2012 restoration of October (116’ at 22 fps, ZDF/ARTE, Filmmuseum München, Deutschlandradio Kultur, roc Berlin) to the original music by Edmund Meisel I have been looking forward to see and hear it, preferably in Pordenone, so it was baffling to see a regular version, luckily in a good print, but without Meisel. Instead, the 2012 restoration was delivered to guests as a dvd.

Even this version was unusual for me to see as we in Helsinki still regularly screen the 1967 re-release version with a Shostakovich compilation score.

A mother of inventions, October has always been for me a film to appreciate and to study, a bold film full of innovations, some of which work and some of which don't. As a piece of political propaganda October is crude and embarrassingly simplistic. The problem with the typage approach to world history is that it diminishes all the actors, from Kerensky to Lenin.

The epic flow is irresistible. Sergei Eisenstein here is creating a new kind of epic which is different from Griffith, Lang, and Gance. This is an epic of rebellion, of a revolutionary situation in which the powers-that-be cannot reign like they have used to, and the people cannot go on living like they have used to. "The power was lying on the ground". That becomes quite evident in this film.

Weaknesses: the clumsy irony, the obvious caricature, the lack of nuance and the missing sense of complexity in a world-historical moment. Too much agitation and sloganizing, too little intelligent discourse.

Strengths: a sense of time dilatation, a dynamic structure, a concept of the architecture of power, a balance of action and meditation, of dramatic, lyrical, and playful passages. "The calm before the storm". I do not mind that Eisenstein gets lost in ornaments in his obsession in the monuments of power. The movements of the revolutionary crowds ("the storming of the Winter Palace") are compelling, the sense of choreography is not too stylized. These scenes have been abused as documents for ages because they feel right although we know it did not happen like this.

The sense of rebellious energy is irresistible.

Günter A. Buchwald and Frank Bockius brought us a vigorous and often percussive score that fitted the movie perfectly. They emphasized the sense of imperial Russia as a war machine that has become self-destructing and needs to be stopped by force.

A fine photochemical print.

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