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Jan 5, 2008

Oktyabr

That’s the transliteration of the Russian word for October, the title of one of Sergei Eisenstein’s masterpieces.The film is also known as Ten Days that Shook the World, after John Reed’s book.

I understand that as history it’s not altogether accurate. For example the storming of the Winter Palace was more a matter of sneaking in a back door than making a heroic assault on the palace gates. There were also some alterations, made at Comrade Stalin’s suggestion, that involved Trotsky. It’s not altogether clear from the version I watched, which is supposed to be a restoration, if the material about Trotsky is back in or not.

I understand that the Stalinist version of history attributed everything bad that happened during the revolution to Trotsky, and everything good to the Military Revolutionary Committee. Of course, they didn’t mention that the MRC was led by Trotsky.

So how does it rate as a film? On a purely aesthetic level it is magnificent. Eisenstein uses montage to stunning effect. For example, he has a sequence right after an intertitle that says “God?” that shows an image of Jesus, then he cuts to various other images of God or gods. Each image is, I think, intended to become more and more debased so that God is ridiculed. In another sequence he cuts so that images of a machine gun and a man become one, and the rhythm of the cutting effectively conveys the firing of the gun. There are numerous examples of Eisenstein’s editing skills throughout the movie.

On a political level it ranks with Birth of a Nation, which I have seen, and Triumph of the Will, which I will probably never see, as genius in the service of an evil cause. Lenin’s revolution was not a gentle thing. If I recall The Gulag Archipelago correctly, the law that enabled the imprisonment, deportation, and execution of dissenters and alleged anti-Soviet agitators was enacted by Lenin. The total number of dead under the Soviet regime was immense, some due to Stalin’s purges, and some, particularly at the start of The Great Patriotic War (WW II in the West) due to his incompetence. And while I may give Trotsky the sympathy that I give almost all second place winners, aka losers, I don’t really think that he would have been much better than Lenin. Nor can I agree with the atheist propaganda here and in Battleship Potemkin.

One thing that is brought out in the early part of the film is the desire for a separate peace with Germany. The Czar’s generals basically screwed up when one of them sent a radio message en clair, rather than encrypting it. The Germans were effectively able to stalemate the Russian advance. The Russians then had to endure years of heavy losses until the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ended their participation in war. Given what I understand the conditions at the front, and throughout Russia were, some kind of revolution was probably inevitable. It is regrettable that it was Lenin’s revolution.