Commissioned by the Soviet state, Eisenstein’s follow-up to his landmark Battleship Potemkin sees his trailblazing theories of montage applied most propagandistically—and to fervent effect—in this high-octane silent film about the October Revolution of 1917.
Cast: Boris Livanov, Nikolay Popov, Vasili Nikandrov
Plot: In documentary style, events in Petrograd are re-enacted from the end of the monarchy in February of 1917 to the end of the provisional government and the decrees of peace and of land in November of that year.
Subject Matter: Moderate – Soviet History; Communism
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Sergei Eisenstein was of course more than just Battleship Potemkin (1925), which has long been a fixture in most film studies syllabi.
A pioneering filmmaker whose trailblazing theories of montage would lay the groundwork for the array of editing techniques that we have today, Eisenstein followed up Potemkin with a film commissioned by the Soviet state to celebrate ten years since the October Revolution of 1917, an event that fundamentally changed the world.
This is now one for the history books: the Marxist Bolsheviks led by Lenin seizing power and setting forth a new era of Soviet communism that would alter the course of the 20th century.
No one knew back in 1917 (or for that matter, in 1927 when October was released) how powerful the Soviet Union and communism as an ideology would become.
“Capitalist ministers give you neither peace, nor bread, nor land.”
Looking at Eisenstein’s work might seem like a quaint affair—it’s neither a documentary of the times (though it sometimes feels more authentic than one), nor a proper fictionalised account with a traditional story or characters. Instead, we get a silent film (with a lot of more intertitles than usual to convey plot) that was far ahead of its time.
Seeing it with today’s eyes, October might seem like Soviet science-fiction, made manically by a filmmaker trying to capture the last throes of humankind before an imagined capitalistic apocalypse threatens the destruction of socialist thought—and indeed the prophecy is true as the Soviet Union is no more.
As such, one might regard October as a relic of a bygone era, an odd curiosity bridled with propaganda so fervent that only Eisenstein’s brand of montage could do justice to. This is ‘film history’ in the purest sense of the words.