October (Sergei M. Eisenstein & Grigori Aleksandrov, 1928)
They Shoot Pictures Don't They? The 1000 Greatest Films #345
Of the many quests and lists I impose myself on watching many are unavoidable films. The first ever list I wanted to check'em all was Mediafilms masterpieces there were five Sergei M. Eisenstein films: Battleship Potemkin, October, Alexander Nevsky, Ivan The Terrible Part I &II. October is the last Eisenstein I needed to see. Of the great filmmakers of all time the British institute of Cinema stated that D.W. Griffith is the supplier of the alphabet, Chaplin the humanism and Eisenstein the theoretical inventor of the media. This is partly true, Eisenstein, especially with October, presents his theories of montage, editing, and decoupage of a scene to demonstrate a narrative. This aspect, as rhythmed as it is, as some interesting facets mainly because in this propagandist film about the recreation of the Revolution of 1917, shot like a documentary, the "propos" embellishes and glorifies the Soviet Union and its rise.
On some level, the fast editing and multi angles of decoupage are giving a gripping pace that carries the film from the events told in a chronological narrative. Other than being a pamphlet to the grandeur of the Soviet Union, October is the shipping banner of Eisenstein's vision of filmmaking and storytelling. His many books on montage are the establishment of modern day Cinema and television. Just watch how many uncountable times the sequence of the steps of Odessa has been reshot and put into great works of Cinema. Anyhow, Eisenstein's approach has somewhat conquered the seventh art. If you watch a mainstream film you'll hardly see a take lasting more than 3 seconds and a scene is shot from sometimes up to ten different angles are used to cut and edit the scene. For example, the Bourne movies, as popular as they were, those modern day action movies from Doug Liman (the first) and Paul Greengrass (the last two) with shots lasting two and even a second, shot with multiple angles giving a fast and heart clenching rhythm. Eisenstein's films feel that fresh to my eyes as a TV like 24 where the decoupage and multiple frames are used to tell many levels of stories.
Altough, personally I'd never shot a scene like any of these people, Eisenstein's lessons are unavoidable and any cinephile, director, or Film Historian should study them. But I' m more on the side of Andrei Tarkovsky when he said in Sculpting in Time:
"I am radically opposed to the way Eisenstein used the frame to codify intellectual formulae. My own method of conveying experience to the audience is quite different. Of course it has to be said that Eisenstein wasn't trying to convey his own experience to anyone, he wanted to put across ideas, purely and simply; but for me that sort of cinema is utterly inimical. Moreover Eisenstein's montage dictum, as I see it, contradicts the very basis of the unique process whereby a film affects an audience. It deprives the person watching of that prerogative of film, which has to do with what distinguishes its impact on his consciousness from that of literature or philosophy: namely the opportunity to live through what is happening on the screen as if it were his own life, to take over, as deeply personal and his own, the experience imprinted in time upon the screen, relating his own life to what is being shown."
For me filmmaking is substracting the camera from the mind of the viewer and the more sober and subtle the direction is the more it is mastered and successful. That's why when thinking about a film I'll always prefer long takes and slow zooms in/out even if the ballet of Martin Scorsese's masterpieces makes me dream of filmmaking, a great scene can be shot from only one point of view and with one effective tracking shot. Look at the scene in Citizen Kane where Kane goes into the journal and discuss with Cotten's character and many others, Toland's deep focus permits the action near the camera and some action in the back of the room. There is great interaction in that scene with few camera movements all in one effective shot. The viewer actually doesn't even realize that the camera is standing in an impossible place in the room. We'll get back to Citizen Kane soon but now let's conclude that Eisenstein's technique in October shows the possibilities of editing in these early days of a fresh new art even if today this is textbook filmmaking, it has its limits and restrictions.