Eisenstein learned from Kuleshovin in the Soviet school of filmmaking believing in the Marxist theories of communism. Therefore, his filmmaking integrated the Soviet montage theories with the Marxists theories of class conflict. The Soviet montage was a combination of five theories of editing which aimed at achieving the greatest emotional feedback from the viewers. The Marxists theory contends that human beings engage in the class conflicts between the rich, the bourgeoisie and the poor, the proletariat, which seeks to overthrow the status quo and give the proletariat control over the capital, while the bourgeoisie continually oppresses the poor for their gain. Eisenstein uses lighting, staging, costumes, sound, and camera work to produce his three films: Battleship Potemkin, Strike, and Que Viva Mexico. This essay will analyze Eisenstein’s use of the Soviet montage, story structure, performance, and mise-en-scene in the production of the three movies and the effects that this style produced in the movies.
To begin with, Eisenstein’s style of film production revolved around the Marxist theory of communism. At his time, the Soviet Union was gaining ground, and individual heroism was on the decline. Films encouraged and depicted mass heroism, where the good of the majority proletariat prevailed against the atrocities from the bourgeoisie (Al Lavalley & Barry 352). In the first place, Eisenstein made films which propagated the theme of communism. The films revolved around the class conflict between the property owners and the working class, and the course of the working class had to prevail against the property owners. However, this is not the case in the film Que Viva Mexico since it was not about Russia, hence nor about a communist society. Additionally, lack of evidence of Marxism pursuit in the film is attributable to the film being unfinished and being edited and produced by another person. Since Eisenstein worked very little on this film, it is impossible to tell what details he would have added to it, had he completed it. That leaves the other two films for scrutiny and analysis of how Eisenstein’s montage enhanced the Marxism.
Eisenstein’s Strike expresses his filming style in detail. This film is a narrative form of a movie, which is set in a specific time and place, different in the duration of the movie shooting and production. This narrative falls under formalism owing to its practical approach to the proletariat’s flight. The story structure of the piece was based on six parts, which allowed the depiction of actions unique to the part though developing the strike. Eisenstein employs mise-en-scene aspects to earn sympathy for the workers and hatred for the factory owners and employers (Shaw 3). First, Eisenstein presents the workers as people living in abject poverty, which is depicted in their clothes and houses. To present such housing, the crew engaged in staging, setting the appropriate place that can fit poverty-stricken residents. The lives of the workers appear extremely miserable, and the need for improvement is undeniable. Furthermore, Eisenstein presents the bourgeoisie, in this case, the officials, in costumes that suggest elegance and arrogance. The employers are plump, have good living standards, and can afford pleasure and merrymaking. When Eisenstein presents them taking beer and the cigarettes, when they should be deliberating on the workers concerns, he tells the audience that they are arrogant and do not care about the betterment of the workers. As a matter of fact, they insult the workers by using the ultimatum requiring them to lessen their totalitarian rule over the workers to wipe a spill (Bordwell 149).
The characters in film, occupy the full stage, where performance is not centered on the stage or any evident space waste. Through the use of such costume and setting, Eisenstein communicates to the audience that the workers have no other way of improving their living, apart from striking. The setting is also expressive in the movie, conveying the director’s idea of oppression and authoritarian rule. The sharp contrast between the setting in which the workers appear and that of the employers leads the audience to pity the plight of the workers. The cinematography is also effective in this film allowing the director to focus on the images of high regard and attracting the viewers’ attention to them. Moreover, when Eisenstein creates a character of a spy taking a caption of an employee stealing the workers’ demands letter, which the employers had defied, the camera position enables Eisenstein to communicate his ideas clearly. Additionally, the lighting of different events enhances the conceptions of themes which otherwise could be difficult to develop.
The sound effects in the movie enhance captions and shots and add value to the overall movie. The background sound aids viewers’ at understanding the film since they tell more about the actions in progress in the scenes. For example, the background sound of a strike beginning is different to the viewer at the end when the workers slaughter a water buffalo. The music in the movie plays an important role: by adding the sound effect as well as giving cues to the audience. In the film Strike, Eisenstein uses cinematography and mise-en-scene to communicate with the audience, help the audience with the expression of emotions in line with the director’s initial idea. The cinematography sounds and the aspects of mise-en-scene work harmoniously throughout the movie without overshadowing each other.
In Strike, Eisenstein shows images of the workers protesting against the factory authorities, which exemplifies the importance of protesting against oppression among the working class. He also shows images of the employers scheming about how to heighten the oppression against the protesting workers; this depicts the greedy face of the rich in the Marxist communism. The images that Eisenstein uses in the different montages display the need for a move against the status quo, which oppresses the proletariat.
In the film Battleship Potemkin, Eisenstein furthers the communist ideology of the rulers joining hands with the proletariat to fight for their course (Glueck 54). When the Battleship of Czar’s soldiers fails to attack the battleship of the returning soldiers, whom it is commissioned to attack, the communist argue that proletariat’s protesting only yields when the reactive support from some of the bourgeoisie is apparent. Showing images of the two battleships passing without a shot and a card with the title “Brothers” on it, Eisenstein implies that the course of the oppressed is about to yield since they have the support of some of the oppressors. Furthermore, when Eisenstein shows officers shooting at a fleeing crowd, he emphasizes on the theme of the common’s oppression from the government (Salazkina 285). Also, the images of hundreds paying homage to a dead soldier communicate the desire of the oppressed to protest and support their saviors.
The Battleship Potemkin is a narrative form of a formalism movie that takes place in a specific time and setting different from the production duration of the film. The movie does not involve stage setting since the director uses the structures which already exist in the locale. The performance entails the full screen occupation of the stage, requires camera movement and positioning to take in all the characters on stage. The story structure of the film follows five episodes. In this movie, Eisenstein switches from the silent films and allows the soldiers to communicate verbally. Similarly to when the Strike’s being made, Eisenstein employs expendable camera work. As the film begins, there is a close-up of the food the soldiers eat as they return from battle in the battleship (Shaw 4). That caption allows the audience to have a glimpse of exactly what the soldiers are enduring. The shot showing ghostly figures hanging in the yard is another cinematography work, which enhances the theme of oppression, emphasizing the inhuman treatment of the masses by the rulers. The camera angle on the citizens of Odessa pay homage to Vakulinchuk showing hundreds of people who attend is an art of cinematography, which the filmmaker uses to further develop his theme of mass unity. Eisenstein uses the setting to show the despair of the returning soldiers. Their troubles start on a ship, in the Black sea, a setting where they do not have any alternatives. They can only eat the food they get from their supplies, which is rotten meat. This setting exemplifies their plight and helplessness, a theme that the filmmaker wanted to stress on.
The lighting contrasts the two sides of the film creating collisions and conflicts, which emphasize the difference between the two (Antonio 264). The use of white tunic costumes for the Czar’s soldiers as they shoot at a fleeing crowd shows the irony in what the Czar’s government was doing. Where they were supposed to be peacemakers and protectors of the people, they were assaulting the same crowd as it fled in fear. In this scene, the use of costume and lighting created the conflict effect. The filmmaker uses the actor’s movement in a special way. The Czar’s soldiers appear confident and ruthless from the way they charge forward as they attack defenseless crowds. On the other hand, the returning soldiers appear courageous with an undying determination as they forge forward (Bordwell 107). The fleeing crowd signifies fear and helplessness of the people under control of the ruthless rulers. Most importantly, the camera movements to capture and emphasize these movements allow the audience a good view of the image that Eisenstein wanted to create.
Furthermore, Eisenstein’s Que Viva Mexico is less discrete because it was edited and produced by someone else. This film is a realistic documentary, although it depicts the time before and during the Mexican revolution. However, this time is not emphasized in any of the scenes. The film has a six piece story structure, where each part is independent of the others. The film occurs in a natural environment without staging modifications. The simple life of the natives was the main setting of the film. The performance is considerably centralized; therefore, the stage is generally underutilized. The costume that Eisenstein used in this film was unique to the Mexican culture at the time. The use of grass skirts for girls and a paddling canoe was a selective costume for a forest shooting amid long trees. The soundtrack and music in the film are explicit about supporting the indigenous Mexican culture the film illustrates. In addition, camera work and movement are elaborate in the image captions present in film. Eisenstein left the work incomplete; thus, some images are reproduced through film stock and visual printing. The editing of the film, though not by Eisenstein, is commendable. The editor reproduced most images forming the continuity effect through film stock of the footages he had and from other found footages. The use of a narrative voice complements the sound effect allowing the audience to acquaint with the ideas of the director as they watch the silent film. Since the film shooting did come to completion, the movies greatest work and style lies in its editing.
One of the most outstanding style aspects of Eisenstein is editing, which sets the first two films apart from the third one. Eisenstein edited and produced the films Strike and Battleship Potemkin using his montage theories. Eisenstein employed what he called intellectual montage while editing to receive an emotional expression from his audience through image juxtaposition. Montage did not require the use of images or footage made under the director’s supervision. Therefore, he could borrow images and footages from other films and works and then through juxtaposition make metaphors and communicate meanings, motifs, and themes to the viewers (Salazkina 283). One distinct example of the intellectual montage is in the film Strike is when he puts the images of workers massacre against a butcher with a knife in his hand and a cow ready for slaughter. These images are independent and they cannot bring the same meaning when separately portrayed as they do when put in juxtaposition. Comparing these images, Eisenstein implies that the workers are considered to be animals for slaughter by the employers, who are like the butcher in the other image.
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In the same film, Eisenstein employs metric montage when he shows the image of a police officer dropping a baby from a building. Nobody seems to notice this happens as Eisenstein quickly pastes another image of the continued brutality against the workers. This metric montage draws attention of the audience to the insignificance of the death of an innocent toddler when the police officers move on with their business as if nothing has happened (Antonio 261). In the film Battleship Potemkin, Eisenstein uses rhythmic montage when he portrays the Czar’s soldiers down the Potemkin’s stairs. The stairs that the soldiers use create visual progression of how the soldiers continued to move in for the attack. Tonal montage is also apparent in this film. The death of a baby in a carriage addresses to the audience’s emotion. Besides, the consideration of Vakulinchuk death as a martyrdom, and people coming in hundreds to pay homage is another depiction of the tonal montage (Module 10). In this film, Eisenstein further employs over-tonal montage appealing to the audience’s emotions with the help of a combination of metric, rhythmic, and tonal montage (Stern 194). During the Potemkin stair attack, the director shows images of hundreds fleeing from the soldiers attacking on the staircase, rhythmic montage. He then shows the image of a mother shot while trying to protect her child, and then the child is stampeded by the crowd to death, metric montage. Furthermore, he shows shooting of the mother who tries to beg for her son’s life drawing the audience’s emotional response from that image. Using the Soviet montage, Eisenstein invokes the viewers’ emotions and shares with them his views.
These explicit editing details are lacking in the third film, Que Viva Mexico. Most conspicuous of all lack of the intellectual montage in the Que Viva Mexico tells the difference in Eisenstein’s perspective and that of his companion Tisse (Bordwell 114). Although Tisse also employs montage since he allows the images to communicate with the audience, he also added a narrative voice to aid in the communication. All silent films use some level of montage, but the extreme to which Eisenstein employed it is evidently absent in Que Viva Mexico.
In conclusion, the director’s style is paramount in giving meaning to the film, communicating with the audience, and invoking the viewers’ emotions in a certain way. Eisenstein employs the Soviet montage, cinematography, sound, and mise-en-scene to appeal to the audience and further the Marxism theory of the Soviet communism. The camera work helps focus on some scenes, which are essential to the cinema. The camera movement and angle enable different views and displays to enhance the film quality. Besides, the costumes that the director chooses amplify his themes and lay emphasis on what he wants the viewers to understand about the characters. The use of sound effects by Eisenstein in the three films acts as a way of giving life to silent films, where the music and soundtrack create a sound effect, which aligns with the message and meaning of the image. However, that complexity is the beauty of these films. Eisenstein’s use of Soviet montage and his cinematography produced the high rating films of the time.