OKTIABR - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

(October; Ten Days That Shook the World)

USSR, 1928

Director: Sergei Eisenstein

Production: Sovkino; black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: 103 minutes; length: 2000–2200 meters, originally 3800 meters and then 2800 meters in the U.S.S.R. Released 20 January 1928. Rereleased with musical soundtrack by Shostakovitch, 1966, Paris. Filmed in spring 1927 in Leningrad.

Scenario: Sergei Eisenstein with Grigori Alexwithrov; from 10 Days That Shook the World by John Reed; associate director: Grigori Alexwithrov; photography: Edward Tisse; production designer: Vladimir Kovrighine; camera assistants: Vladimir Nilsin and Vladimir Popov.

Cast : V. Nikandrov ( Lenin ); N. Popov ( Kerensky ); Boris Lianov ( Minister Tereshchenko ); Chibisov ( Minister Kishkin ); Smelsky ( Minister Verderevsky ); N. Podvoisky ( Bolshevik Podvoisky ); Edward Tisse ( A German ).



Eisenstein, Sergei, Octobre , edited by Jacques Charriere, Paris, 1971; also in Eisenstein: 3 Films , edited by Jay Leyda, New York, 1974, and October and Alexander Nevsky , edited by Leyda, New York, 1984.


Rotha, Paul, John Grierson, and Ivor Montagu, Eisenstein , London 1948.

Seton, Marie, Eisenstein , London, 1957.

Leyda, Jay, Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film , New York, 1960.

Martin, Marcel, Panorama du cinéma soviétique , Brussels, 1960.

Sergei Eisenstein: KĂĽnstler der Revolution , Berlin, 1960.

Nizhny, Vladimir, Lessons with Eisenstein , London, 1962.

Konlecher and Kubelka, editors, Serjei Michailowitsch Eisenstein , Vienna, 1964.

Eisenstein, Sergei, Film Form and Film Sense , New York, 1965.

Barna, Yon, Eisenstein , Bloomington, Indiana, 1973.

Fernandez, Dominique, Eisenstein , Paris, 1975.

Klinowski, Jacek, and Adam Garbicz, editors, Cinema, The Magic Vehicle: A Guide to its Achievement: Journey One: The Cinema Through 1949 , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1975.

Ropars-Wuilleumier, Marie-Claire, and others, Octobre: Ecriture et idéologie , Paris, 1976.

Swallow, Norman, Eisenstein: A Documentary Portrait , New York, 1977.

Aumont, Jacques, Montage Eisenstein , Paris, 1979; London, 1987.

Ropars-Wuilleumier, Marie-Claire, and others, La Revolution figurée , Paris, 1979.

Taylor, Richard, Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany , London, 1979.

Leyda, Jay, and Zina Vignow, Eisenstein at Work , New York, 1982.

Eisenstein, Sergei M., Immoral Memories: An Autobiography , Boston, 1983.

Marshall, Herbert, Masters of the Soviet Cinema: Crippled Creative Biographies , London, 1983.

Polan, Dana B., The Political Language of Film and the Avant-Garde , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1985.

Eisenstein, Sergei M., Selected Works , Volume 1: Writings 1922–1934 , edited by Richard Taylor, London, 1988.

Bordwell, David, The Cinema of Eisenstein , Cambridge, 1993.

Goodwin, James, Eisenstein, Cinema, & History , Champaign, 1993.

Lovgren, Hakan, editor, Eisenstein's Labyrinth: Aspects of a Cinematic Synthesis of the Arts , Philadelphia, 1996.

Taylor, Richard, editor, The Eisenstein Reader, Bloomington, 1998.

Bergan, Ronald, Sergei Eisenstein: A Life in Conflict , New York, 1999.


Hall, Mordaunt, in New York Times , 3 November 1928.

Variety (New York), 7 November 1928.

Close Up (London), December 1928.

Barr, Alfred, Jr., "Sergei Michailovitch Eisenstein," in Arts (New York), December 1928.

Grigs, Derick, and Guy Cote, in Sight and Sound (London), November-December, 1951.

Lachize, Samuel, "Quand le souffle de l'histoire passe par le baroque cinématographique ," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), October 1967.

Macdonald, Dwight, "Eisenstein and Pudovkin in the 20s," and "Soviet Cinema, 1930–1940," in On Movies , New York, 1969.

Durgnat, Raymond, in Films and Filming (London), March 1970.

Brik, O. M., and V. B. Sklovskij, in Screen (London), Winter 1971–72.

Argan, G. C., "Storia non come memoria ma presente a realtĂ  in atto," in Cinema Nuovo (Turin), January-February 1972.

Simsolo, Noël, in Image et Son (Paris), March 1972.

Lagny, M., Marie-Claire Ropars-Wuilleumier, and Pierre Sorlin, " Octobre : Quelle histoire?" in Image et Son (Paris), December 1976.

Sperber, M., "Eisenstein's October ," in Jump Cut (Berkeley), March 1977.

Marie, M., "La Lettre et le cinematographe," in Image et Son (Paris, April 1977.

Meisel, E., in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 5, 1977.

Eisenstein, Sergei, "Das russische Volk filmt," in Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), January 1978.

Ropars-Wuilleumier, Marie-Claire, "The Function of Metaphor in Eisenstein's October ," in Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), Winter-Spring 1978.

Berg, Charles, in Cinema Texas Program Notes (Austin), 14 February 1978.

Goodwin, J., "Eisenstein: Ideology and Intellectual Cinema," in Quarterly Review of Film Studies (New York), Spring 1978.

Ropars-Wuilleumier, Marie-Claire, "The Overture of October ," in Enclitic (Minneapolis), Autumn 1978 and Spring 1979.

Bukatman, S., "Battles with Songs: The Soviet Historical Film and Historical Document," in Persistence of Vision (Maspeth, New York), Summer 1986.

Mayne, J., "Soviet Film Montage and the Woman Question," in Camera Obscura (Bloomington), no. 19, January 1989.

Kenez, Peter, "Film Reviews: October ( Octiabr' ) Directed by Sergei Eisenstein," in The Russian Review (Columbus), vol. 50, no. 4, October 1991.

Dufour, Dirk, "Revolutie? Zwierige wals tussen fictie en werkelijkheid," in Film en Televisie + Video (Brussels), no. 427, December 1992.

Sorensen, J., " Lef , Eisenstein, and the Politics of Form," in Film Criticism (Meadville), vol. 19, no. 2, 1994/1995.

* * *

In 1927 Sergei Eisenstein, along with V. I. Pudovkin and Esther Shub, was commissioned to make a film to contribute to the celebration commemorating the tenth anniversary of the 1917 Revolution. Eisenstein and Edward Tisse were called away from the production of The General Line to begin work on the anniversary project. The film that resulted, Oktiabr , was not the anticipated popular successor to Potemkin but instead a bold experiment in intellectual montage.

Preparation for Oktiabr included research into newspaper reports, news photographs, newsreels, Esther Shub's footage taken in Petrograd during the revolution, and historical memoirs. An additional source was John Reed's Ten Days That Shook The World (the title used for the version of Oktiabr prepared for release abroad). The initial scenario covered the events leading up to the 1917 Revolution through post-Civil War reconstruction. Although the scope of the film was eventually narrowed, an abundance of information remains, which according to critics both in the Soviet Union and abroad was still too extensive. Much of the power of the film is lost because the viewer is faced with not only too much detail, but also with too large a vista—too large a vision to comprehend.

Portions of the film brought criticism even before Oktiabr was screened. As Eisenstein explains, "the timing was accidentally unfortunate. A crisis in the Communist Party and among Government leaders coincided with the completion of a film in which both the now-divided factions were unmistakably represented on the screen." The two factions Eisenstein referred to were the government group headed by Joseph Stalin and the Opposition led by Leon Trotsky. As the date for the anniversary celebration approached, Stalin's offensive against Trotsky and the Opposition reached its peak. Eisenstein, as Yon Barna states, was "expected (by Stalin) to take account of the 'new historical facts."' As a result, only certain select reels of Oktiabr were ready to be screened at the jubilee on November 7, 1927. The film was re-edited and publicly released in March of 1928. Although scenes of Opposition leaders were cut from the film, Trotsky does appear in two scenes of the final version of Oktiabr , but not as a significant figure.

Government leaders, critics, and the general public were anticipating another Potemkin from Eisenstein. Oktiabr , however, never approached the popular appeal of that previous work. Reaction inside Russia to the completed version of the film was mixed. Oktiabr was praised as being the beginning of the Soviet cinema art of the future and also criticized as being too abstract for the masses—the working-class population—to comprehend, often within the same review. The elements of typage and intellectual montage, the main reasons for both the praise and the condemnation of Oktiabr , were first developed in Potemkin and are basic to Eisenstein's theory of the "montage of attractions."

Typage, a concept originating with Vsevolod Meyerhold, involves the use of persons whose physical appearance conveys the personality or spirit of a character as opposed to using trained actors. Through the use of typage, Eisenstein wanted to create visual impressions of models or representative figures so perfect that an audience could know the character at the first glimpse of him on the screen. The use of typage to represent Lenin on the screen in Oktiabr brought much criticism. The worker chosen to play Lenin, V. Nikandrov, resembled him physically but was criticized for an empty portrayal that did not convey the inner character of the man. Rather than a poor representation, however, this use of typage seems to be an attempt by Eisenstein to create a model character that embodies the mass rather than a single individual acting apart from the collective. (Eisenstein is more successful with this particular use of typage in Alexander Nevsky. ) Eisenstein's contemporaries and critics since have argued that the symbolism was not comprehensible by the masses. Nevertheless, they did recognize Eisenstein's technique and purpose in the sequences in Oktiabr that are developed through intellectual montage.

Intellectual montage, the use of visual images to express abstract ideas, is the core of Eisenstein's film theory. The specific idea behind intellectual montage is that the juxtaposition of two separate images can convey an idea which is not represented by either of those images when viewed separately. Such sequences in Oktiabr , of which there are many, brought a wider range of responses from the film's reviewers. In one sequence, Eisenstein ridicules the concept of God through a series of symbolic deities in which a Baroque Christ figure is ultimately equated with a primitive idol. The idea of the gradual debasement of the Christ figure is conveyed through the relationships between the images of the deities and not by the individual images themselves. While acknowledging the artistic and cinematic value of this sequence and others like it (Kerensky's climb up the stairs leading to the Tsar's apartment, the association of Kerensky and Napoleon), reviewers criticized the fact that these sequences could not be interpreted by the masses. Oktiabr was commissioned to be part of the celebration of the proletarian revolution, but the proletariat could not understand the film.

—Marie Saeli

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