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Soviet Ideology And Heroic Realism In Eisenstein's Silent Films: Strike, Battleship Potemkin And October




Shlapentokh, D. (1993) Soviet Cinematography 1918-1991: Ideological Conflict and Social Reality, p.12 Pavel, K. (1971) "Thoughts on Art", Socialist Realism in Literature and Art p. 95. Shlapentokh, D. (1993) Soviet Cinematography 1918-1991: Ideological Conflict and Social Reality, p.33 Bordwell D. (1993) The Cinema of Eisenstein, Monumental Heroics: The Silent Films,, p.41 Bordwell D. (1993) The Cinema of Eisenstein, Monumental Heroics: The Silent Films, p.41 Shlapentokh, D. (1993) Soviet Cinematography 1918-1991: Ideological Conflict and Social Reality, p.52 Bordwell D. (1993) The Cinema of Eisenstein, Monumental Heroics: The Silent Films, p.41 Bordwell D. (1993) The Cinema of Eisenstein, Monumental Heroics: The Silent Films, p.51 Shlapentokh, D. (1993) Soviet Cinematography 1918-1991: Ideological Conflict and Social Reality, p.52 Bordwell D. (1993) The Cinema of Eisenstein, Monumental Heroics: The Silent Films, p.71 Bordwell D. (1993) The Cinema of Eisenstein, Monumental Heroics: The Silent Films, p.80 FA341.01 History of Cinema Midterm Paper Soviet Ideology and Heroic Realism in Eisenstein's Films: Strike (1925), Battleship Potemkin (1925) and October (1928) FA341.01 History of Cinema Midterm Paper Soviet Ideology and Heroic Realism in Eisenstein's Films: Strike (1925), Battleship Potemkin (1925) and October (1928) Like novels and other categories of art, movies also provide inestimable source of information in the context of its geography, society, era and ideology in which they are created. Soviet movies are one of the best examples with regard to go into the ins and outs of its geography, society, era and especially its ideology. In this paper, Sergei Eisenstein as one of the most famous and influential Soviet directors, will be my focus with his silent films, Strike! (1925), Battleship Potemkin (1925) and October (1928). Heroic realism, socialist realism and subjective reality are the terms which will be explained, often mentioned and related to Eisenstein's movies throughout the paper. While analyzing Eisenstein's silent films in terms of reality, first, we should be aware of specific types of realities including objective and subjective. Objective reality, ontological reality or Kantian reality is the objective world faced by all people and institutions. On the other hand, subjective reality or individual reality is the reflection or representation of objective reality held in the psyches and documents of those same people and institutions. As we mentioned before, every piece of art, every movie provides a blend of hard and soft facts. Thus, as we see in other works of art, Strike, Battleship Potemkin and October reflect not only reality but also ideological orientation and background of Eisenstein as well as his knowledge and perspective of the world. The concept of ideology as it has been presented here is central to Eisenstein's films as a source of information regarding Soviet society. Since, ideologies shape subjective realities primarily through influencing the selection of information and the weight given to single facts and processes (the degree of correctness and representativeness ascribed to the information), Soviet Ideology which is based on Marxism and Leninism affect Eisenstein's films in the era of Stalin who is also one of the most important factor in the sense of influencing and controlling the movies made in Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In Eisenstein's films, what is expected to done as the dominant style of art was socialist realism which is characterized by the glorified depiction of communist values, such as the emancipation of the proletariat, in a realistic manner. However, in the period of Stalin, this perception of reality in films turned into full of idealized characters such as an idealized citizen, soldier or farmer which is irrelevant to reality. Stalin was a unique leader who was extremely absorbed with movies and moviemaking industry; he managed to create a reality on the screen that had very little in common with real life. Though, while mentioning Eisenstein's film, rather than socialist realism, it is more appropriate to use heroic realism which is a term characterized by function of propaganda and the depiction of figures as ideal types or symbols mostly associated with Communist regimes. In relation to heroic realism, we cannot give Gorky's ''revolutionary romanticism'' a miss. It is a trend which aimed to idealize the individual, and easel painting of the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia, which demanded accessible content and comprehensible form. Eisenstein was ready to romanticize and idealize the Soviet people, leaders, revolutionary action and Soviet Union. As we see in Strike at the first time, all his silent films begin with quotations from Lenin and in October the leader's image is the central feature. Eisenstein's diverse aesthetic impulses find a place within heroic realism. In his films, brave Soviet men fight, honorable and strong Soviet women and children resist and all may die at the hands of enemy- the oppressor. The oppressor massacre innocents containing mothers, infants, children, old men and women, etc. as we see clearly in a specific and well-known scene the Odessa Steps of Battleship Potemkin. Another, romanticized, exaggerated and striking scene from Strike is that the ritual of parading zoo animals dressed as class enemies, while the mass spectacle ''Storming of the Winter Palace'' in October 1920 forms a plot outline for October. Since Strike begins with the quotation from Lenin: ''the strength of the working class lies in its organizations. Organizations means unity of action, unity of practical operations.'', we have a clue of the main theme of the film. One of the most touching and dramatized incident is a worker hangs himself after being falsely accused of stealing and responded harshly by the management, and this leads to a strike. Relation to this dramatization, workers as idealizing characters and typology are the features which we can find in the movie in a manner of heroic realism. To give another example of romanticization of the characters, we can remember the oppressive management, capitalist forces or briefly enemies are reflected as animals that control the proletariat. When capitalists and strikebreakers were all portrayed as anomalous figures, the working mass was glorified. Mass protagonist, people as masses, organizations and the collectivism are elements belong to and come from Soviet ideology to the screen. Except the suicide man, we cannot find individualized characters or characters with depths. Meanwhile the strike has occurred, Lenin's lesson is reasserted by workers '' they have power when we are united in the struggle against capital.'' Strike both pays homage to the struggles that preceded the October revolution and warns that class solidarity and Party unity must be maintained against enemies both within and without. As the film's title suggests Strike becomes an anatomy of the forces at work throughout several critical moments of Russian labor's struggle for socialism. This film leads us to conclude one of the most important part of Leninist ideology that the victory of the proletariat in the struggle for socialism dependent upon leadership by the Communist party. Workers at most could achieve short-run success through spontaneous uprisings as we see in Strike, Battleship Potemkin and October but they would never be able to organize themselves sufficient to take power. For that, workers have to subject themselves to the leadership of the Communist Party. Since Battleship Potemkin is not only Eisenstein's most famous, recognizable, touching artistic and successful film, but also in history of cinema, it reminds us Eisenstein's thought which is stated by Professor David Bordwell, the author of The Cinema of Eisenstein, '' He saw no contradiction between creating propaganda and achieving powerful aesthetic effects.'' As in the revolutionary period, the populace was presented as the major revolutionary force- without the masses; the leader cannot achieve his goal. However, we do not see a specific leader or main character in Battleship Potemkin. As in Strike, revolution is made collectively. It inevitably recalls being equal, being the all of them and also being the one. In the movie, we see that all for one and one for all. Heroic realism appears in the sense of romanticization and idealization of sailors; we witness the glorification and honorable acts of sailors who are the populace oppressed by the ruling elite shown as fat, rude and indifferent to suffering typages .The class enemy ceased to be abstract imperialist monster; instead, he or she was a concrete person not necessarily a capitalist. Symbolism and metaphorical fields continues throughout the film featuring waves and boiling soup as angry proletariat, rock and meat as oppressive, neglectful and rotten regime getting thin , single eye as the power of vision and wounds as suffering of oppressors' victims. Integral to Battleship Potemkin's heroic realism, then, is a core of realistically motivated elements- eyes, eyeglasses, meat, worms, dangling objects and so on- that can radiate into a network of emotional and thematic implications. Those implications are different from alienated and mechanical attractions which are associated with the romanticized posters above. Those attractions stimulate an emotional energy to people who watch Battleship Potemkin. October is about the history of the October Revolution, the events comes after and the Bolsheviks seizure of power. As we mentioned in Strike and Battleship Potemkin, again the mass scenes with thousands and extras are one of the important part of the movie. In terms of idealized characters as an integral element of heroic realism; Bolsheviks are the brave and powerful masses with purposeful and collectivist activity. When it comes to Mensheviks and provisional government ministers, they are particularly ugly or bizarre looking actors. After, Strike and Battleship Potemkin, we clearly see a hero, the hero, Lenin. In Eisenstein's films, we tend to remember several scenes like we remember baby carriage falling from Odessa Steps in Battleship Potemkin, here we remember a dead horse and a long-haired young woman, killed as she joined in a workers' protest. Even if the movie does not distort the whole reality, we can say that the events are it selected and exaggerated in many ways. Eisenstein never details the behind-the-scenes wrangling within the Bolshevik ranks, nor does he articulate the positions of the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries. On balance, all Eisenstein's movies discussed in this paper have a crucial effect on both creating propaganda and reaching a respectable level of art and aesthetics. We see the hard fact that movies are built by many factors including the political situation in the country, public opinion in general, the directors individual beliefs regarding specific ideological issues and directors own life experiences. As we see the Eisenstein's movies' effects on us, when we stop for a minute and think about how much they influenced our thoughts and emotions, we can correlate and have an idea about how they affected the people, the masses regarding Soviet society and conclude that those movies used as propaganda might be the most powerful weapon of Soviet ideology. Zeynep Hancı 2012110048