Monday, April 12, 2010
How to Feed Your Class Revolt
Eisenstein's movie, Strike!, might now be unwatchable without a film critic's expert commentary affixed to it. But with that commentary it's incredibly compelling. According to at least one University of Chicago commentator, Strike is a work of genius despite its disorderly plot and political cliches. Without the benefit of anything other than a symphonic soundtrack, Eisenstein's relentlessly experimental film provides readers with a remarkably coherent and incidentally beautiful visual grammar. In addition to visual continuity,(every shot in the film is carefully and intelligently crafted. There's a not-so-hidden geometry that is fascinating to behold.
And if the plot sometimes stalls, there are some extremely exciting scenes too: chases, fights, visual puns, crude visual jokes, pseudo religious imagery, carefully constructed backdrops, a melodramatic suicide, and even a three level battle in the workers' testaments, where the horses don't always appear on the ground floor.
The film's commentator says that the film can be seen as a manual for workers who are interested in making a strike. To my mind, the film conjures up Dickens's Hard Times more than anything. We see the whole "ideological apparatus" of a capitalist factory at work. We see how the long chain of capitalist exploitation works, how the factory floor boss humiliates workers, receives his orders from on high, encourages disunity among workers, and collaborates with police spies, stool pidgeons, and other allies. As Potemkin shows us how sailors reach their boiling point, Strike shows us that workers must eventually reach a point of no return when dealing with class oppression. The film even teaches us something that lies at the heart of trade union and indeed revolutionary logic: the class struggle works only to the extent that it is in motion; when that motion comes to a halt--as, for instances, when Eisenstein's workers are waiting for the counter-demands of the factory bosses--they begin to lose their clarity about objectives and unity of purpose.