For Reel

October (1928)
January 23, 2012, 4:53 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Sergei Eisenstein

With his most ambitious application of his theory of intellectual montage editing, Sergei Eisenstein’s October is his true masterpiece of the silent era. His visual sense is at his heights, reveling in the fog of twilight and the dingy camps wherein the Lenin-led Bolsheviks plot their next actions, as well as the surreal juxtapositional discourses into mechanical peacocks and thrusting church incense burners. The picture was one of two commissioned by the Soviet government to commemorate the October Revolution of 1917, and in it Eisenstein dramatizes the events leading up to the overthrow of the provisional government concluding with the storming of the Winter Palace. Several critics, as well as Leon Trotsky himself, have criticized the ending struggle of the picture, suggesting that the drama of the upheaval isn’t wholly successful. It, however, is much more effective than the often numbing conclusion of the otherwise great Battleship Potemkin, as the chaos is truncated and Eisenstein’s greater interest seems to be in the moving of the chess pieces preceding the take-over, making the drama all the more effective because of the sublime build-up. The picture is full of unforgettable moments – the dangling horse and carriage on a bridge, the rapid-cut montage of a machine gun and the man firing it, the succession of religious icons that suggest that religion is a tool of the government and must be overthrown. It is a film that stimulates more than thrills, and for that reason it leaves a more lasting impression than the all-out revolutionary anarchy of Strike or Battleship Potemkin.

The Circus (1928)
January 9, 2012, 7:54 am
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Director: Charles Chaplin

Though it is one of his most broadly comedic features, the ending of Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus is perhaps the most tragic of all of his silent comedies. It is the antithesis of the final shot of Modern Times – having failed at winning the girl, his figure in the desolate landscape is a sight that communicates longing, even if the pop in his step has not left him. Though Chaplin would release two more silent features in the thirties, the image is an appropriate, bittersweet send-off for the tramp in the final full year of sound, walking alone into the distance as his place within the world literally gets up and goes. The making of The Circus was famously riddled with disasters and, during production, Chaplin was in the middle of a bad divorce. In Roger Ebert’s review of the picture, he lists, “his funds were in disarray, the talkies were coming and yet his Little Tramp carried off unperturbed”, which discredits the, if not cynicism, restlessness within Chaplin. As a romancer, this is the tramp at his most bitter and, after being left behind, he has no choice but to keep on moving. Chaplin’s personal traumas no doubt crept into this conclusion – akin to Ethan Edwards of The Searchers, he is destined to be a wanderer, cursed to be alone.