The Russian Revolution on film

Will you join in their parade?

Will you join in their parade?

2017 marks the  hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. For many, this remains a divisive historical event. Following some of the commentary about it online one can, surprisingly, still find those who defend it. Most of these take the position that (1) it overthrew a despotic political system, (2) it gave birth to a communist state that was able to beat Hitler, and (3) it provided an alternative to global capitalism. True enough, but the tsarist system was dying anyway and wasn’t nearly as despotic as what came after, Hitler’s Russian campaign was probably doomed from the start, if we’re playing historical counterfactuals, and as for being an alternative to capitalism, look at Russia today. Or China.

In any event, over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching some movies on the subject. First up is La révolution en Russie (1906), a short Pathé Frères docudrama that deals with the same events as Eisentstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925). It makes for an interesting comparison, though more for what it says about the evolution in film during this period than for its status as a historical document. Next up is October: Ten Days That Shook the World (1928), Eisenstein’s film loosely based on John Reed’s account of the October Revolution and the events leading up to it. And finally we have Reds (1981), Warren Beatty’s biopic of Reed, covering a lot of the same ground. All of these films, even the 1906 short, are sympathetic, if not propagandistic, about the Revolution. Would we make the same movies today, after the collapse of the Soviet Union? How much, politically and ideologically, has our world changed?

 

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