Monday, October 6, 2014

Strike: Remastered Edition (1925)

Strike: Remastered Edition(THE) STRIKE was the first film made by Sergei Eisenstein. The film is a tragedy, ending in annihilation, and it does not seem to have a final resolution other than the ending title card "Remember!" That the crowned heads of Europe imposed a regime of repression upon their people for a whole century from the fall of Napoleon to the end of the First World War is a well documented fact, and so this film does not actually go over the top in portraying it. In fact, there is a lot of humor along the way, which is found off-putting by some reviewers. This humor probably belongs to a tentative strand of thinking that was going on in the Soviet film industry at the time. While STRIKE was in production, Protazanov's blend of whimsy and realism, the science fiction classic AELITA opened in Moscow, and the theater facade was decked with gigantic figures of the King and Queen of Mars. The crush of patrons was so great that the director himself was unable to get into the theater, and had to miss the premiere. This popular success seems to have frightened the Soviet authorities, and Protazanov was put on a leash, and Eisenstein himself never indulged in such antics as these again. Then there would be only the straight propagandistic melodrama of OCTOBER and MOTHER and so forth.

Of course, STRIKE is propaganda, too. Notably, we do not know the names of any single character until after he or she is dead. The worker who hangs himself leaves behind a suicide note, and only then do we find out his name. That is the trigger that launches the strike. At the end, after the massacre, a single title card appears with a bunch of first names. These two title cards cannot disguise the fact that we do not really have characters in this film, but archetypes--the manager, the stock holder, the strike leader, the spies (of a number of different kinds), etc.

The blu-ray is a magnificent presentation of the film. I cannot compare it with any of the several DVD releases, but I have a twenty-year old laserdisc from the boxed set on Soviet cinema, and the blu-ray transfer is much superior in every way (but one). The blu-ray shows more perimeter to the picture, and especially on the top side of the screen. That gives the film more headroom, and it really makes a difference in the full portrayal of the art of Eisenstein. Cut-off heads is one of my biggest gripes about silent film on home video. There is one magnificent take early in the film, projected in reverse, going from feet standing in a puddle, moving away, the puddle clears to show the reflections of smokestacks, then conspirators walk backwards into the reflection. When I was watching the cropped picture on the laserdisc I couldn't see clearly the technique that Eisenstein was using. It all became crystal clear while watching the blu-ray. Both picture and sound are excellent--the sound on the loud side, so I had to turn down my amp.

The laserdisc and blu-ray are produced from different prints, and they have damage in different places, mostly in the opening reel. These things might have been repaired, but do not detract greatly from the presentation.

I mentioned that there was one way I preferred the laserdisc, and that was in preserving the original Russian intertitles. While I do not read Russian, I find that having the original titles there helps remind me that we are, after all, watching a film from Russia. Also, in the case of this film, the titles interact with the film in a unique way. About two minutes into the film there is one title that playfully morphs into the following footage. That one original title was retained on the blu-ray, but all the others were replaced with oversized English titles. The original titles were medium sized, appropriate for the size of the screen. Use of the large type makes the film seem even more didactic and doctrinaire than it is. It certainly would have been possible to give us an option of Russian or English intertitles, as was done with the blu-ray release of Battleship Potemkin. Again, I say that something is lost when the original titles are entirely replaced, even when the new ones have high definition as in this case.

So, to document the film in its original release format, I am keeping the laserdisc. But I will be watching the blu-ray for the film itself. I think it is flat-footed at the end, but there are so many brilliant moments along the way that make the film rewarding to see again and again. The blu-ray maximizes those moments.

If the quick and easy label is to call Sergei Eisenstein the Orson Welles of Soviet cinema, chronology notwithstanding, then "Strike" ("Stachka") is the great director's "Citizen Kane." This comparison would be dictated not by the greatness of this 1924 silent film, but rather by the fact "Strike" was Eisenstein's debut film. What the young Eisenstein clearly has in common with the young Welles is the reckless creativity of a kid with a brand new toy. The story is about the strike of factory workers in Czarist Russia in 1912, which ends with the rebellious comrades being brutally beaten down.

Eisenstein might be consumed with exploring the boundaries of cinematic technique, but he does evince some basic storytelling skills here. The climatic tragedy is set up initial comic element, which gain our sympathy for the workers on a human rather than an ideological level. Certainly a management that brings in spies and agents to infiltrate the oppressed workers cannot be supported. The strike begins after a factory worker, falsely accused of being a thief, hangs himself. The initial excitement over the prospects of success faded as the strike goes on and on. When the provocateurs hired by management finally bring things to a head, the tired and hungry workers are no match for the military troops that come to crush them. "Strike" features Grigori Aleksandrov as the Factory Foreman, Aleksandr Antonov as a Member of Strike Committee, Yudif Glizer as the Queen of Thieves, and I. Ivanov as the Chief of Police.

The more you know about Eisenstein's later works, the more you will recognize the raw cinematic techniques he displays in his first film as being refined in his later masterpieces. I know the obvious comparison is to look at "Battleship Potemkin" after screening "Strike," but I think the most profitable analog is with Alexander Dovzhenko's 1929 "Arsenal," which deals with a similar subject, namely a 1918 strike by Bolshevik works in Kiev. "Strike" runs 75 minutes and this Kino on Video edition has been digitally mastered from a mint 35mm print taken from the original negative. The presentation of this silent film is enhanced by a new score by the Alloy Orchestra.

Buy Strike: Remastered Edition (1925) Now

An epic feature film debut by filmmaker and film theorist Sergei Eisenstein. A precursor to the violence and large scale fights shown in his later films, "Strike" will continue to resonate strongly with cinema fans, especially for its famous final sequence.

The great Russian director Sergei Eisenstein, known for films such as the 1938 "Alexander Nevsky" and the 1944-1946 films "Ivan the Terrible" and a filmmaker who will be remembered for is his 1925 masterpiece "The Battleship Potemkin".

But a year before "Battleship Potemkin", "Stachka" aka "Strike" was created in 1925 and in Eisenstein's polemic cinematic style featured a theme of collectivism versus individualism and also featured the talent of the Proletcult Theatre.

"Strike" is a film that takes place during the Czarist rule and showcases workers of a Russian factory. The morale of the workers are low and while these workers work very long hours for little pay, the owners and higher up of the factory are shown as porkly characters that could care less about the employees but are more concerned of making money, eating and drinking well and getting rich.

Featured in six parts, the film begins with the following quote by Vladimir Lenin:

The strength of the working class is organization. Without organization of the masses, the proletarian is nothing. Organized it is everything. Being organized means unity of action, unity of practical activity.


"Strike" is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1) and is presented in Linear PCM 2.0 Stereo (music performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra). The edition featured on Blu-ray of "Strike" is a version mastered in HD from a 35 mm film element restored by the Cinematheque de Toulouse.

While it is is expected to see white specks and a little film damage, the picture quality is magnificent. If you have seen this film before and have seen versions that get to the point where the visuals keep fading to black, no problem whatsoever in the picture quality of this film on Blu-ray.

The clarity is well-done, especially the closeups of the various individuals. Tonal gradation, black levels and contrast is also magnificent and this is the best looking version of the film to date. I detected no softness, no artifacts, no excessive degradation of the original film elements (There are a few scenes which show this slight whiteness but it's for a second or two and doesn't disturb your viewing of the film.

The overall look of the film compliments Eisenstein's direction and the cinematography by Vasili Khvatov, Vladimir Popov and Eduard Tisse.

Also, the music by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra was well-done and complimented the film extremely well!


"Strike" comes with the following special features:

GLUMOV'S DIARY (4:43) For years considered lost, Eisenstein's first film "Glumov's Diary" (1924) is a playful experimental short made for his stage production of Alexander Ostrovsky's Enough Stupidity in Every Wise Man.

EISENSTEIN AND THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT (37:10) Film historian Natacha Laurent places Eisenstein's work in the context of the Communist revolution and contemporary Soviet filmmaking.

Battleship Potemkin Trailer (1:32) Theatrical trailer for Kino's "Battleship Potemkin".


"Strike" comes with a slipcase cover.


A magnificent, groundbreaking film that still has relevance today!

Sergei Eisenstein's "Strike" is a straightforward film. Workers are mistreated, higher-ups are the ones who receive the benefits and when workers want to be treated well, their employers turn on them and the results are tragic.

Of course, in the United States, although strikes do happen and mediation between companies work hard to solve the issues, what we see in "Strike" still happens today in other countries (especially in China where several employee strikes in 2001 have turned violent due to worker's working very long hours and receiving unfair wages).

And in cinema, America has had its share of strike films with "The Grapes of Wrath", "Bound for Glory", "Norma Rae" to name a few. But what makes Eisenstein's "Strike" so amazing is what was accomplished back in 1925 visually. For one, Eisenstein is a filmmaker who knows how to incorporate large masses of people and capture the realism of that era. In this case, workers on strike in 1903 (note: There was a South Russian strike of 1903 in Odessa but violence was minimal and led to an independent labor movement but I have read that the film is actually was intended to be part of a series that led to the 1917 Revolution which ended Tsarist Autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union).

It's Eisenstein's focus on collectivism that comes forefront as American cinema tends to focus on the individual who may have led the strike or had a big part in it. No one actor becomes the protagonist. Strikers are a collective, the management and shareholders work as a collective.

And that is where Eisenstein shows his strength as a filmmaker, the utilization of composition and structure that achieves the film's efficacy.

Once again, the collective is the keyword to this film. Where many films would show a hero either being incarcerated, killed or simply being held on the pedestal for their achievement, its a banality that is often seen to well in cinema today and Eisenstein knew at the time that it's the collective that that should be featured and not one person goes down, all will suffer together.

Although I do not like to talk about the ending sequences of a film, "Strike" is one of those films where the majority of discussion of this film is primarily of its final scene. It's the most violent scene but also cinematography-wise, it's the most beautiful part of the film is seeing how Eisenstein used the visual aspects of the film to make it artistic but at the same time, no doubt, stirring up emotions of the Soviet people in the 1920's who watched the film.

If you do not want to be spoiled by my comments on the ending, please stop here and revisit after you watched the film.

"Strike" is well-known for its violent final scenes towards the collective mass interwoven with realistic scenery of a live cow being slaughtered are images that stick in your head. Without having to show hundreds of people marching to their demise, it was a well-executed plan to use the cow during that time, to be a symbol of the slaughter of humans. To show how people of the same blood but not of the same social status are looked down upon.

A mother tries to rescue her daughter who runs towards the military soldiers in their horses. These soldiers could care less and start beating on the mother and possibly the most disturbing scene, aside from the cow scene, was a soldier grabbing a baby and literally dropping the baby many levels below to its crashing death. While we see the workers tormented and running for their lives, it's a sickening juxtaposition of the exaggerated capitalist, laughing, fat and non-caring of their workers.

The bourgeoisie, the management, higher ups, shareholders, governor, police chiefs...they are the antagonist, the workers, the proletariat are the protagonists, the heroes of the film.

These scenes are quite haunting and although Eisenstein had created even more significant films after his filmmaking debut with "Strike", It is amazing to see the filmmaker create this aural effect through visual means.

Interesting enough, Eisenstein actually had a conceived a more violent film according to a record made of the completed final sequence which involved the decapitation of the cows heads, skinning of the cows and ending with a closeup of the cow's eyeball in order to correlate with the massacre of the workers.

As for the Blu-ray release, having owned the DVD, this film features the restoration courtesy of the Cinematheque de Toulouse and a newly-recorded score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra who did a magnificent job. It's also great to have the "lost" short film "Glumov's Diary" included in this Blu-ray release but for fans of Eisenstein, the included "Eisenstein and the Revolutionary Spirit" was a wonderful addition to this release.

There are not many filmmakers who have had the freedom to create films with a large mass of people and also to use his films to have this polemic and propagandist tone. It's a groundbreaking film for its time that a cinemaeaste must experience as it is quite different than "Battleship Potemkin" and Eisenstein's other well-known works.

Overall, "Strike" on Blu-ray is highly recommended!

Read Best Reviews of Strike: Remastered Edition (1925) Here

The most noticeable thing about this film is the extremely fast editing. This is fast compared with modern films, but by its contemporaries, it's lightning fast. Eisenstein advocated what he called 'montage', meaning more the juxtaposition of two different or similar images by intercutting or fading between the two to allow the viewer to draw comparisons between the two images. This is sometimes subtle, and at other times blunt (such as the scene with the crowd being slaughtered being intercut with cattle being slaughtered). Nevertheless it allows Eisenstein to make a point that we are treating humans as cattle and also avoids visceral depiction of the killing of the humans, whilst giving us a shocking image that tells us what we need to know. The film is somewhat difficult to follow, even with subtitles, and I felt there were no real points of identification. The humour in the depiction of the Bourgeoisie lightened the tone in places, but the film still seems more like a political manifesto for the Bolsheviks than representation of reality. Years ahead of its time technically, but dated in content.

Want Strike: Remastered Edition (1925) Discount?

This early work by Sergei Eisenstein in its Blu-Ray restoration is a fine example of storytelling in chapters. The restoration is excellent, the added music sound track is appropriate and the crisp black and white images take one back to those industrial times and predatory capitalism. There is lots of "human nature" and character studies plainly laid out for the viewer.

Eisenstein, like Carl Theodore Dryer after him, never made a bad film is his like. I am hoping that Kino restore and reissue every film that Eisenstein, the Master Film maker ever made. I will buy all of them.

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