Eisenstein was chosen to direct one of the two films commissioned to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution thanks to the worldwide success of the amazing Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potyomkin) in 1925–26. Early Bolshevik leader Nikolay Ilyich Podvolskiy gave him the commission.
As with BP, Eisenstein chose to work with mostly untrained actors. He selected people who resembled the historical figures they portrayed. Vasiliy Nikolayevich Nikandrov, who plays Lenin, had his head shaved to create the bald spot.
Sadly, due to the changing political climate, Eisenstein was forced to remove people who’d fallen out of favor. After the film’s release, he was forced to release an “updated” version without Trotskiy.
The climactic storming of the Winter Palace wasn’t based upon the 1917 event, but rather a 1920 re-enactment on its third anniversary. This planned mass spectacle involved hundreds of actors, dancers, circus performers, and assistants, as well as several thousand extras. Also present were armoured cars and tanks.
This re-enactment was viewed by 100,000, and was a grand theatrical production starting with the February Revolution and ending with the success of the October Revolution.
Due to the lack of photographic and print documentation of the original storming, the film’s depiction has come to be viewed as legit historical evidence of what actually happened.
Eisenstein wanted composed Edmund Meisel, who’d written a soundtrack for BP, to write a score for October too. The powers that be thought the resulting soundtrack too avant-garde, and ordered another in its place.
In 1966, Dmitriy Dmitriyevich Shostakovich wrote a new soundtrack, which later became a symphonic poem in his Opus 131 (C minor).
In 2011, after a five-year German–Russian collaboration, Meisel’s original soundtrack for the shortened version was restored. The gaps in the full version now feature music by German composer Bernd Tevez.
Overall, October didn’t do nearly so critically and commercially well as BP. The film was accused of being stilted and artificial, too experimental, overloaded with symbolism and allegory, spending too much time on Kerenskiy, and having poor acting.
Futurist poet Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovskiy, one of the earliest viewers, thought Nikandrov’s portrayal of Lenin was disgusting, superficial, and substanceless, like watching a statue instead of a real person.
Eisenstein’s montages came in for official disapproval. Authorities thought October unintelligible to the masses. Neither for the first nor last time, Eisenstein’s so-called formalism was attacked. The abovementioned editing-out of Trotskiy was also ordered after Stalin came to power and made him an enemy of the people.
Today, October is much more highly-regarded, both as entertainment and a piece of art. In 1928, Vsevolod Illarionovich Pudovkin, who made the other film commissioned for the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution, commented, “How I should like to make such a powerful failure.”