Celebrating Strike (Stachka) at 90

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Stachka (Strike) is a very special film to me, since it’s one of the earlier silents I saw, before I made the move from casual interest to an active, passionate cultivator of silent cinema. As you can see from my list of silents seen (which doesn’t start out in chronological order), it’s one of the first listed. Even though I recognize a number of the earliest entries on the list as being out of the order I actually saw them, Strike was still one of the ones I first saw before I became an active participant in the hobby in 2004.

This was one of the films we saw in my Modern Russian Culture class my junior year of university. I’m so old, we actually saw all our films on laser disc.

Released on 28 April 1925, this was the début feature-length film of the legendary director Sergey Mikhaylovich Eisenstein. (His surname really transliterates as Eyzenshteyn, but I’m violating my normal purist style to conform to the common Romanized spelling. Even I think Eyzenshteyn looks really awkward in English.) It’s based on a real 1903 strike at a locomotive factory, though the clothes and technology shown are from the 1920s.

Courtesy Антон Михайлович Левинский (Anton Mikhaylovich Levinskiy), http://www.redavantgarde.com/ru/shop/goods-2991.html

The powers that be are shown spying on the workers and looking over a list of spies with rather colorful code names. The atmosphere is thick with tension as a strike is planned. Then a micrometer screw gauge is stolen, valued at three weeks’ pay (25 rubles). A laborer named Yakov is accused of the theft, and subsequently hangs himself. In response, the other laborers riot and stop working.

The third reel begins with images of geese, kittens, piglets, and ducklings. By now the strike is well in progress, and birds are moving into the vacant factory. Some of the laborers’ children play at what their fathers did to the boss, putting a goat in a wheelbarrow and taking it through a mob. All the while, orders continue to arrive at the factory, all unfulfilled.

The shareholders and powers that be go over the strikers’ demands, like 6-hour days for minors, 8-hour days for adults, and 30% pay increases. These demands are derided over drinks and cigars, and the police raid the workers. Undeterred, the strikers continue. At their next meeting, the shareholders use the list of demands to wipe up a spill.

Khitrovskiy Side Street of Khitrovskiy Square in Moskva, as seen in the film

The situation becomes even worse in the fourth reel, as business has ground to a halt without any workers or consumers. Fights break out at home, and children are starving. There’s also a lot of trouble with a spy named Owl.

In the fifth reel, we meet a new character, code-named King, who makes a deal with an Okhrana (secret police) agent to hire some agitators to loot, raze, and set ablaze a liquor store. A crowd naturally gathers at the site of the fire, and when they try to leave to avoid trouble, the firemen set upon them with hoses.

In the sixth and final reel, the governor sends in the military, and the carnage commences. Even children aren’t spared. The final image of carnage is alternated with the footage of a cow being slaughtered.

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This film is full of metaphorical images, like a lemon being squeezed, various animals morphing into characters, and dead cats hanging from rafters, and has been called Eisenstein’s purist film, free from the Bolshevik propaganda he was compelled to use in later films. It’s obviously not the type of film one watches for fun or light-hearted entertainment, but it’s a very historically important film and a must-see for those interested in Russian or Soviet film history, general film history, or Russian history.

Underrated Treasures befitting my dinosaur tastes

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Ninja Captain Alex is hosting another of his legendary blogfests, this time giving participants the chance to extoll and expound upon the virtues of some of their underrated favorite things. Click the button to get the full list of participants.

I don’t watch much television, so I won’t be able to cover the fourth section.

Music:

I was turned onto The Small Faces by Senti of my estrogen Who lists back in the early Aughts. (Her real name isn’t Senti, but it was the nickname she went by since she was such a sentimentalist for all things Sixties.)  If you only know from U.S. oldies radio (which has become a joke in the last decade), you’d think The Small Faces had a one-hit wonder with the obscenely overplayed “Itchycoo Park.” Completely false!

Like The Who, they were from London, and like both The Who and The Hollies, they were always far more popular in their native Britain than across the pond. Unlike The Who and The Hollies, though, they only had two Top 100 singles in the U.S., making them even more of a hidden secret. They were active from 1965-68, and had another album released in 1969. They were singer and guitarist Steve Marriott (who sadly died in a house fire in 1991), bassist Ronnie Lane (who sadly died of MS in 1997), drummer Kenney Jones (who later joined The Who after Moonie passed on), and keyboardist Ian McLagan, who replaced Jimmy Winston in 1966. Ian later married Keith Moon’s ex-wife Kim, who sadly passed on in 2006.

They had so many great albums, but I’d recommend their 1968 masterpiece Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake to start out with. Unlike the most overrated album of all time, this is a concept album which actually has an original, consistent concept.

Film:

Instead of going with my usual inclination and recommending a silent film, I’m going to recommend the 1994 Russian film Burnt by the Sun (whose title literally translates as Wearied by the Sun). It’s set during one very eventful day in the Summer of 1936, in the thick of the Great Terror. Oleg Menshikov, one of Russia’s finest actors, plays Mitya, the former beau of the now-married Marusya Kotova. Marusya’s husband, Sergey Petrovich Kotov, is much older than she is, but they seem happy together, and they have a young daughter named Nadya.

Given the historical setting, you kind of know things aren’t going to be happy for long, but I won’t give away anything other than to say the ending is absolutely chilling. Please avoid the horrific sequel Burnt by the Sun 2, set during WWII. Not only does it have many historical inaccuracies, but there’s some serious, serious, serious retconning that completely contradicts everything that happened in the first film, as well as changing young Nadya into a full adult woman.

Literature:

Many people aren’t familiar with La Vita Nuova, Dante Alighieri’s sweet, very personal, underrated 1295 work. It’s a collection of beautiful poetry and autobiographical prose, all about his unrequited love for the beautiful, unattainable Beatrice. Dante walks a very fine line between love and obsession, but he never really crosses that line and behaves inappropriately. He’s man enough to step back and not tell Beatrice, a married woman, about his true feelings. (Dante was also married himself, though you’d never know it from any of his writings!)

Beatrice’s death devastates him, and he almost stops writing in his grief. Later, a beautiful woman visits and inspires him to start writing again, but Dante quickly feels very ashamed he took another woman as his muse, and vows to only write poetry for Beatrice forevermore. At the end, we see the germ of the idea which eventually became his beautiful masterpiece, The Divine Comedy. He wanted to immortalise Beatrice for all time in the best way he knew how.