Two Russian Films: A Journey through Time and Space

Sometimes, art represents the suppressed voice of the majority. If the dominant factor is really tyrannical, and those who oppose it would be placed in grave danger, those with a passion for change use art as a catalyst for change. These people are often called artists, yet some would say that they should be called heroes for their burning desire to lift the people from their very demeaning status. Such is the case of the two Russian documentaries that will be discussed in this paper. The visionaries for these creative films were Sergei Eisenstein for “Strike” and Dziga Vertov for “The Man with the Movie Camera.” These two films were made in a Russian setting in context of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP) during the 1920s.Both were silent films that could be labeled as carrying political ideology since it is a form of hushed rebellion.

This fact makes the films interesting since it would give modern citizens and filmmakers an idea of how rebellions were done through art during the 19th century. Also, the films opened the eyes of the citizens of Moscow and the whole Russian community about their hopeless flight for their so-called freedom.It is also interesting to note that the films used an unusual or experimental approaching for filmmaking. Most films contain characters that have dialogues, yet these films were series of pictures and images that captured the brutal truth of that particular era.

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Still, this paper does not intend to criticize the films, but rather to relate it to the scenario in which the films were made. Thus, without further ado, the analysis of the films in question is presented as follows.II – The FilmsThe 1925 film “Strike,” directed by Sergei Eisenstein, is set in a Tsarist city in prerevolutionary Russia. The film rarely shows human faces in close-up shots; mostly, it shows bodies and masses of people, contributing to the collectivist nature of the movie.

Therefore, the city and factories featured in the film become the primary characters put under the microscope. The film focused not on the people but on the actions done as a reference to how people were treated during that time. People were treated unfairly, their life made miserable everyday. The setting proved to be a rendering of their abode—factories.

Factories act as the embodiment of poor living. Factories, forges, and huge machinery were mostly seen in the movie, suggesting the insignificance of humane working conditions in Russia at that period of time. Human was regarded only as the operators of the machines and the labor that makes the factories work and no more. Humans were not treated as human.

There are several barriers and huge gates put in place before the forge, making it seem almost like a prison. These images are in stark contrast to the plush interiors of the capitalist boss’ drawing room, exposing the duality in society, as one huge group of people is helpless while another minor group continues to live their luxurious life. Cinematography and the elements that the film used gave light to the situation that the director was trying to portray. Needless to say, the director was communicating with the film-viewers with the message of human violation, suffering and poverty.

As the workers go on strike to rebel against unjust treatment and poor quality of their life, the otherwise dynamic city fuelled by capitalism comes to a standstill. The film also exhibits another outcast community living in buried barrels amid garbage; their poor living condition gives yet another diverse dimension to the city. The scenes portraying starving babies and long crowded lines in front of stores that have not even opened are meant to signify scarcity and economic turmoil in the city. The film also depicts scenes of families fighting due to poverty and the flea market selling stolen goods; the city is overcome by an overwhelming feeling of desperation, hunger, and lawlessness.

Throughout the city there is war, crime, hunger and pain. All this elements had been identified through the movie, each represented by different things in different scenarios.The film Strike depicts Moscow in a hopeless, desperate era, with some people being in charge of the city whilst the poor were given little. There was starvation, and hunger, and the people were treated as pack animals that would only eat what was set aside for them by their masters.

This inhuman treatment, as depicted in the film, was a mirror of what had happened during the time when Moscow was in desperate depths. Inequality and injustice were the primary elements that were served to the poor. Instead of helping the poor, the few people who led the city treated them much worse.Eisenstein had been in the film industry for long, had written books about cinematography and effective communication, and had influenced other filmmakers to express real-life situations as eye-openers to the public viewers.

He had his own philosophies and created films that expressed them boldly. He had been fascinated with trying to answer the question of how the audience could be prompted to respond to a film or theater play presented before him/her. In line with this, he tried to develop ways to communicate effectively with the audience and to communicate with them what he has in mind. He had tried different styles and explored different perspectives within the expression realm.

In the movie, he had used indirect communication, as his movie did not use much of a script.In a review of his past contributions to the film industry, Shaw (2003) stated that “just as the conflict of classes drove history – with the bourgeoisie as thesis clashing with the proletariat as antithesis to yield the triumphant progressive synthesis of the classless society – so too (famously, in Strike!) shot A of the workers’ rebellion being put down is juxtaposed with shot B of cattle being slaughtered and the synthesis yields the symbolic meaning C, that the workers are cattle.” In other words, human was not regarded as an important being. In fact, humans were treated the same as cattle.

Eisenstein had learned this kind of film expression called “intellectual montage” through understanding studies related to the idea that the meaning of every shot depends on the context where it is added like the setting.Shaw (2003) further states that Eisenstein was “proudest of his ‘invention’ of intellectual montage in the parallel bloodbaths in Strike! (1924),” and that “what most endures about his work is his mastery of the editing techniques he identified as metric, rhythmic, tonal and overtonal.” Eisenstein was one remarkable director who communicated important details in subtle undertones.On the other hand, “The Man with the Movie Camera” is a documentary filmed by Dziga Vertov in 1929.

The film portrays urban life of the working class in the Soviet City of Moscow. The visual style of the movie is very life-like to make it look authentic; this includes footage of social ceremonies and everyday mundane occurrences. In the film, the subjects are mostly shown to be working, pointing out the mechanical nature of everyday human existence. The director used the fictional city and its inhabitants to make the audience realize the state of their lives, furthering his Kinoc ideals of creating life-like cinema which stands apart from traditional literature.

This is in contrast with “Strike”, as “The Man with the Movie Camera” used human existence as normal people, going about their work as they do everyday. The elements used in the film were in line with “Strike” in the sense that both films depicted human existence albeit in different lights. “The Man with the Movie Camera” delved onto the more normal ways, with human existence as a key element in the film while in “Strike”, the absence of it was the key.A lot of Vertov’s shots portray workers interacting with their machines.

Juxtaposed shots of a man shaving in a salon, newspapers being printed in a press, and a lady washing clothes suggest the purposefulness of any type of work. These scenes showed how dependent human is on machineries. Of course, the idea of creating machines was to make life easier, and this is present in the movie.Scenes depicting subjects smiling and dutifully doing their work is an attempt to convey the simple joys associated with mundane work.

The fact that they are working voluntarily show the idea that they are content in their social status and would like to work to maintain it or attain a higher social bearing. A sense of rhythm between the workers and their machinery is aesthetically conveyed by the film. In showing this, again the dependency of human with machines is illustrated, further heightened by the signal that human is willing to use what tool that can be used.Scenes from a normal day are pieced together in the movie to create the idea that everything goes the same everyday, that there is nothing to worry about.

One sequence shows a busy street in the city crowded with people at a traffic light and majestic overview of the city, indicating the dynamic lifestyle and economic progression of the city. Another scene shows one couple getting married while another couple applying for divorce; this is followed by a scene depicting a funeral and a lady awaiting the birth of a child. Portraying these diverse aspects of life implies that modern life does not stop in the city, irrespective of personal crises and jubilations. The natural life span of a human being is shown in progression using different faces and scenarios.

This is an exemplification of the truth that humans change, even if for the worse. From birth to death, human existence is important. Thus the film showed human at different phases of life.The film is experimental in nature and shows different styles and contexts that were unthought-of during those times.

It shows that although Moscow was thriving, there was still oppression with its people despite its growing economy. The film showed the normal life of people although there was an infallible reference to the hardships that the city was undertaking.III – The Films in Relation to Moscow during its Historical ContextIn a historical context explored by Graham Roberts on his book, the films were written, produced, and directed in between the aftermaths of World War I, the civil war in Russia, and the New Economic Policy launched by Lenin in March 1921 (p. 5).

Both films revolve around the city Moscow, and the films succeeded in bringing into picture the state of Moscow after the wars.The film Strike depicts Moscow in its ruins. This film concentrated on the city shortly after war with people striving for survival and failing to acquire what was due to them. The city was portrayed as a victim of war, with its workers being taken advantage of and the workers at the tips of their toes as they wait for something to happen.

It showed how helpless they were. The factory is set near a bay, and it is dark and dreary. This depicts the atmosphere of Moscow as it was in despair and dark times after the war. Its citizens were lost and were being manipulated by those who were in power.

Lighting and positioning is a vital form of expressing oppression and depression. The film used scenes that were dark and dreary to heighten the effect on the watchers.In one shot, Moscow was shown in ruins. There was a distinguished gentleman in the foreground, with walls filled with holes in the background.

This represents how Moscow was ruined by the war, and the lifeless factories suggest that life ceased to exist normally after it. During that time there was scarcity of food and of hope, and Moscow was in a wreck, bringing with its downfall starving babies and garbage amid people. Life after war was hard because the people were subjugated to intrusions and unsought supervision. There were barriers and huge gates before the forge, making it appear that Moscow became a prisoner of The Bolsheviks.

This sad portrait of Moscow could be attributed to War Communism, which Lenin employed to the nation. There were six principles under War Communism, and all of these principles, despite their noble vision, failed to support and lift the economic turmoil Russia was facing. The discrepancies that communism had could be attributed to the failure to think for the betterment of the people. Instead, the supervisors focused on other aspects not as equally important.

Farmers stopped producing crops that are more than adequate for their needs, seeing as the government will take any excess. This caused the people of Moscow to starve. As they could not produce more than needed for the market, people who depended on food and did not have the capacity to produce food were left to fend for their own.There were also difficulties earning money to buy other vital needs as businesses that involved foods were unsuccessful.

People were also forced to work whether they want to or not. Everybody was given jobs, and all of these tasks had to be carried out (Trueman, “War Communism”). This is in response to the failure to produce their own. As the people with power could not produce their own food, they forced the people to work in different sectors to provide for their needs.

They might have also been thinking about the welfare of the people at some part and this could be their answer to starvation.On the other hand, the film The Man with the Movie Camera depicts a happy and prosperous Moscow. There were cathedrals and other sites worth seeing. Despite this, from a long shot scene, Moscow was illustrated as an empty city full of beautiful things.

An ironic scene like this had been placed alongside scenes where people were happy with their lives. Perhaps, the purpose of the director, Dziga Vertov, is to show that although there were improvements in Moscow’s economy, the people were still not given their rightful freedom. Through that scene the idea of people living with a façade of happiness could be seen; inside them they still yearned for true freedom. There were screen shots of happy factory workers and social events, yet there were empty glances and far-off gazes from the people in the movie.

Despite being able to go back to their normal lives, the remnants of war could never be washed away entirely, and the dregs that were left made the people long for freedom. In another perspective, it can also be said that the people were pretending to have moved on from the vestiges of war when in reality they were still concerned with it and fearful of their lives.Relating the two movies with each other, there is a significant shift in the timeline. If chronology was to be followed, the setting of Strike came before that of The Man with the Movie Camera.

In Strike, war was newly extinguished and the city suffered endlessly. Strike showed the dark past that haunted the Moscow residents in all its extremities.At the setting of The Man with the Movie Camera, it is shown that Moscow residents were able to withstand any challenge, thus branding them strong people. Although they were tormented during war, they managed to get up and rebuild their torn city with a collective effort.

Despite the hardships the nation has seen and encountered, the film expresses that Moscow is still able to cope and to move forward with strength and vigor. The papers will continue to be printed, life will continue as it was, and its people will be able to make the most out of what was given to them. Such scenes from the movie were proof as well as encouragement for the people to strive harder to regain what they once had.Perhaps, this could be attributed to Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP), which gave hope for the citizens of Moscow.

This policy was introduced after Lenin realized that the peasants were revolting, and his position might be held in jeopardy. The people, after being oppressed and harassed, stood up to defend themselves and demand what was due them. They revolted and purposively demanded at their leader. As the leader, Lenin tried to save his position by creating NEP.

Due to this, he came up with the New Economic Policy, which gave the strict War Communism a chance to make a compromise and provide what the people want. According to Kubilius, the New Economic Policy paved way for trade and manufacturing in Moscow. This action made Moscow’s restoration begin. Moscow’s agriculture and economy began to grow and the people were offered things they were previously denied of having.

At this rate, the people were beginning to be successful of the reform that they sought.Aside from the goods they were able to obtain, the people of Moscow also rejoiced with one thing: Hope. They saw that things are not as hopeless as they seem, and this made them more productive in their work settings. After a long time of suffering and striving r o survive, the people had attained their ultimate goal.

This lesson has taught them to value life, understand the hardships that live brings, and strive to succeed in anything.IV – The Relationship between Urbs and CivitasAccording to the article “New Economic Policy,” industrial cities (such as Moscow) were starved because food was rationed in strict ratios (Trueman). Malnutrition and diseases were rampant in such a poor economy, and Moscow was not able to provide for its citizens. People did not get enough supplies to replenish the energy they used on working for the government.

The rations came in small proportions that proved inadequate to keep them working. Those who lived in urban areas had to move to provinces and rural areas in order to grow food for themselves so that they will not starve. More than a quarter of Russia’s population died. People realized that if they were to remain in urbanized areas where cultivation of land and the presence of fertile soil were scarce, they were surely going to end up dead before they knew it.

In addition to Moscow’s urban fabric, private trade was illegal, yet this did not stop people from engaging in the black market and trying to sell or buy goods. Even large factories had to compromise for its output, as fuel and skilled labor were lacking. The people had been forced to use illegal measures to continue to survive. If they were to remain honest during this dark time, they were going nowhere.

The black market prospered and in tune with it the legal sector was slowly dying. What the people were thinking of was how to live, and the means to continue living did not really matter to them at that time.In civitas areas, land area was used to grow crops for food. During the War Communism, excess food produced by the farmers was taken from them, so the farmers only provided for their families and had no excess.

This damaged the market because consumers were left without any supply for their family.As it was shown through Strike, the people were hungry and desperate, and Moscow needed a boost in order to wake up and help alleviate the circumstances of its citizens. With The Man with the Movie Camera, the improvements given by the NEP were shown, yet it also opened the eyes of the people that they deserve a better treatment. For one, although Moscow was shown as a thriving city in Russia, there was still something missing amidst the busy urban area.

Moscow needed unity with its people, and simply being controlled by the Bolshevik would not cut it. The people in Moscow needed the sense of liberalism, the aim to live better.The rich or the Bolsheviks controlled everything in Moscow, and the city was not given free reins with its economy and resources. The rich were manipulative, and they oppressed the people and in the process, oppressed Moscow itself.

The grand city was limited to the skirts of its potential, not being able to fully grow. The citizens were starting to notice how restricted their lives were, and they will turn to the director, who was portrayed by The Man with the Movie Camera as a fat, lazy man. Because the rich were not oriented with menial labor, they were clueless to the hardships that the poor were subjected to. All that they were aware of was that they were being delivered food, or that they could sleep at night peacefully.

V – ConclusionThe film Strike shows that Moscow went through tremendous change within the two periods it experienced after the war. War communism brought about hunger, depression, sickness, and malnutrition; thus, the economy crashed to a very low level. Poverty became rampant, as well as starvation and other forms of human degradation. The city lay in ruins after the war, and it served as a prison not only for the people, but in a sense, Moscow was also a prison of itself.

The city used to be glamorous and thriving with life and sounds, yet in the film Strike, it showed a revolution of people who were adamant that they needed change, and they will fight for the freedom that they deserve. The people were trapped in the past the war had created, and they had no way of escaping that. All that they could do was continue forward and rebuild their ruined lives. With their dim past in reference, the people created an atmosphere that implied they were doing better.

However, the government disappointed them and left them suffering even more from the rules that the government had imposed so strictly.The government had finally lifted its steel stronghold upon the impression that the people were turning their backs on the ruling class. Such was the strength of collaborative revolution that the rulers decided to reorder things in an attempt to earn the respect and resilience of the people again. After much attempts at rebuilding the city, Moscow was almost restored.

In the film The Man with the Movie Camera, Moscow is shown in a prosperous light, with life going on as they used to. Yet, it also features a sense of hopelessness as the people were engaged in their daily routines, and they were still working for people of a higher rank. However, the economic status has improved, and the people are getting better services from the government. After experiencing the torments of war, a permanent mark has been put in each person, making each fear that an inappropriate act would be implemented by the government again.

In regards to urban areas, or urbs, the cities were inflicted with malnutrition and hunger with the film Strike. It was emphasized that the workers had no choice but to work, and that will be the only means of living that is available for them and their family. Life was hard and the government made it much harder by making them work endlessly while supplying them with insufficient resources. With the civitas, or rural areas, the farmers of Moscow only planted what was enough for their families, as any excess would be taken by the government.

Moscow was a dying and struggling nation with the film Strike, and it took the film The Man with the Movie Camera to give Moscow a reason for hope. In this film, Moscow was depicted as a busy city with lots of livelihood, but the people were devoid of expressions or happiness. People were still working because it is their duty. Nonetheless, the situation greatly improved by the time of The Man with the Movie Camera. The films were created to show how Moscow lived during and after the World War I had inflicted upon it such an unhealthy institution. In one, Moscow was in a desolated state with dreary and darkness hanging over the city, while in the other, Moscow was thriving but was just starting to see hope.  In the end, all one could hope for is that the films helped people see what happened with Moscow during the era of Lenin’s regime.;;

Works Cited

  1. Trueman, Chris. “War Communism.” 15 Apr. 2009.;http://www.;.
  2. —. “New Economic Policy.” uk. 2009. 15 Apr. 2009. <>.
  3. Kubilius, Kerry. “Lenin’s New Economic Policy: The NEP of the 1920s Permitted a SovietVersion of a Market Economy.” E European History. 28 Oct. 2007. 15 Apr. 2009. <
  4. cfm/lenins_new_economic_policy#ixzz0CpMG25CM&A/>.Roberts, Graham. The Man with the Movie Camera. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2000Strike. Dir. Sergei Eisenstein.
  5. Prod. Boris Mikhim. Russia: First Estate Film Factory, 1925.The Man With the Movie Camera. Dir. Dziga Vertov. Prod: VUFKU. Ukrain: VUFKU, 1929.
  6. Shaw, Dan. “Sergei Eisenstein”. Senses of cinema. 2003. <> May 2009.

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