Sergei Eisenstein’s classic evocation of the Bolshevik Revolution, October is epic filmmaking that shows Eisenstein’s strengths and weaknesses. Eisenstein himself considered October a failure, and abandoned to posterity no less than four divergent versions (not including the sundry watered-down export copies invariably released as Ten Days That Shook the World).
Commissioned for the 10th anni festivities of the 1917 Revolution, October was held up for release for months while Eisenstein, under orders from Stalin, cut out the many episodes of his film concerning Leon Trotsky, who was expelled from the Communist Party as film was being completed.
Film has been criticized for its lack of clarity and often idiosyncratic interpretation of the major events leading from the deposition of the czar in the February Revolution to the Bolshevik seizure of power eight months later.
For all its incoherence, October carries the spectator on a tidal wave of stunning imagery, with such high points as the tragically dispersed workers’ demonstration in Petrograd and the climactic, brilliantly sustained siege of the Winter Palace (said to be much more spectacular than the original event).
No praise of Eisenstein’s visual mastery can be complete without mention of his inventive chief cameraman Eduard Tisse.
Eisenstein’s often playful experiments in intellectual montage are not always his forte here. Though the famous satiric passage on Prime Minister Kerensky’s symbolic rise to power in the Provincial Government still is cinematically sharp, other sequences are longwinded and hermetic.
[Version reviewed was a composite of two variant prints dictated by German composer Edmund Meisel’s original sheet music, shown on pic’s 50th anni. Original version ran approx. 110 mins.]