By: Jacob Hales
You may be asking yourself, why am I reading an article about the importance of Soviet Cinema? Good question. Unfortunately, you are just going to have to trust me on this one and read through it. So where do we begin? With the man who started it all of course: Sergei Eisenstein.
Sergei Eisenstein was a Russian film director and film theorist who directed some of the greatest propaganda films in the history of cinema. However, the idea he is best known for is his theory of montage. Montage is a cinema technique in which several shots are composited together to save time and tell the story better. Eisenstein utilized montage best in his 1925 film, Battleship Potemkin; the plot was split into five acts and delved into the story of a revolt aboard the battleship Potemkin during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1905. The film’s fourth act, “The Odessa Steps,” is one of the most well-known scenes in movie history because of the montages used. Guns firing, people running in terror, civilians dying—it was so revolutionary for its time that in 1958, it was even named the greatest movie of all time by the Brussels World’s Fair. Can you imagine watching something so terrifying in 1925? I bet you would be pretty horrified. Without montage, some of our favorite movies wouldn’t be the same. What would Rocky be without its infamous training montage, or Up without its depressing but adorable opening scene? Montages like these in a flick can sometimes determine whether a movie is good or even great. There’s no doubt it is now an essential technique for filmmakers thanks to Eisenstein.
Soviet films weren’t just about propaganda though. The 1929 flick, Man with a Movie Camera, was an experimental film/documentary based around the day in the life of a typical Russian city. However, it had a much deeper meaning: it was an “experiment in the cinematic communication,” according to the credits. The director, Dziga Vertov, attempted to convey the story without title cards, because this was a silent film, and succeeded to do so. Today it still receives massive critical acclaim for its strange but intriguing visuals. Why is this film important though? Well not only is it considered one of the greatest documentaries of all time, it also revolutionized techniques like stop motion and split screen. Split screen is a film technique that creates a visual divide on the screen and is best used in films like The Parent Trap. In the movie, the two twins are talking to each other on the phone and, the split screen effect allows the audience to see both characters on the screen at the same time. In this case, the technique is essential to plot development and wouldn’t be the same without Man with a Movie Camera’s split screen effect.
After the 1920s, Soviet films began to take on a attribute of their own and even became their own genre. However, not many films were released during the 1940s or 50s, due to the American-Soviet conflict AKA the Cold War. A resurgence in Soviet films began in the late 1960s and early 1970s and was led by a film director named Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky’s work is legendary in the filmmaking world. His use of visuals appeal to the human eye like a moth to a porch light; any scene from Tarkovsky’s films is bound to be pulchritudinous to the human eye. His best work is, by far, The Mirror. The Mirror is a look at the life of a Russian individual in his youth, adolescence, and adulthood and closely resembles Tarkovsky’s own childhood. Another great film director from this time period is Elem Klimov; director of Come and See. Come and See is a 1985 film about the German invasion of Byelorussia during WWII. It follows a young boy, Florya, who joins a group of resistance fighters after neighboring villages are attacked by German forces. The film excellently portrays Florya’s eventual descent into insanity after witnessing the deaths of not only his friends and family but the entire village. It is acknowledged by critics as the scariest non-horror film ever produced. The techniques utilized are amazing and unlike any western film even created.
In summation, cinema wouldn’t be the same without the filmmakers of the Soviet Union. Their creative ideas and revolutionary cinematic techniques are unparalleled with those used by western filmmakers. They completely changed the game when it came to making movies and continue to inspire future filmmakers to this day. Sure, the Soviet Union wasn’t exactly a razzle-dazzle, perfect society, but they did make some amazing movies. After all, “of all the arts, the cinema is the most important.” – Vladimir Lenin.