The Mubi Cinematheque: Strike (1925)
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Strike (Russian title Stachka) was director Sergei Eisenstein’s debut and the only film he made before directing the cinematic masterpiece Battleship Potemkin. Still, from the moment Eisenstein took camera in hand, he feels fully formed with the three major threads that bind his whole body of work already present: collective storytelling, pre-revolution Russian history, and montage. Even if you don’t care a whit for the Soviet propaganda or Russian themes, any self respecting cinephile has to reckon with the weight and influence of Eisenstein in cinema history. Should a novice director produce a debut work of the quality of Strike this year, we would all lose our minds over the potential displayed.
Strike depicts a 1903 labor strike in a pre-revolutionary Russian factory and the subsequent suppression of the strikers. In true collectivist nature, the story follows non-specific factory workers, contrasted with non-specific factory owners. This is not a character driven tale, but a class driven one; it’s a movie about “the workers” versus “the owners.” Agree or disagree with the fixation on collectivism, it’s undeniable that Eisenstein knows how to make a point cinema-wise, deploying his already perfected montage to intercut images of the fat, satisfied owners with the thin, ragged workers.
The most well known sequence of Strike appears near the end of the film, as the violent suppression of the strikers reaches a frenzied climax. Most famously, Eisenstein cross cuts from the violence against the workers to images of cattle being slaughtered, proving that even at age 26, in a medium that was still busy being born, he understood how to tell a story via visual juxtaposition. The pacing of this scene (or indeed, the entire film) is remarkable.
Whether you care about collectivism or not, Eisenstein is a must-see for cinema enthusiasts. If you’ve never seen Battleship Potemkin, I recommend starting with Strike, but even if you have seen it, backtracking to this initial feature will not be disappointing.
A Gallery of Images from Strike
Watch the Final Scene of Strike