Creation of Concepts Through the Combination of Images in Strike Term Paper

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Images in "Strike"

A Marxist engineer and architect by formal training, Sergei Eisenstein used his training to create the "montage." Though Eisenstein's work suffers some criticism for its use of bludgeons to convey blunt propaganda, his seminal work is deemed the basis for montages in the work of such eminent directors as Hitchcock, De Palma and Coppola. Arousing strong emotional impact from the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated images, multiple effective montages are evident in Eisenstein's first film, Strike.

Sergei Eisenstein (1898 -- 1948) was one of the most famous filmmakers of the early 20th Century (Archive Media Project, LP). His formal training as an engineer and architect in St. Petersburg greatly influenced his eventual career in filmmaking. In addition, his Marxist ideology and his Russian heritage highly influenced his work. Eisenstein experimented with several cinematic devices and due to his contributions, was embraced by the British Film Institute as one of the triumvirate (D. W. Griffith, Charles Chaplin, and Sergei Eisenstein) that laid the artistic foundations of cinema (Shaw).

According to Eisenstein, "Cinema is, first and foremost, montage" (Taylor 82). Explaining his concept of "montage of attractions" in his groundbreaking works, The Montage of Attractions in 1923 and Beyond the Shot in 1929 (Taylor), Eisenstein proposed this new form of editing: images chosen arbitrarily and independently from the action are presented for maximum impact rather than in chronological sequence (Archive Media Project, LP). For Eisenstein, the shot becomes a fragment or montage cell which, in combination with another shot, forms the montage (Anonymous). The montage, in turn, acts as a bridge between the laws of aesthetic form and the laws of the mind in which the "the montage of attraction" is a measurement unit for determining art's influence on the observer, as well as a unit of structure based on shock principles and an artistic strategy that is aggressively anti-illusion (Anonymous). In order to illustrate his point, Eisenstein used the example of Japanese writing, which uses simple hieroglyphic images in combination to create concepts that are more than the sum total of their parts: for example, the hieroglyphic symbol for a dog next to the hieroglyphic symbol for a mouth does not merely amount to a dog's mouth; rather, it denotes a barking dog (Taylor 84); another example would be the juxtaposition of the Japanese hieroglyphic for a child and the hieroglyphic for a mouth, which would not merely indicate a child's mouth but also a screaming child (Shaw).

Eisenstein's first film, 1924's Strike (Aleksandrov and Shtraukh), was a revolutionary application of this "montage of attractions" editing method. Briefly: in the factory region of 1912 Czarist Russia, locomotive factory workers grumble and plan a strike due to low wages, long working hours and rough working conditions; the fat, suited, booted, cigar-smoking managers learn of the discontent; external agents and spies are brought in by the factory's management to mingle with the workers and report back to management; one of workers is falsely accused of stealing and hangs himself; the worker's suicide sparks the strike; the workers are initially excited and unified while planning their demands from management; the workers draw up reasonable demands and present them to management; however, management refuses the employees' demands and the strike continues; through the length of the strike and dastardly efforts of the managers, the employees and their families suffer through hunger, domestic strife and civil unrest; municipal officials such as the fire department and police department join with troublemakers to create trouble that can be blamed on the striking workers; finally, the military is brought in to crush the strike by beating, capturing, whipping and murdering the striking workers; the film ends with an image of the workers' bodies in a field. In sum, the film was used as propaganda by Marxist Eisenstein to illustrate Russian class warfare.

The editing of Strike produced multiple montages by juxtaposing seemingly unrelated images to create emotional impact. For example, early in the film, Eisenstein intermingles different animals with notable characters to create an emotional impact about the natures of those characters. Shots of dancing bears are juxtaposed against shots of the workers to represent their peaceful, tamed nature (Aleksandrov and Shtraukh). The spies brought into the factory are literally given animal names according to their specialties and several montages are used to portray them: a shot of an obviously shrewd, constantly observing and studying owl dissolves into an owl-like spy who constantly observes, studies and shrewdly takes a hidden picture of a worker that results in the worker being beaten and taken prisoner; a shot of a beautiful, sly fox dissolves into a shot of a conman shape-shifter to create the emotional impact of the deceptively attractive and sly conman; a shot of a bulldog, dogged, determined, strong and fearsome, is juxtaposed with a spy somewhat physically resembling the bulldog and impliedly having those same characteristics of doggedness, determination, strength and fearsomeness (Aleksandrov and Shtraukh). During the latter stages of the strike, a shot of a boss squeezing a lemon in order to make a drink for himself is juxtaposed with a shot of workers being "squeezed" by strike-breaking police to create the emotional impact of the bosses squeezing the life juice out of the workers (Aleksandrov and Shtraukh). Finally, when the strike is crushed, shots of the military murdering the strikers are intercut with shots of a cow being slaughtered by having its throat slit and slowly bleeding to death, exerting the strong emotional impact of the bloody persecution and murder of the workers by management (Aleksandrov and Shtraukh). Though all the montages are effective, the montage of the murdered workers and the slaughtered cow is deemed one of the most strikingly impactful montages in film (Shaw). By juxtaposing, dissolving and intercutting unrelated shots with each other, Eisenstein arouses a third image in the viewer's mind with considerable, unmistakable emotional impact.

Due to his introduction of innovative editing to create emotionally impactful montages, Eisenstein is deemed one of the pioneers of cinema (Archive Media Project, LP). Nevertheless, Eisenstein's use of montage has also been criticized. Both David Thomson and Andre Bazin, who preferred "long takes, unobtrusive editing and linear narratives driven by individual protagonists," denounce Eisenstein's use of montage for bludgeoning the viewer with blunt messages (Shaw). In addition, as an unabashed Marxist propagandist, Eisenstein is criticized for subjugating his films' elements to a single driving idea, reducing individual characters to "cogs in a machine" in "cold epics that generate more adrenaline than genuine feeling for the plight of the workers" (Shaw). Despite some legitimate criticism of Eisenstein, other film experts argue that the early work in montage formed the principles for every great action film, and that the distinguished careers of Hitchcock, De Palma and Coppola, among others, would have been impossible without the foundations laid by Eisenstein (Shaw).

3. Conclusion

Sergei Eisenstein (1898 -- 1948) was one of the most famous filmmakers of the early 20th Century. His formal training as an engineer and architect in St. Petersburg, as well as his Russian heritage and Marxist beliefs, greatly influenced his eventual career in filmmaking. One of Eisenstein's greatest contributions is the montage, consisting of images chosen arbitrarily and independently from the action presented for maximum impact rather than in chronological sequence. For Eisenstein, the shot becomes a fragment or montage cell and the montage acts as a bridge between the laws of aesthetic form and the laws of the mind. In order to illustrate his point, Eisenstein used the example of Japanese hieroglyphic images which combine to create concepts that are more than the sum total of their parts.

Eisenstein's first film, 1924's Strike, was a revolutionary application of this "montage of attractions" editing method in which Eisenstein propounded his beliefs about the Russian class warfare. The editing of Strike produced…[continue]

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