PETROGRAD UNDER THE RED LIGHT
1917. Three years after the start of the Great War, our desillusioned soldier Oleg is sent back to his home town. The two-headed eagle of the Romanov that he bears with pride on his belt is in trouble. Saint-Petersbourg, which was renamed Petrograd in 14 because it sounded too German, needs him. There he will meet Mencheviks with their typical leather caps and all the Bolcheviks with the red star sawn on their boudionovka. He was used to the blue star of the Cavalry or the black star of the Artillery, but the red ones were not representative of the Imperial Army. Which side would he support by the end of the year?
La Compagnie may not be tagged as expert on that subject…but surely we are quite interested and well documented with Russian books (and our in-house translator).
THIRTEEN. It is currently the amount of days between the Gregorian and the Julian calender, as adopted by the Russia in 1918 (USSR is a term that is not used before December 1922). That is why the October revolution actually took place in November.To be more precise, the revolution form the people happened in February 1917. October was a rather ‘quiet’ coup which started with canons fired from the Avrora (‘the Dawn’, a massive cruiser docked in Petrograd).
But the images of Leninist propaganda presented a posteriori the revolt from the people as set in October. Maybe is was a matter of simplifying the vision of that year where power changed hands several times. Sergueï Eisenstein used that selected information anyway in his film Октябрь , comissionned by Stalin for the tenth anniversary of the revolution in 1927. Not historical but very efficient.
Storytelling is an art organizing scenes in a specific order changes the content. Mass propaganda spread all over Russia via the movie-trains of Agitprop relied on a powerfull montage. To give you a basic exemple, it is easy to interpret the following pictures as: 1- a joyful zhenschina (woman) during a folk wedding. 2- There comes the represenatives of the Soviets/Red Army. 3- the woman falls into misery (to the point of having to repair her shirt with 3 type of fabric, picture 4).
What could the message be if pictures 3-4 and 1 were inverted? That the Soviets would fight misery and make sure women have a joyful wedding?
Apart from D.W.Griffith in America, Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov (and their master Lev Koulechov) have created and codified almost all the techniques of montage. The most famous directors pay them a tribute, refering to them in specific scenes. From Martin Scorsese to Brian de Palma (the falling pram in the staircase of Union Station in The Untouchables 1987, direct reference to Eisenstein’s 1925 Battleship Potemkin), from François Truffaut to Alejandro IIñárritu.