The opening composition (smokestacks against a blank sky) announces a medium of contrasts, but Sergei Eisenstein doesn’t stop there: Moments later the image is reflected on a puddle and played in reverse, a cinema not just of conflicts but of combustible imbalances. "Towards the Dictatorship" is the name of the salvo, enacted in the best Kabuki-Keystone tradition by the Prolekult First Workers’ Theatre. The factory is the mechanistic center stage, high-angled tracking shots transverse through greasy expanses while low angles accentuate the off-center geometry of industrial scaffolding. The lean proletariat on one side, blubbery capitalism and its menagerie of finks on the other -- "everything on which their thrones rest was made by the workers’ hands," a suicide triggers the insurrection, gears are stilled and gates flung open. Far from a formalist dryly trying out his theorems on screen, Eisenstein here is a bedeviled caricaturist clicking with film's inherent turbulence, hurling fast and furious gags like a Bolshie Tex Avery. Lap dissolves and shock cuts, silhouettes and superimpositions, circles and lines and torrential masses of people slamming into each other; above all, the notion of a world churning with wild machines, the camera being the wildest machine of them all. A revolution founded on despair will not stand, the workers’ utopia gives way to hunger and familial discord as the strike drags on, the Tsar’s police ride in for the liquidation, sabers aloft. Quite the agitprop hootenanny, influential to everyone from Buñuel (dwarves tangoing on a dinner table, unnoticed by partygoers) to Huston (a cigar-puffing magnate’s bulk clogging up the entire frame) to Coppola (sacrificial bull and systematic massacre) to Van Sant (pictures on a photo album coming alive). Lenin’s "unity of action" is the stated goal, yet Eisenstein’s battle cry is more universally cinematic: "Agitate everywhere!" Cinematography by Eduard Tissé. With Maksim Shtraukh, Grigori Aleksandrov, Ivan Klyukvin, Mikhail Gomorov, and Boris Yurtsev. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce