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Wednesday, 13 May 2015 09:15

Russian Cinema

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The relationship between politics and film in the early cinema of the Soviet Union.

An introduction

This essay will try to define the relationship between politics and film in the early cinema of the Soviet Union “Russia”, discuss examples with Eisenstein and Vertov films. Films of Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov and other filmmakers had shown the connection between politics and film through their unique techniques and experiments. However, is it the Soviet cinema that wants to reform the country or is it the Soviet government wants to convey Communism philosophy through cinema to its society? Furthermore, the Bolsheviks’ ideological point of view has had a great influence on the Russian people.

As far as the Russian cinema concerned it was during the Revolution 1917, in which Russian cinema had collapsed or almost destroyed. Of course this was occurred due to the change of political system in Russia (Mark, Joyce. 2007, p366).

The Bolshevik’s Revolutionary leadership had realised that cinema is an important art in society to disseminate a new form of life through Marxism Manifesto, in other words, to awaken masses of social issues that related to every day’s life in Russia. It was not only during the Revolution 1917, cinema became a weapon for the Soviet government against Tsarist and capitalist influenced countries, to motivate emotional sense of Russian people; it was rather considered as a core element to conform the Communism ideology through cinema. Therefore, it was the Bolshevik’s priority commitment to deliver the flavour of Communism ideology through cinema to as far as they had to reach. When the Bolshevik came in power, they did not have a great control of the country; what they had to gain were the hearts and minds of the population. Another key fact for the Communist party to acquire the support of peasants’ and workers’ was to draw attention of illiterate people of Russia; how Communist Party’s dream could come true was through an illustrative vision “cinema” (Dundee, G. 2009).

The strictly regimented production of film in the Soviet Union dictated the ideological narrative structure of films. Filmmakers were essentially limited to one basic story line: the triumph of the people over bourgeois oppression. Films telling this story had to be understood by a largely illiterate peasant audience. Community was stressed over the individual, in line with communist ideology.

Through cinema the Bolshevik demonstrate the real life of its citizens; thus they directed their political messages adopted a serious tone, in keeping with its social function and its intellectual aspirations, for people to differentiate not just the two regimes past and present. For instance: Battleship Potemkin and Man With a Movie Camera, provided the means to win people’s minds because Russian, as a state consisted of many different ethnic cultural languages they were not connected to a wider community that is why the opportunity was there for the Soviet government to show the vanity of the Tsarist, but also value the justified power of working classes within the Russia’s society, in particular proletarian class (Taylor, R. 1998, pp29-31).

The relationship between politics and film in the Soviet Union had been the tool of need by the Bolshevik Revolutionary Leaderships. Most importantly, as soon as the Bolsheviks’ accelerated to power in Russia, they had understood the fact that their political Party agenda would need the support of working classes to scatter its proletarian philosophy, in particular peasants and workers. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov“Lenin” had considered cinema as the most contemporary art to draw a clearer picture in people’s minds in Russia to detract the Tsarist within the Soviet Union. In other words, the majority of working classes did not know what was happening on a large scale due to their illiteracy and therefore it was possible for the Soviet government to approach people in all parts of the country to cross the regime’s message through an entertaining devise this was to distinguish between the two political systems “Tsarist and Bolshevik”. As a result of the political conflict, cinema had taken a major role in creating an intellectual vision to show how the bourgeois class lived their life prior to the Revolution and in the other hand, working classes had to work very hard to make their living possible (Taylor, R. 1998, p36).

Of course, cinema was not only the passage for the Bolsheviks to reach population throughout the Soviet Union; it was rather used as an effective gateway to educate rural and primitive people, whom had not seen film before. In addition to this, it was the best possible political and educational manifesto for the Soviet Government to reform the society through cinema. If we watch the films were made by Sergei Eisenstein & Dziga Vertov, we can see the facts that there had been a gap between working classes and bourgeois class; for instance: Man with a movie camera, which was produced by Vertov; it actually tells us so many different stories about inequality within the social classes prior to the Revolution. That was propaganda by the Communist Party to persuade the Russian how the Tsarist was luxurious in the society, whereas there were thousands of people who were living in poverty. Despite the fact of using cinema as a tool to reflect and emerge the ideological point of view of Communism, however, Lenin was interested in telling the organization of cinemas to have only a small proportion of propagandas, but also make films to be entertaining for its watchers. “Lenin, we should pay special attention to the organization of cinemas in the countryside and in the east, where they are novelties and where, therefore, our propaganda will be particularly successful” (Taylor, R. 1998, p38).

In the late evening in a small lecture hall at the Sorbonne University, in the capital city of France “Paris” in which almost two thousand people are crowded to hear Eisenstein with his poor French; to give a lecture on the “Principles of the New Russian Film”. From the point of Eisenstein’s view, the relationship between politics and film noticeable, therefore Eisenstein confirms that finding method to force the watchers in a very specific approach to leave a question for the audiences to ask. Having such impression on the audience means that the Soviet Government has gilded Marxism ideology as a fundamental weapon to engage the minds of illiterate people within the society. In other words, I think cinema, as a visual tool was the only and the best possible weapon to be used to educate people to stand beside the Communist Party in Russia.  

The importance of our method lies in the fact that we have discovered how to force the spectator to think in a certain direction. By mounting our films in a way scientifically calculated to create a given impression on an audience, we have developed a powerful weapon for the propagation of the ideas upon which our new social systems is based (Sperber, M. Jump Cut, No. 14, 1977, pp. 30-31).

Both, The directors Eisenstein and Vertov accelerated to the top of visual production and the montage theory had tried to disseminate messages to Russians to distinguish between the Tsarist and Bolshevik, in which to differentiate between oppression and freedom. As the Bolsheviks had a great interest in showing the peasants and workers that life is much better off with Communism rather than the Tsarist regime. It is apparent that the both directors had owned their styles different from each other; but Eisenstein was concentrating on dramatizing and narrative stories. Whereas Vertov had worked on documentaries to show visual pictures of life, he has showed life through simple principles to follow. One of the most comparable features is life asleep and life awake, in the first part of “Man With a Movie Camera” Vertov, demonstrates that life is asleep everywhere; because the lady is asleep and other people around the city are asleep too (Vortov, D. 1929)

At the beginning of the “Battleship Potemkin Film” as soon as they all wake, one of the sailors talking to his comrades and this emphasizes that workers are part of the Proletarian movement. As they find out that the meat is rotten, they refuse to eat it but then a doctor was called to confirm whether the meat is eatable or not, of course the doctor denies to say it is rotten meat. He says that the meat is fine, but it needs to be washed with brine, it is not maggoty at all. This shows brutality of the Tsarist regime, in other words it tells spectators how Tsarist wants to treat its citizens. In addition, one Officer orders to cook the rotten meat, but when the meat was cooked, the sailors did not eat it, they instead went and bought food from the ship’s store. It has been showed that Tsarist wants to drive people how they want it, whoever refuses to obey their orders will then face punishment.

That is what will happen afterwards. While three of the sailors are washing “I assume” Captain’s dishes, one of them notices a written text on black plate, which says “Give us this day, our daily bread” My interpretation for this would be: give your lives, let us to live and feed us to live longer, does not really mean that Tsarist want to live in the best possible lifestyle and leave the others to die? I mean just earlier the sailors where enforced to eat rotten meat. This is not just a conflict between to parties; it is rather a political message that has been directed to Russian people that bread mean continuity of life; life without bread means you are going to die. After the guards refusing to fire the sailors, means they are part of the community and they do not want to stand against their people, clash starts between officers and sailors, as a result the sailors take control over the ship.

Vakulinchuk who refuses to have the soup at the first place, but after the sailors won the battle he was shot by one of the offices, but then he dies. It is an encouragement for others to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their nation; Vakulinchuk was killed because he refused to eat rotten meat in Borscht soup. As people start to share their emotional feelings to a dead sailor, emphasizing to unite against suppression. “All for one, and one, for all” This is more than a written text, it is a political message by masses that they will revenge on their enemy; the rally itself is a form of uprising against the central government. When boats streamed to the battleship, it is the sense that majority of Russian with the uprising, moreover it shows that uprising against the central government has ripe (Eisenstein, S. 1925).    

In conclusion, the relationship between politics and film in the early 1920s could be obvious, as “Lenin” regarded cinema as the most contemporary art. Furthermore, cinema had been an arm for the state to scatter the Communist Party’s ideology within the Soviet Union society. The unique narrative structure of cinema, of the Soviet Union in the 1920s continues to inspire filmmakers today. The emphasis on the form and process of film, rather than the content of linear narratives, informs the work of French New Wave, Film Noir and other 1960s film-makers, while Eisenstein's ideas stimulate a range of directors seeking to experiment with the possibilities of film in the 1990s.  Despite cinema being a propaganda therapy to heal Russian’s emotional feelings, it was also considered as the brightest prospect for the Soviet Union to use cinema for educating peasants and workers as well as rural and primitives. What is more, montage had been the greatest part throughout Eisenstein’s work and his experimentation has proved that, it is montage that convoys the core element of a film to its spectators.

The End………..Thanks


Dundee, G. (2009). Nothing is Written, Eisenstein, Vertov and Rise of Soviet Cinema [online]. A Film Blog: [cited 20th October 2010]  


Sperber, M. (1977-2004). A Review of Contemporary Media [online]. Jump Cut: Jump Cut, [no date]  [cited 25th November 2010] <>.

Brody, S.(1977, 2004). A Review of Contemporary Media [online]. Jump Cut: Jump Cut, 1930 [cited 25th November 2010]. <>.

Taylor, R. (1998) Film Propaganda Soviet Russia & Nazi Germany. New York: I.B.Tauris Publishers

Eisenstein, S. (1949) Film Form. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.

Joyce, M. (1996) The Soviet Montage Cinema of the 1920s. In Nelmes, J. (ed.) An Introduction to Film Studies. London and New York:  Routledge, pp365-397.

Kenez, P. (1985) The Birth of the Propaganda State. Soviet Methods of Mass

Mobilization, 1917-1929. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ———. 2001. Cinema and Soviet Society from the Revolution to the Death of

Stalin. London: I. B. Tauris.

Man with a Movie Camera. (1929) Film. Directed by Dziga Vertov. BFI.

Battleship Potemkin. (1925) Film. Directed by Sergei Eisenstein. Eureka/ Masters of Cinema


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