#20. Strike (1925)

I know basically nothing about Vladimir Lenin and so I was thinking that since this movie is clearly in his corner, opening with a quote from the man and then depicting, for the next ninety minutes, how a workforce revolts against its bullying employers, I thought it would be cool if I did some research and then discussed his philosophy here in the essay. But that didn’t work. I did some reading, but nothing stuck.

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Opening intertitle

When I got out of college, and the pile of rejection slips from various grad programs pretty much confirmed that my schooling was over, I started getting really anxious about whether I was destined to get dumber in the coming years, whether I could be sure that I’d go on learning stuff without help from a professor, and while I do feel like the whole Thousand Movie Project is an effort to keep my education going, a pretty ambitious one at that, I get kinda discouraged, and disappointed in myself, whenever I come up against something like this Lenin thing, where I meet the limits of my willingness to work toward the understanding of something that’s complicated and foreign. I start to wonder if I’ll really carry myself as far as I can go in life. There’s also a moral component to it because it seems clear that this kind of this intellectual laziness is probably a big factor in bigotry. Learning about other cultures, their histories and customs, is obviously an inroad toward tolerance and yet when I find myself in the position of actually trying to do research on, say, a conflict between two cultures that spans thousands of years, or the vicissitudes of racial and gender identity, or of some single word’s nuanced etymology and its potential for insult, I pretty often feel overwhelmed, and sometimes even angry to think that I need to learn this stuff in order to be a good person, and I think it actually makes me kind of OK, temporarily, with being a bad one. (It’s an experience that makes me kind of understand — though by no means endorse or condone — the amorphous anger about “political correctness” among Trump supporters.)

Maybe that lack of research accounts for the fact that I didn’t enjoy this movie at all. I did find it interesting, however, mostly because of its director’s reputation. Sergei Eisenstein is said to’ve had a huge influence on film, particularly in editing. I also knew, coming into the movie, that it was propaganda, so you could probably count that as a bias I brought to the table, an inclination to be guarded against its charms.

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Cartoonishly horrible employers

The owners who run the factory in Strike are cruel to their workers in a way that isn’t unprecedented in history but does, here, seem almost cartoonish, that they should be so unrepentant and slimy and cigar-chomping and hateful and fat. It’d be easy to take these characters in stride if this were a B movie, or some nightmarish sequel to Matilda, but for an ostensibly legit adult movie it’s pretty distracting. There’s a really moving scene where an honest worker, accused of theft by his demonic boss, hangs himself in the factory because he can’t handle the disgrace.

The depiction of the strike itself is interesting. Both sides of it hold out, both sides suffer. The factory owners are hurting for a lack of production while the workers’ home lives quickly develop troubles of their own. The wives are irritable to have them around all day, the kids are going hungry.

strike-intertitle

But then there’s a climactic confrontation in the rain between the cops and the leader of the labor movement. It was so chaotically shot, I couldn’t understand what was happening until it was explained in the title card of the next scene. There was a lengthy exchange between two dudes in the front seat of a car in what’s either a junkyard or a cemetery, or some weird amalgam of the two, that I couldn’t understand either. I don’t know. It was hard to follow this whole movie and I’ll admit that it probably just went straight over my head but, be that as it may, I was glad when this movie was over and I’ll never watch it again.

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