Revolutionary Rising: The Soviet Film Vanguard


“Of all the arts, for us cinema is the most important.”

November marks the 100th anniversary of Russia’s October Revolution (November by the Gregorian calendar), an event that not only shook the world (to paraphrase John Reed) but revolutionized the world of cinema.

"Of all the arts," Lenin would famously declare, "for us cinema is the most important." For a time, through the 1920s and into the 1930s, a remarkable cinematic revolution flourished in the USSR, lead by a visionary vanguard that included pioneers and innovators such as Vertov, Eisenstein, Dovzhenko, and Pudovkin. Individually and collectively, these artists and thinkers expanded the expressive possibilities of cinema and created some of the most extraordinary films ever made. They also, in their experiments with film editing, with montage, with the juxtaposition (or context) of images as the basis of cinematic meaning and communication, developed one of the paramount theoretical frameworks for understanding the art form and its language.

This creative explosion was both state sponsored and avant-garde. While it was undeniably intended to extol the virtues of the Revolution and advance the Soviet project, it was also, if not immune from official criticism or censorship, still relatively free of the creative shackles that would hamper (and imperil) artists after the early 1930s, when, under Stalin's tightening grip, there was stricter enforcement of Socialist Realism, with its disdain for “formalism,” as the approved Soviet aesthetic.

This 100th anniversary program — celebrating not Soviet communism but a historic period in Soviet and world cinema — does not neglect the canonical works, but is built around the rarer opportunity to view lesser-known but important films that, in the aggregate, demonstrate the breadth of this influential and transformative cinematic movement.

Acknowledgements: Alla Verlotsky, Seagull Films, New York


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Recent Showings

35mm PRINT! Sergei Eisenstein’s revolutionary masterpiece is one of cinema’s immortal works.
Lev Kuleshov lampoons Western stereotypes of Soviet life in this fresh, frenetic satirical comedy.
Eisenstein’s last silent picture, which dramatizes the collectivization of Soviet agriculture, is one of his most beautiful and least seen works.
Little known outside the former Soviet Union, this startling ethnographic treasure was directed by Mikhail Kalatozov (I am Cuba).
Dziga Vertov’s renowned ciné-poem, a landmark of documentary and avant-garde practice, remains an exhilarating experience.
The first sound work by Boris Barnet, a disciple of Lev Kuleshov, is an enduring Russian masterpiece set on the Russian-German border during WWI.
A man who lost his memory during WWI regains it years later in Friedrich Ermler’s impressive attempt to render the process of remembrance on film.
The most celebrated Soviet film until Battleship Potemkin is an extravagant wonder of Russian Constructivist decor and costume.
Alexander Medvedkin directed this utopian marvel, the surreal, comic tale of a young designer who invents a “living model” of Moscow’s future.
Dziga Vertov sent eight camera crews to the far-flung corners of the USSR to create this kino-eye travelogue. Preceded by Kino-Pravda No. 21.
Yakov Protazanov’s brisk, lively comedy is set against everyday life in a small Russian town during the time of Lenin’s New Economic Policy.
Room’s silent comedy sets a frank treatment of adultery, free love, and abortion against a depiction of privations and housing shortages.