Discuss the form, style, and content of Soviet cinema of the 1920s, and demonstrate the influence of the films on the development of European cinema.

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James Kidman

2. Discuss the form, style, and content of Soviet cinema of the 1920s, and demonstrate the influence of the films on the development of European cinema.

Soviet cinema of the 1920s is often cited by film makers and historians as being one of the most influential decades for film production. Directors such as Sergei Eisenstein and Lev Kuleshov came to prominence through their experiments with editing, which would send shockwaves through cinema, providing future film makers with blueprints on how to successfully manipulate and construct cinema for years to come. The 1920s would also see the continuing rise of communism, first under the leadership of Lenin and later Joseph Stalin.  These two men along with the many Soviet Film makers would use the medium of film to not only tell great stories but also promote communist ideology and use it for means of propaganda and control.

Soviet cinema of the 1920s could not have happened unless the Revolution of 1917 had taken place.  The Revolution acted as the catalyst for cinema to take its next evolutionary step as the new government under the premiership of Lenin, saw cinema as the new radical medium by which to process and communicate its communist ideas.  The Revolution itself was nothing less than the taking of power by the people and the creation of a new state and society in which workers ruled.  Lenin applying the theories of Karl Marx led the Bolshevik (Communist) Party to victory over the tsarist regime on behalf of the masses. From 1917 to 1920 the Bolsheviks had to defend their revolution against the forces of reaction (The Whites) as well, as fight off attempted invasions of Soviet Russia by Western Capitalist powers. It was during this power struggle that Soviet cinema was born.  During the civil war, a major concern was to get propaganda films out to the troops fighting in the countryside.  The government attempted to get its doctrine across by using innovative agit-vehicles such as trains, trucks and steamboats to supply leaflets, printing presses and film equipment to the masses as quickly and efficiently as possible.

With the revolution Russian cinema split into two camps.  One section of the industry remained in the USSR, dedicating its manifesto to destroying the pre-revolutionary experience, creating art out of a new epoch unencumbered by the heritage of a bygone age.  The other section went into exile, endeavouring to preserve abroad the cinema which had come into being during the pre-revolutionary years.  Soviet Cinema was officially born on the 27th August 1919 when Lenin signed the Council of the People's Commissars of the RSFSR Decree 'On the transfer of the Photographic trade and industry to Narkompros (The Peoples Commissariat of Education)', nationalizing private film and photographic enterprises. The nationalization of the film industry had a massive effect as many films, which had been made in the previous decade, finally hit cinemas. The films that were now readily available in Russian cinemas were mainly news reels and documentaries, very few fictional films existed or survived before the revolution.  Early works such as Lev Kuleshov's Engineer Prite's project (1918) had only several scenes which had survived.  The scenes which did manage to survive did show the emergence of Kuleshov's talent for direction, which would see him become a major player in Russian cinema during the 1920s.  The scenes indicate that unlike Kuleshov's contemporaries in Russia he had fully grasped the Hollywood- style continuity guidelines for editing.  Kuleshov's later teachings, writings and films would later explore the implications of Hollywood continuity style in great detail. His experiments with various montage and acting techniques would be later employed in his later work as well as the films of Sergei Eisenstein who undoubtedly is the most famous of the early Russian film directors The news reels, which played predominantly before 1924, would also make use of the talents of another talented director who would later come to prominence working in the montage movement, Dziga Vertov, who would later direct Man With The Movie Camera (1929).  The lack of films being made during the early 1920s was mainly due to Russia's economic crisis after the revolution.  The newly established Bolshevik government had issued a decree that due to the poor health of the economy, no monies were made available to the film industry.  Secondly all raw stock of film held by private firms had to be registered with the government, which forced producers and dealers of the raw film to hide it thus creating a film shortage.  When films were made, such as an adaptation of Tolstoy's Polikushka (1922) it was considerably delayed getting into theatres due to the incredible cold and hunger which forced the production to keep stuttering.  The film originally went into production in 1919 but only made its first public screening three years later.

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Post-Revolutionary Russian directors strove to break away their link with the style of films before the revolution.  They decided on a commitment to reality in the new Russian cinema, in particular to the effects of how the revolution was still affecting the country.  The new wave of Soviet directors would begin to show how the impact of montage could deeply effect not only new films being made, but also old films which were re-edited.  Of course the re-editing of old films into something new was mainly due to the aforementioned shortage of raw film and a new aggressive policy ...

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