OCTOBER IN «OCTOBER»

 
Millions of Soviet people were sure that they had seen the key events of the October revolution of 1917 with their own eyes. On the screen.
 
They mistook episodes from Sergei Eisenstein’s “October” or Mikhail Romm’s “Lenin in October” for documentary footage. The first generations of those who watched these movies in electric theatres and clubs (literally on bed sheets) may be called “naïve viewers”: many of them could barely notice the difference between a reenactment and reality. Seeing incoherent black-and-white shots in some TV program the new generation is likely to take them for documentary footage since there is no longer any visual difference between shots made in 1917, 1927 or 1937. The sailors’ ballet on the ornate railings of the Winter Palace is a sort of consensus reality. Something we have almost agreed to consider documentary evidence. 
 
This sophisticated interlacing of “truth” and “untruth” further complicated by changing ideological trends turns films about October into a separate simulacrum. It does not matter when the film was shot: a sense of being “behind the looking-glass” with no believable “bottom” has been passed on to new movies. It is noteworthy that “Angels of the Revolution” was directed by Alexei Fedorchenko, a filmmaker who specializes in this sort of “behind the looking-glass” thing, where the sense of reality is lost in the abundance of artistic reflections. We are almost prepared to believe his “documentary” landing on the Moon and cannot understand the degree to which he spied on the fantastic customs of the peoples living along the Volga and to what degree he invented them. It is only logical that next he felt inclined to tackle the revolution, the similarly misunderstood historical or fantasy material.
 
Classical Soviet films about 1917 had a life of their own which is in essence uncharacteristic of cinema as a form of art engraved in celluloid once and for all. They were endlessly reedited, shots and soundtracks were changed, someone was cut out, someone else inserted. Three variants of “Lenin in October” exist, because in the 1950s shots with Stalin were simply cut out and in the 1960s they learnt to conceal figures in the background with additionally shot characters or table lamps… The situation is worthy of Umberto Eco’s pen who wrote about the “continued” life of the masterpieces of the Middle Ages.
 
There was another interesting peculiarity. They were turned into the main weapon of anniversary propaganda (what is “the most important art”?) and Soviet people became so sick and tired of them, especially when TV appeared in their homes, that almost nobody paid attention to them anymore. Together with them the unwise, rough hammering in of another “anniversary of the Great October” discredited the very idea of a meaningful cinematic pronouncement about the revolution of 1917. Today many of us are surprised to discover that such a cinematic pronouncement is theoretically possible and that it won’t be “black” or “white” propaganda. The main aim of the program “October in October” is to engender such amazement in the audience.
 
Igor Saveliev