June 1, 1928 [Konets Sankt-Peterburga/The End of St. Petersburg]

Vsevolod Pudovkin drags us away from the actors in his film and toward everything else, until performance becomes image: The actor attempts a character, but the film creates it--by juxtaposing each human moment with a cloud, a hill, a waving grain-field, a row of windmills (their massive blades cutting above the character’s head--the huge sky dominating--the individual all but hidden at the bottom of the frame); again, everything else coming alive, town and country included, insinuating distance from the human as solitary thing.

But then he draws toward them, the single persons in his collective world, and their grimy farmer-peasant faces fill the screen, famished, exhausted--and then in the city, fed up with the mammoth factory, in a St. Petersburg that looks like Lang’s Metropolis without the clean lines and smooth passages. Here, it’s all twisted--the camera telling us so, angling itself high and low, almost Expressionist in its vertiginous excesses. The Capitalist villains are fat and jowly, barking like bulldogs, while the workers go about the stern work of strike, resistance, and revolution.

And as Pudovkin pairs the dramatic with the imagistic, each narrative event has its concrete counterpoint, haystacks and plows to city-canyons and statues--haughty and impassive, waiting to be toppled, if anyone dares. And of course they do--again, the force of revolt expressed as juxtaposition, one image tumbled after another, guiding--no, forcing--us to acquiesce.

He is almost a bully, rubbing our noses in his meaning, but Pudovkin understands that cinema has always run toward us as a sequence of images; his desire is to give that sequencing a clear, revelatory--revolutionary--purpose. The inter-relatedness of the images is undeniable: all is parallel to all, literally brought to eye-level, a true Marxist solution to seeing: gradually forming the “classless eye,” enlisting everything in the dialectic of change. And any image that refuses to see its connection to the others is "made impossible," rapidly subsumed into the Big Picture--beautiful on the screen, but more than a little unsettling as one walks out into the street, where each of us moves in sequences of our own, not nearly as clear of purpose as Pudovkin's sure advance of sky-to-peasant-to-field-to-city-to-factory-to--what? The end of tyranny? The beginning of another? I wonder how inevitable is the science of seeing, and whether we ever look in the right direction.


Popular Posts