View Full Version : The Working Class in Film

09-11-2003, 06:34 PM
Within all forms of media, the broad idea is to display a message to a people. This could be the general public or it could possibly be aimed at political leaders. With this idea in mind, it is impossible for one to say that one has not been affected by the media in some way. It is an integral part of society these days, and it would be a task to avoid it. One of the easiest ways to deliver a message to a broad range of people is by making and distributing a film. Most films these days are made for the purpose of acquiring profit, but still some exist to view the medium as an art, and that it is trying to say something. Back when cinema was without audio, many of these were made with the intention and thought that the product was more of a piece of art that had a moral than a marketing tool. Gerald Mast writes in his book, A Short History of the Movies, ďA consistent difference between right- and left-wing films is their opposite tendency in depicting the workeróas a mass of indistinguishable faces (for example, Langís Metropolis) or as strongly individuated human types (as in the Soviet films of the period)Ē (Mast 159). This statement is an explanation of the messages within the time, and Mastís words ring true on the subject.
In Metropolis (directed by Fritz Lang in 1926), the majority of the populace is forced to work in underground factories that fuel the surface utopia. As one could expect, the inciting incident is presented when the surface people discover that the workers are gathering in their off-hours to hear the words of a religious leader, Maria, who is a laborerís daughter. In order to quench this supposed wrongdoing, the upper class folks, if one will, replace Maria with an insider of their own, who attempts to incite a revolt. The workers are satisfied, and they swarm the factories in an attempt to shut them down. It is an amazing spectacle to see the masses of workers pouring through the streets. In a Chairman Mao-ish manner, the workers are all donning the same mono color clothes and cap. With this, Lang manages to make something that looks like just a sea of regular Joes. With this, he manages to display the fact that the majority of people are workers, and they truly are a force if ever one had to deal with them.
A different approach is taken in Sergei Eisensteinís The Battleship Potemkin. The plot involves a revolt on a Russian battleship by the sailors, which spreads into the port of Odessa. In the start, Eisenstein utilizes strong facial expressions to display the tragedy on the sailorsí faces. When the revolt is under way on the ship, the mates show strong anger through their faces. It truly was an excellent way to express the mood of the film, as subtext could not be shown through their voices. He goes even farther into these powerful images using humans as symbols for the vibes within the piece when the scene goes to Odessa. The famous scene with a baby carriage falling down the steps is a fine example of this. The childís sad, contorted features as well as its motherís tragic cries truly represent the distress everyone is feeling as the Cossacks assault the town. Eisensteinís style tries to tell one that everyone is a human being with emotions, and that no one is truly just part of the crowd. This is obviously a direct contrast to Langís portrayal.
However, it is interesting to see Eisenstein take a slightly different approach in one of his other films, Strike. His portrayal in this propaganda film shows the working class as more of a mass, similar to Metropolis. He focuses more on the horrific nature of the villains than on the distress of the people. This is displayed by one of the ending shots, a panoramic view of the several dead bodies of all who were slain because they were on strike. In this he chose to truly show how the antagonist felt towards his enemies. The upper-class men see the working class as their minions, faceless characters slaving away to make their buttons gold. This, combined with his visions in Potemkin, really help to demonstrate how he really feels.
It is always interesting to ponder the motives of the director of a film. Eisensteinís are fairly obvious, as his films were just propaganda. But Langís thoughts are more elusive. What is one supposed to come out thinking of from Metropolis? He installed several Christian elements to the film, but it seems as though those were more subliminal. This may have been his true goal, however, to refer to the utopians as true heretics, and the peddlers as oppressed good people. But never really has to think too hard on these things. If one wants to just leave it as a fun popcorn flick, that is always just fine.

09-12-2003, 12:24 AM
Can a comedy/drama classic such as James Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" demonstrate the working man and a moral in a film that is light and dramatic and rings true for millions all at the same time?

oscar jubis
09-12-2003, 09:30 AM
Originally posted by HorseradishTree
Eisensteinís films were just propaganda.
This is quite a bold, categorical statement. What is your definition of propaganda?

09-18-2003, 12:48 PM
I can see how Eisenstein's films can be seen as propoganda, but after seeing them as many times as I have, that is a conclusion I DO NOT come to.

Potemkin holds more power than mere propaganda. (Just like Triumph of the Will). These directors were artists, and as artists their work should be put in that context. Why are these icon films watched so much? Potemkin, Metropolis-silents- are watched & appreciated more today than they were in their time.
It's not because of the propaganda, I can tell you that.

Intelligent filmgoers can see through the thick fog of early 20th century media. Films from this time have a poignant haunting quality. Can you say that "Bad Boys II" will have this quality in 100 years? I think not.

oscar jubis
09-18-2003, 04:19 PM
Originally posted by Johann
I can see how Eisenstein's films can be seen as propoganda, but after seeing them as many times as I have, that is a conclusion I DO NOT come to. Why are these icon films watched so much? It's not because of the propaganda, I can tell you that.Intelligent filmgoers can see through the thick fog of early 20th century media.

I resisted being critical, opting for inquiry into what our teenage member meant by "propaganda". The term is often used disparagingly to connote deception or distortion, but can simply mean promotion of a particular idea or viewpoint. It is often used to dismiss a point of view not shared by the user, without having to debate the actual issues.
I don't think the term is designed to stimulate healthy debate but to squash it. I am still willing to hear arguments about how Potemkin and October distort historical facts and deceive the viewer, or what is propagandistic about Alexandr Nevski and Ivan The Terrible, which are set in the 13th and 16th century respectively. If Potemkin and Strike received the approval of the Soviet government, does that mean they are "just propaganda". For one, they don't promote the imperialism that characterized the USSR after WWII, which I certainly loathe. I remain open minded about this issues.
Eisenstein was subjected to a great deal of harrasment by Stalin, upon his return from the US and Mexico. He deserves respect as an artist, like Johann states. If you are going to call his films "just propaganda", tell us what you mean and why.

09-19-2003, 01:15 PM
I highly recommend Kino's release of Eisenstein's Que Viva Mexico!- a film Stalin had a little trouble with...

10-11-2003, 05:41 PM
Sorry I haven't answered your replies in a while. It's just that I've been trying to come up with something hopefully intelligent sounding.

Ok, I may have been a little hasty on the propaganda thing. I think it was just that Strike was more on my mind than Potemkin . Let me restate it a little. Strike was just propaganda. It appeared to me that Eisenstein was trying to moreover invoke political thoughts than emotional. I think this was especially exhibited by the focus on the malicious spies' contorted and malevolent faces. I'll say now that Potemkin was more emotional in the sense that Eisenstein focused on the tragedy of the protagonistic side. I don't know how this works, but it seemed to me like Potemkin was more emotionally driven.

oscar jubis
10-19-2003, 04:31 PM
Fine, Tree. Recognize though that many artful, "emotionally driven" films were conceived primarily as vehicles to convey political ideas. I'm talking about films as notorious as Casablanca, Warner Bros' effort to stir American popular opinion towards a more interventionist foreign policy before Pearl Harbor. I guess my point is that to label a film "propaganda" is subjective, and neither a good or a bad thing from the point of view of art and entertainment.