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Friday, 20 May 2011

Silent Film Marathon: Film 13

Now we come to the first Soviet film of the marathon.
The most famous of these Soviet propaganda films of he Silent Era would undoubtedly be The BattleShip Potemkin by Eisenstain. But I had already seen that and decided to watch and review a less well known film of the same nature.
Thus I have chosen a film by Alexander Dovzhenko, a Ukrainian director who was one of the most important is the Soviet Union at the time.

I can't say I particularly like these kind of propaganda films but I felt the Soviet Union should be represented at least once in my marathon.
But now after watching this film, I kind of regret that decision.

Arsenal is focused on the events in Ukraine after the end of WWI. Ukraine becomes a free country for the first time in centuries. But the Bolshevik's are becoming increasingly prominent and start causing trouble which develops into a full blown revolution.

Unfortunately this is all I could grasp of the films plot. It was incredibly messy, a seemingly random montage of unrelated scenes designed to tell a single story. Many of the scenes are either emotionally manipulative or just outright propaganda.
The supposedly main character appears at random intervals and seems to serve little purpose. All other characters come and go, if there were any that appeared in several scenes, I didn't recognise them. This failure to establish characters makes the scenes designed to be emotional seem pretty laughable.

So the films narrative was incoherent and nearly non-existent, but surprisingly it also failed to get it's political statement across in any obvious terms.
Maybe watching it all those years ago in the Soviet Union might have revealed a different side to the film, but when I watched it I failed to perceive any distinct message, just half hearted attempts to denounce war, brief mentions of workers rights, and the eventual killing of the Bolshevik's. All this was done while intercut with various unrelated scenes, as well as many scenes of crowds of people shouting as loud as possible (I was grateful that this is a Silent film).

A Classic "dead soldiers by side of road" dolly shot
The film was made in a fashion clearly inspired by Eisenstein's work on the Battleship Potemkin, apart from in this film it is not put to such great use. A folly of rapid cuts showing random peoples faces and machines accompained by a screeching score makes for a somewhat unpleasant viewing experience.
The film as a whole feels very aggressive in the way it presents it's content, amongst other things it lacks good pacing. This makes it rather boring to sit through, maybe if a bit of time had been taken to introduce the character, set up the era and the political situations of the era, the film might have been better. But instead the viewer is thrown directly into a barely comprehensible mess.
If only there had been some interesting technical abilities displayed I might have found the film to be of more interest, however there was little I hadn't seen done before and done better.

However the film isn't absolutely worthless, there elements of interested and a few instances of rather striking imagery. Furthermore, a couple of individual scenes work very well on their own, it's just when taken as a whole it is extremely incoherent.
The anti-war themes were interesting, the scenes with the attack of the empty trenches and the officer shooting one of his own men were quite powerful but in a way the rapid intercutting worked against the film, it prevented such scenes from becoming as important and memorable as they could have been by cutting them up in various ways.
One of the stranger scenes in this film
Also the fact that the film didn't express it's support for the violent methods depicted was quite interesting, often films of thsi era would practically be cheering the revolutionaries along as they shot the capitalists, bit this one questioned the violent approach, but again it was let down by the lack of focus and the distracting techniques used.

Arsenal is the second film in Dovzhenko's Ukraine trilogy, the others being Zvenigora and Earth. Zvenigora sounds extremely average and not worth seeing, but Earth is often cited as his best film and along with The Battleship Potemkin, one of the most important Soviet films of it's time, so I might consider watching that one someday.

 All in all, Arsenal is a film I could only recommend to those especially interested in Soviet propaganda films. I don't regret seeing it, although I do slightly regret choosing it for the marathon as it is not very interestign to write about (or read about, I assume), but I won't be seeing any other films like it anytime soon.

On a sidenote, please excuse the inferior quality of this review, I really couldn't think of much to say about this film at all. The next one will be better for it's a Bunuel film, L'Age D'Or!

Due to my disappointment with this film, I have decided to alter my list of upcoming films slightly, I will no longer be watching and reviewing the other Dovzhenko film Ivan, instead I've chosen another, more interesting film. It shall remain a surprise for now though.

As always comments are appreciated and will be answered, I would be interesting tyo hear a diferent point of view on this film as it is one nit many people have reviewed.

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