Women in Eisenstein’s Dialectic

Women are comparatively scarce in the first half of October, acting most frequently in relation to the counter-revolution, and often committing acts of violence against people or culture when in groups. If we consider July’s counter-revolution sequence (16:24-17:40) in light of Eisenstein’s revision of the dialectic in “Beyond the Shot” (as we should, since he is the creator of both the theory and the film), it represents an instance of “collision,” a concept opposed to the idea that montage always constitutes “a series of fragments […] Bricks that expound an idea serially” (19). The sequence literally presents a collision of symbols, with the Bolshevik’s banner in opposition to the women’s parasols, as well as a collision of shots focusing upon the women’s mouths and feet.


Perhaps more importantly, it represents one of those instances in which Eisenstein “attempts” to “[emancipate] closed action from its conditioning by time and space,” thereby circumventing the demands of “plot [….] to achieve purely physiological effects” (38-39).[1] The swarms of fleeing workers are not directly reacting to the women brandishing their parasols, but the sequence nonetheless renders them the most memorable perpetrators, their malice heightened by their concern with trivialities (e.g. their feathered hats and lacy parasols). Through this contrast between the women and the fleeing crowd, the audience understands the counter-revolution as feminized – embodying the symbols of excessive consumption. (Or at the very least, the audience understands that this is how Eisenstein presents the counter-revolution.)


Although these collisions of spatially dissociated elements work to produce a specific “physiological [effect]” (39) – sympathy for the massacred Bolsheviks and disgust for their murderers – their effect breaks down when viewed in light of later scenes with similar patterns of imagery. Eisenstein posits the “series” effect as only one outcome of editing (19), but audience members must contend with their expectation that the entire narrative represents a “series” – the later sequences revising earlier related scenes.


For instance, when Eisenstein introduces the “Women’s Death Battalion” later in October, his imagery plainly recalls the July sequence, further feminizing the Provisional Government. The female soldiers’ romp on the billiard table – bobbed hair and toothy grins turned upward – continues the film’s association of women with vulgar consumption, in one sense building upon the counter-revolution scene, but simultaneously undermining that scene’s spectacular violence. Although both scenes emphasize the women’s teeth and apparel, their tones are obviously different, as the sequence staged on “The billiard table of Nicholas II” represents the battalion’s comic assault upon the government’s tenuous dignity. Their banal activities – applying cosmetics and removing their uniforms to reveal lacy undergarments – supersede the women’s subversive potential in the earlier scene.


In locating the Winter Palace’s loss of dignity in the billiard room sequence, Eisenstein ultimately complicates the apparent political ideology of his film, with the narrative timeline disrupting his construction of the Provisional Government as already illegitimate and feminized in the July scene. The billiard room scene in turn suggests that the regime still possesses a sliver of legitimacy – authority that the female soldiers debauch.



[1] Eisenstein uses several other October examples of his “first attempts” to achieve this “emancipation” in “The Dramaturgy of Film Form” (38-40).