10 main Soviet movies of the 1920s (VIDEOS)

A scene from the Battleship Potemkin movie.

A scene from the Battleship Potemkin movie.

Sergei Eisenstein/Goskino, 1925
Cinema was still a new art in the 1920s, not just for Soviet Russia, but also for the world. The first decade went under the guise of experimental technologies. The main topics in cinema were the feats of revolutionaries and… science fiction.

The leading directors of the first Soviet movies were Sergei Eisenstein, Yakov Protazanov and Dziga Vertov, whose works influenced the entire global cinema.

1. The Storming Of The Winter Palace, 1920

This movie, telling the story of the key event of the 1917 October Revolution, is only partially preserved, but it still remains one of the most important ones in global cinema. The staged “storming” involved about 10,000 extras, who “overthrew” the Provisional Government and the rule of the bourgeoisie. This mass spectacle made a huge impression on several generations of viewers who “imagined the storming of the Winter Palace just like that”. In reality, it looked different. A hospital for the treatment of the wounded in World War I occupied the palace at the time, while the Provisional Government only took up a couple of offices. There was no particular guard in the palace and the group of revolutionaries (according to different data, from 9 to 12 people) simply walked through an open door.

2. Aelita, 1924

It was released in 1924, based on Alexey Tolstoy’s story about a flight to Mars and the main characters’ plans to stage a revolution there. ‘Aelita’ was one of the first sci-fi movies in the world and to this day is considered a masterpiece of silent films.

Director Yakov Protazanov filmed about two dozen movies even before the 1917 Revolution, mostly basing them on the works of Russian literature classics; the majority of them enjoyed commercial success. And ‘Aelita’ was not an exception. In Moscow, the movie was the leader at the box office for a whole ten weeks after its premiere. Incidentally, at the 58th minute of the movie, you can see the Red Square without Lenin’s mausoleum.

3. The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks, 1924

This is an adventure comedy by Lev Kuleshov about an American’s trip to the Soviet Union. Mr. John West, a YMCA president, plans to visit Soviet Russia. His family and his friends try to dissuade him from it, believing that what’s happening there is utterly horrific. To feel more secure during the trip, West takes along a cowboy named Jeddy. The movie depicts all kinds of, as Russians would call it today, “cranberry” (ie. nonsensical stereotypes about Russia): space Americans, Moscow thugs, alley shootouts. However, the look of Moscow, getting prettier under the Bolsheviks, impresses West and he grows fascinated with the young country.

4. Kino-Eye, 1924

Although Dziga Vertov made documentaries about life in the USSR, he was a real representative of the avant-garde. Even official events were filmed by him from unexpected points and angles: from a moving car, from a factory smokestack, from under train wheels or by a hidden camera. No one had done it before! ‘Kino-Eye’ is his most famous work about the life of Soviet citizens. He shows a mental asylum, physics lessons and pioneers in tents.

5. Strike, 1924

This movie by Sergei Eisenstein shows the hard life of factory workers who suffer from unbearable working conditions. The action, of course, takes place before the Revolution, when they didn’t have an 8-hour workday like we are used to now. A suicide by one of the workers, who is wrongfully blamed for stealing tools, kickstarts the strike. Eisenstein shows not only the horrors of “capitalism”, but also the brutal suppression of protests.

6. The Cigarette Girl from Mosselprom, 1924

This is Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky’s comedy mocking the life of “NEPmen” and consumerist culture. All the main characters in the movie are in love with a cigarette seller, selling her goods in the center of Moscow. One of them doesn’t even smoke, but he buys a pack of cigarettes from her every morning. Another one “arranges” acting jobs for her. And then, an American businessman arrives in the USSR. Who will she choose? What an intrigue!

7. Battleship Potemkin, 1925

This historical movie by Sergei Eisenstein tells the tale of the ‘Battleship Potemkin’ mutiny in July 1905. The Black Sea Fleet sailors stage a mutiny, because the meat has worms, before growing into a protest against imperialism. The young director filmed this movie for the anniversary of the 1905 Revolution and the movie itself had a lot of revolutionary devices. The hand-colored Soviet flag in a black-and-white movie alone was a sensation. The movie regularly makes it onto the lists of the greatest movie masterpieces of the world. For example, you can see it in the rating of the reputable British ‘Sight&Sound’ magazine – ‘Top 100 Films of All Time’.

8. The Tailor from Torzhok, 1925

Director Yakov Protazanov was supposed to create an advertisement movie about state loans, but got too carried away and filmed another masterpiece about life in the 1920s. This comedy tells the story of a sewing workshop employee in the provincial town of Torzhok, Tver Region. Accidentally, he purchases a state loan bond and wins a big prize off of it. But then, he loses the bond. What a shock! What happened next? See for yourself.

9. Mother, 1926

This is a movie by actor and director Vsevolod Pudovkin, based on the novel ‘The Mother’ by leading post-revolution author Maxim Gorky. It tells the story of one family’s fate, where different political views clash – of the revolutionary son and his mother. The movie became the first in a revolutionary trilogy of the director – which was followed by ‘The End of St. Petersburg’ and ‘Storm Over Asia’.

10. October, 1927

This movie by Sergei Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov is also known under the title ‘Ten Days That Shook The World’ and is dedicated to the anniversary of the October Revolution. The plot tells about the time after the February Revolution and leading up to the 1917 October Revolution. Everything starts with unrest in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg): people have nothing to eat and World War I is still raging. Vladimir Lenin comes to the city and heads a revolt.

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