Ranking: #61/111

Director: Vsevolod Pudovkin (Russia)      

Genre: Political Drama

Russian director Vsevolod Pudovkin was one of the most influential of the so-called “montage” directors of the Soviet school (“Editing is the language of the film director”) during the silent era of cinema. Like Sergei Eisenstein, Pudovkin believed that editing was the essence of filmmaking. And, like Eisenstein, he was an accomplished film theoretician who wrote foundational texts on cinema as a new art form, including Film Technique and Film Acting. He was convinced that editing was the creative force for cinema, taking “soulless” separate shots and engineering from them a “living, cinematographic form.”

The End of St. Petersburg forms part of his ‘Bolshevik Trilogy’ along with his masterpiece Mother (1926) and Storm Over Asia. It’s a political drama which commemorates the tenth anniversary of the historic October Revolution in Russia. The focus in the story is not on the Bolshevik leaders, but on ordinary people and workers fighting for their rights against a corrupt, self-serving political system.

The film opens in a pastoral setting where a daughter is born to a struggling rural family. Desperate for money, a boy is sent to St Petersburg to look for work. He stays in the basement apartment of a Bolshevik worker. While working at a factory, his eyes are opened to the way the system works, where there is a huge gap between rich stockholders in the company and the impoverished workers. The stock market is shown to be the core of a capitalist society.

The workers go on strike and there is a brutal response. Then the Tsarist government decides to enter World War 1, a disastrous decision for the nation.  The boy is forcibly enlisted.

Huge casualties in the war, coupled with a failure by the government to feed the people, result in the hungry citizens rioting. They topple the Tsar and a Provisional Government is installed. However, the working class decides to the overthrow the capitalist ministers still in power. Then the retreating Russian soldiers join the Soviet cause. The Bolsheviks attack and overthrow the Winter Palace. With victory secured, the decision is made to rename St Petersburg Leningrad, or city of Lenin. 

The film puts the Russian montage theory into full effect, creating an incredibly dynamic tapestry of images which take the viewer on a journey through the Russian Revolution, as seen from the perspective of workers carried along by the tides of change in society. It was always the aim of the director to excite as many viewers as possible with his movies and to get them to feel they are participating in the story. The kind of immediacy required to make that happen is a hallmark of Pudovkin’s films, including The End of St. Petersburg.