Group A – Is cinema part of political history, or just a way of recording / documenting it?

Since its creation, film has always been a part of political and social history. It represents not only the facts of the times in which they were made, but also opinions and feelings towards these certain historical events. In fact, these events – and the state of the countries in which these events happened – has sometimes brought out the best in certain filmmakers, encouraging creativity through rebellion, and bringing people together through art.

From a modern perspective, one can watch these films from the past and use it – consciously or not – as a tool for empathising with those from the past. A key example for this is through the Soviet Montage movement during the late 1910s and throughout the 1920s in Soviet Russia. Sergei Eisenstein, director of such films as Strike! (1925), Battleship Potemkin (1925), and October (1928), used the editing in his films to create an empathy with his audience that can still be felt when watching his films today. He used fast cutting to create impact and a feeling of violent force, dutch angles to portray that things were off-kilter and wrong, and –most famously – symbolic metaphor through contrast in his cuts, comparing violent retaliation against protesting workers to the slaughter of innocent cattle (he literally said he wanted to “extract the maximum effect of bloody horror”). These methods of portraying violence and political struggle is just as effective from a filmic standpoint now as it was back then. However, according to David Bordwell’s ‘Film History’, at the time of the release of these Soviet Montage films, some critics were against the movement, declaring it an act of ‘formalism’ (“a vague term implying that a film was too complex for mass audiences” and that directors “were more interested in film style than in correct ideology” (140)). This led to the Soviet Montage movement ceasing to exist by 1930, with only 30 films baring its moniker.

Another way that film is part of cinema history is through actually having an impact on the individuals in the society in which the films were made, and even having an effect on the society itself. Ingeborg Holm (1913), made in Sweden and directed by Victor Sjöström was one of the first narrative feature films ever made. The film itself acted as a criticism of how the legalities of 1910s Sweden mistreated the working class, with Bordwell describing it as conveying “a remarkable impression of the heroine’s decades of misfortune” (54). In the same way Eisenstein’s “Strike!” encouraged protests and revolution in Russia twelve years later, so too did “Ingeborg Holm” in Sweden, so much so that the film led to changes in Sweden’s poorhouse laws due the film’s public influence. Ingeborg Holm utilized regular continuity editing to depict a tragedy so simple but influential that many across Sweden empathized and demanded change.

Although throughout the years films have influenced political movements and events across history, several filmmakers have seen these films as opportunities to mock the events and the behavioural patterns of these political movements. Enter Trey Parker and Matt Stone. They have created a brand of humour using absurdity to convey serious moments and events alike. They created these circumstances in an attempt to help people to understand just how juvenile, outrageous and pointless these circumstances people get themselves into really are. In Team America! World Police, Parker and Stone satirise American action films in particular, over-emphasising every single cliché in the book, combined with hilarious but one dimensional characters. While doing this, it touches on American politics and their tendencies to want control over the world, interfering in affairs that don’t concern them and often worsening the problem. The most interesting thing about this film, however, is that it’s made with puppets. While this shows the poor production value that is often the case with Parker and Stone works, it also symbolises the role of people fighting in the name of politics. While certain political films like American Sniper paint war heroes as honourable men who have risen against evil; Parker and Stone have a different take on it entirely, painting them more as normal working people who have only risen up to do a political figure’s bidding which only that figure has profited from. Therefore puppets could be considered a fantastic use of symbolism.  Another film to look at is South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, which focuses more on the hypocrisy of parental activists and censorship. It once again actively mocks American culture portraying it as a lie that promotes freedom but negates that very freedom for everyone, not allowing a certain party to have a voice with the excuse that the said party endangers the youth and thus, endangers the future. These comedies, at first glance, may look like cheap background noise but through this filter of absurdity, it educates its audience about the madness that is the world as we know it and through its hidden depths, allows the audience to broaden their minds.

These comedies, at first glance, may look like cheap background noise but through this filter of absurdity, it educates its audience about the madness that is the world as we know it and through its hidden depths, allows the audience to broaden their minds.

The “formal” films also have a deep impact on today’s society. By influencing certain political movements or mocking and satirising different cultural aspect, they contribute to the creation of our, every day evolving society.Therefore, looking back on the films we exemplified, films are more than just a way of documenting and demonstrating the social situations of the time period when they were produced, they are also a media for filmmakers to express their political views, whether to raise public awareness of certain issues, or to induce an impact on the society to make a difference, they have become an important part of the history that neither historians nor the people should overlook.

One thought on “Group A – Is cinema part of political history, or just a way of recording / documenting it?


    I think this is a well written piece, that shows some smart reflection on a complex question. I like your idea that responding to politic change or events can prompt excellence in filmmaking or inspire creativity.
    The group uses a range of clear examples and have a good grasp of how montage relates to its political and cultural contexts, and your case study of film as political satire is exactly the kind of original thinking I was hoping to see with a post like this. There is some engaged analysis here thinking both about film form and style in an absurd example like Team America.
    I’m a little uncertain about what the group means by ‘formal’ films? This could be clarified a little. I’d also suggest reducing the length of posts to make the writing easier for you .
    Peer review comments for GROUP A

    • ‘Have stayed very close to the question, frequent reference to politics is good; grounding post (relevance)’
    • ‘Brilliant analysis of techniques’

    • ‘Proof read (copied and pasted sentence is there twice) & could be more sophisticated in writing’
    • ‘Perhaps balance amount of points made for each part of the question – maybe lacking more explanation of why/how it’s part of political history’

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