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The General Line, October 1

The Mechanical Age

Sunday, October 1, 2006
2:30 p.m. Pandora's Box, Episode One: The Engineer's Plot
Adam Curtis (U.K., 1992)

When, leading up to the twentieth century, Western society found itself a new object of worship-science and its attendant technologies-it assumed that by following the immutable laws of nature, one could predict and govern the future. In his quartet Pandora's Box, Adam Curtis (best known for The Century of the Self and The Power of Nightmares) explores the Mechanical Age's dubious concept that we might view "society as a giant rational machine," and traces the reign of technocracy as it plies great overarching theories of social design in consort with technological advance. In the failed models of the Soviet Union's Five Year Plans we see in Part One: The Engineer's Plot, we can predict the plot of many a film in our series.

• (c. 56 mins, Color/B&W, Beta SP, Courtesy Adam Curtis)

Intermission followed at 4:00 by:

The General Line

Sergei Eisenstein (U.S.S.R., 1929)

PFA Collection Print

Judith Rosenberg on Piano

(Generalnaya liniya). The General Line tells of a peasant woman's struggle against superstition, hostility, and greed in her attempt to form a collective and bring to it a bull, a cream separator, and a tractor. Here is one of Sergei Eisenstein's most beautiful films, in which he developed his editorial concepts of sensual montage, populated with wonderful types and filled with humor and earthy imagery. The highlight is a cream-separator spectacle to rival Busby Berkeley; there are also wheat fields worthy of Tolstoy, marvelous antibureaucratic satire, and, despite Variety's observation that the film lacks love interest, a very moo-ving wedding. Soviet cinema loved its tractors, but as Malevich wrote in 1929, “We must not forget that the content of our epoch is not exhausted by showing how pigs are fed on a state farm, or how the 'golden crops' are harvested. Our epoch has yet another content—its pure force and dynamics.”—Judy Bloch

• Written by Eisenstein, Grigori Alexandrov. Photographed by Edouard Tisse. With Marfa Lapkina, Vasya Buzenkov, Kostya Vasiliev. (c. 108 mins, Silent, Russian intertitles with live English translation, B&W, 35mm, PFA Collection)

Preceded by short:

Mechanical Principles (Gears in Motion and Design) (Ralph Steiner, Jay Leyda, U.S., 1930). Together with Jay Leyda, who later gained a reputation as a scholar of Soviet cinema, Steiner creates an intricate study of machines in motion. (10 mins, Silent, B&W, 35mm, Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art)

• (Total program time: c. 210 mins)