Marxism has profoundly affected Film Studies and even film-making. Some of the earliest film theorists and filmmakers like Sergei Eisenstein were Communists. The Russian formalists like Dziga Vertov and Vsevolod Pudovkin pushed for “innovative forms matching revolutionary content”.
The rise of mass society coupled with advances in technology gave thinkers like Kracauer, Benjamin and Brecht and artists the hope “that new art forms could stimulate new forms of politicized thinking. Georg Lukacs pressed for 19th century realism, Brecht wanted modernist artistic innovation while Benjamin called for an “inherently radical nature to film”. But Frankfurt School philosophers concluded that “fascist and US capitalist media were fundamentally alike in producing a passive public.”
After WWII, “Marxists favoured an aesthetic of progressive realism which stood against the superficiality of entertainment, and allowed for social criticism.” Italian neo-realism became the vogue. Auteurs like Visconti, Renoir, Kubrick and Welles were admired.
19th century Marxism seemed to have been all wrong – Russia became Communist and not the richer capitalist European nations. The masses flocked to Hitler’s and Mussolini’s fascist leaderships. Thus, the Marxists looked for answers somewhere else – in psychology, for instance. By the 70s, Marxists claimed that Hollywood and European art film were “illusionists” and had ideological effects.
Italian Marxist philosopher and politician Antonio Gramsci, Lenin’s contemporary, argued that it was not just a State forcing people. Rather, the people were being manipulated by the hegemonic ruling class to believe that the existing order including social structures are “natural” and should remain untouched.