Friday, November 12, 2010

#98. Battleship Potemkin (1925) - Spotlight on Russia

Directed By: Sergei Eisenstein

Starring: Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barsky, Grigori Aleksandrov

Trivia:  Charlie Chaplin has called this his favorite film

Sergei Eisenstein was one of the most brilliant minds in the history of cinema. Aside from writing a number of books on film theory, Eisenstein is also considered by many to be the father of montage, where sharp, sometimes contradicting images are edited together to tell a specific story.

Eisenstein's theories and love of montage blend together perfectly in his 1925 masterpiece, Battleship Potemkin.

It’s 1905, and life aboard the Russian battleship Potemkin, pride of the Czarist fleet, has become unbearable. The food is spoiled, the duty hard, and the officers corrupt, beating the men for the smallest of infractions. Fed up with these shoddy conditions, the sailors stage a mutiny and take control of the ship.

The citizens of the nearby town of Odessa, who also suffer at the hands of the Czar's officials, greet the news of Potemkin’s rebellion with cheers of support. Their joy turns to horror the moment the Cossacks arrive, who, to head off any further chaos, slaughter the citizens who have gathered in the streets.

Eisenstein’s skills as a director and, especially, an editor are on full display in Battleship Potemkin’s most famous sequence, where the Cossacks fire upon a crowd of unarmed civilians on the steps of Odessa. It’s more than a great scene; it’s one of the most spectacular in motion picture history. Yet as thrilling as it is, the Odessa Steps massacre is but one such moment in a movie that, time and again, stirs our emotions.

Earlier in the film, Eisenstein took us below decks, where Potemkin’s sailors sleep on hammocks strung to all sides of the ship, turning the entire area into a web of ropes and exhausted crewmen. An officer, making his way through this mess, stops abruptly when his arm gets tangled in one of the hammocks. In a fit of rage, the officer turns and strikes the closest sleeping sailor, inflicting a painful wound. The sailor jumps up and stares at the officer, who, now free from the tangle, continues on his way.

Though not nearly as renowned as the Odessa steps sequence, this scene works exactly as Eisenstein intended, conveying the brutality inherent in Czarist Russia.

Today, we see Battleship Potemkin for what it was: an Anti-Czarist propaganda film. Yet the strength of its story remains just as potent, and the images just as stirring, as they were in 1925. Political agenda aside, Battleship Potemkin is still a work of moving intensity.


Klaus said...

Although i'm a big fan of silent film, and while I appreciate the artistry of Eisenstein's work, i'm not sure I really enjoy his films beyond the historical experience they provide.

DVD Infatuation said...

I know where you're coming times, it's as if Eisenstein was more interested in teaching us something about the artistry of film, and less interested in his characters. Perhaps this has something to do with the socialist climate he was working in? Who knows.

Still, I do enjoy watching his films, and particularly POTEMKIN. Cinematic innovations aside, I find the story itself engaging enough to keep my attention.

skooal said...

This was banned in France as they thought it could cause a revolution.

DVD Infatuation said...

skooal: Interesting! Thanks for the trivia, and for stopping by. Have a great day!