- Like Citizen Kane it's almost been TOO analyzed and cherished as a landmark, but still not without good reason 9/15/2005 12:00:00 AM by MisterWhiplash
If you're a film student, or were one, or are thinking of becoming one, the name Battleship Potemkin has or will have a resonance. Sergei Eistenstein, like other silent-film pioneers like Griffith (although Eisenstein's innovations are not as commonplace as Griffith's) and Murnau, has had such an impact on the history of cinema it's of course taken for granted. The reason I bring up the film student part is because at some point, whether you'd like it or not, your film professor 9 times out of 10 will show the "Odessa Stairs" sequence of this film. It's hard to say if it's even the 'best' part of the film's several sequences dealing with the (at the time current) times of the Russian revolution. But it does leave the most impact, and it can be seen in many films showcasing suspense, or just plain montage (The Untouchables' climax comes to mind).
Montage, which was not just Eistenstein's knack but also his life's blood early in his career, is often misused in the present cinema, or if not misused then in an improper context for the story. Sometimes montage is used now as just another device to get from point A to point B. Montage was something else for Eisenstein; he was trying to communicate in the most direct way that he could the urgency, the passion(s), and the ultimate tragedies that were in the Russian people at the time and place. Even if one doesn't see all of Eisenstein's narrative or traditional 'story' ideas to have much grounding (Kubrick has said this), one can't deny the power of seeing the ships arriving at the harbor, the people on the stairs, and the soldiers coming at them every which way with guns. Some may find it hard to believe this was done in the 20's; it has that power like the Passion of Joan of Arc to over-pass its time and remain in importance if only in terms of technique and emotion.
Of course, one could go on for books (which have been written hundreds of times over, not the least of which by Eisenstein himself). On the film in and of itself, Battleship Potemkin is really more like a dramatized newsreel than a specific story in a movie. The first segment is also one of the great sequences in film, as a mutiny is plotted against the Captain and other head-ups of a certain Ship. This is detailed almost in a manipulative way, but somehow extremely effective; montage is used here as well, but in spurts of energy that capture the eye. Other times Eisenstein is more content to just let the images speak for themselves, as the soldiers grow weary without food and water. He isn't one of those directors who will try to get all sides to the story; he is, of course, very much early 20th century Russian, but he is nothing else but honest with how he sees his themes and style, and that is what wins over in the end.
Some may want to check it outside of film-school, as the 'Stairs' sequence is like one of those landmarks of severe tragedy on film, displaying the ugly side of revolution. Eisenstein may not be one of the more 'accessible' silent-film directors, but if montage, detail in the frame, non-actors, and Bolshevik themes are your cup of tea, it's truly one of the must sees of a lifetime.
- One of the greatest movies ever made. 9/30/2000 12:00:00 AM by Jim Tritten
Originally supposed to be just a part of a huge epic The Year 1905 depicting the Revolution of 1905, Potemkin is the story of the mutiny of the crew of the Potemkin in Odessa harbor. The film opens with the crew protesting maggoty meat and the captain ordering the execution of the dissidents. An uprising takes place during which the revolutionary leader is killed. This crewman is taken to the shore to lie in state. When the townspeople gather on a huge flight of steps overlooking the harbor, czarist troops appear and march down the steps breaking up the crowd. A naval squadron is sent to retake the Potemkin but at the moment when the ships come into range, their crews allow the mutineers to pass through. Eisenstein's non-historically accurate ending is open-ended thus indicating that this was the seed of the later Bolshevik revolution that would bloom in Russia. The film is broken into five parts: Men and Maggots, Drama on the Quarterdeck, An Appeal from the Dead, The Odessa Steps, and Meeting the Squadron.
Eisenstein was a revolutionary artist, but at the genius level. Not wanting to make a historical drama, Eisenstein used visual texture to give the film a newsreel-look so that the viewer feels he is eavesdropping on a thrilling and politically revolutionary story. This technique is used by Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers.
Unlike Pontecorvo, Eisenstein relied on typage, or the casting of non-professionals who had striking physical appearances. The extraordinary faces of the cast are what one remembers from Potemkin. This technique is later used by Frank Capra in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Meet John Doe. But in Potemkin, no one individual is cast as a hero or heroine. The story is told through a series of scenes that are combined in a special effect known as montage--the editing and selection of short segments to produce a desired effect on the viewer. D.W. Griffith also used the montage, but no one mastered it so well as Eisenstein.
The artistic filming of the crew sleeping in their hammocks is complemented by the graceful swinging of tables suspended from chains in the galley. In contrast the confrontation between the crew and their officers is charged with electricity and the clenched fists of the masses demonstrate their rage with injustice.
Eisenstein introduced the technique of showing an action and repeating it again but from a slightly different angle to demonstrate intensity. The breaking of a plate bearing the words "Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread" signifies the beginning of the end. This technique is used in Last Year at Marienbad. Also, when the ship's surgeon is tossed over the side, his pince-nez dangles from the rigging. It was these glasses that the officer used to inspect and pass the maggot-infested meat. This sequence ties the punishment to the corruption of the czarist-era.
The most noted sequence in the film, and perhaps in all of film history, is The Odessa Steps. The broad expanse of the steps are filled with hundreds of extras. Rapid and dramatic violence is always suggested and not explicit yet the visual images of the deaths of a few will last in the minds of the viewer forever.
The angular shots of marching boots and legs descending the steps are cleverly accentuated with long menacing shadows from a sun at the top of the steps. The pace of the sequence is deliberately varied between the marching soldiers and a few civilians who summon up courage to beg them to stop. A close up of a woman's face frozen in horror after being struck by a soldier's sword is the direct antecedent of the bank teller in Bonnie in Clyde and gives a lasting impression of the horror of the czarist regime.
The death of a young mother leads to a baby carriage careening down the steps in a sequence that has been copied by Hitchcock in Foreign Correspondent, by Terry Gilliam in Brazil, and Brian DePalma in The Untouchables. This sequence is shown repeatedly from various angles thus drawing out what probably was only a five second event.
Potemkin is a film that immortalizes the revolutionary spirit, celebrates it for those already committed, and propagandizes it for the unconverted. It seethes of fire and roars with the senseless injustices of the decadent czarist regime. Its greatest impact has been on film students who have borrowed and only slightly improved on techniques invented in Russia several generations ago.
- This is a cinematic masterpiece, way ahead of its time. 12/10/1999 12:00:00 AM by korch-3
There are only a handful of movies that were made on such a grand scale and made such a difference in the art of movie making.
"Bronenosets Potyomkin" is one of these movies, and it should be on anyone's list looking to learn more about the history of cinema.
Grigori Aleksandrov & Sergei M. Eisenstein directed this groundbreaking film that documents the horrors taking place on a Russian battleship. When the sailors finally retaliate against their superiors, the locals embrace the them, and support them. Things get ugly when a group of soldiers are sent to the small town to take care of business. What follows is one of the most imitated scenes in the history of cinema. Anyone who has seen "The Untouchables", and "Bronenosets Potyomkin" knows exactly what I mean.
Overall I think this movie raised the bar for film making just as "Intolerance" did a few years earlier. If you do not mind silent films, do yourself a favor, and see "Bronenosets Potyomkin".
If you don't like silent films..... watch "Bronenosets Potyomkin" anyway.
- Still one of the best films ever made. 6/20/1999 12:00:00 AM by Orlok
Quite a lot has been said about this film and its landmark importance in forming the language of film. If you are interested in film history, to truly understand the innovations Eisenstein brings to the medium you might try viewing Potemkin along side most any film made before it (those of D.W. Griffith offer a good contrast). It should be allowed that Eisenstein was not the only montage theorist and the principles of montage editing would likely have been discovered by another given time. However, even today, few directors have approached the skill with which Eisenstein created meaning through the combination of images at such an early point in the evolution of the medium.
If you are not interested in that sort of thing, Potemkin is still one of the most beautiful and moving films ever made. You should see it, buy it, and tatoo it to your chest.
- "The time has come for us to speak out." 4/5/2007 12:00:00 AM by ackstasis
On June 14 1905, during the Russian Revolution of that year, sailors aboard the Russian battleship Potemkin rebelled against their oppressive officers. Frustrated with the second-rate treatment they receive, and most particularly the maggot-infested meat that they are forced to eat, the ship's crew, led by the inspirational Bolshevik sailor Grigory Vakulinchuk (Aleksandr Antonov), decide that the time is ripe for a revolution. And so begins Sergei M. Eisenstein's rousing classic of Russian propaganda, 'Bronenosets Potyomkin / The Battleship Potemkin.'
The film itself is brimming with shining examples of stunning visual imagery: the spectacles of an overthrown ship captain dangle delicately from the side rope over which he had been tossed; the body of a deceased mutineer lies peaceful upon the shore, the sign on his chest reading "KILLED FOR A BOWL OF SOUP;" close-up shots of the clenching fists of the hundreds of spectators who are finally fed up with the Tsarist regime; a wayward baby carriage careers down the Odessa Steps as desperate onlookers watch on with bated breath (this scene was memorably "borrowed" by Brian De Palma for a particularly suspenseful scene in his 'The Untouchables'); the barrels of numerous canons are ominously leveled towards the vastly-outnumbered battleship Potemkin.
However, the film itself is best analysed ? not as a fragmented selection of memorable scenes ? but as a single film, and, indeed, every scene is hugely memorable. Though divided into five fairly-distinct chapters, the entire film flows forwards wonderfully; at no point do we find ourselves losing interest, and we are absolutely never in doubt of whose side we should be sympathetic towards.
The film is often referred to as "propaganda," and that is exactly what it is, but this need not carry a negative connotation. 'The Battleship Potemkin' was produced by Eisenstein with a specific purpose in mind, and it accomplishes this perfectly in every way. Planned by the Soviet Central Committee to coincide with the 20th century celebrations of the unsuccessful 1905 Revolution, 'Potemkin' was predicted to be a popular film in its home country, symbolising the revitalization of Russian arts after the Revolution. It is somewhat unfortunate, then, that Eisenstein's film failed to perform well at the Russian box-office, reportedly beaten by Allan Dwan's 1922 'Robin Hood' film in its opening week and running for just four short weeks. Luckily, despite being banned on various occasions in various countries, 'The Battleship Potemkin' fared more admirably overseas.
The film also proved a successful vehicle for Eisenstein to test his theories of "montage." Through quick-cut editing, and distant shots of the multitudes of extras, the audience is not allowed to sympathise with any individual characters, but with the revolutionary population in general. Eisenstein does briefly break this mould, however, in a scene where Vakulinchuk flees the ship officer who is trying to kill him, and, of course, during the renowned Odessa Steps sequence, as our hearts beat in horror for the life of the unfortunate child in the tumbling baby carriage. The accompanying soundtrack to the version I watched, largely featuring the orchestral works of Dmitri Shostakovich, served wonderfully to heighten the emotional impact of such scenes.
One of the greatest films of the silent era, 'The Battleship Potemkin' is a triumph of phenomenal film-making, and is a significant slice of cinematic history. The highly-exaggerated events of the film (among other things, there was never actually any violent massacre on the Odessa Steps) have so completely engrained themselves in the memory, that we're often uncertain of the true history behind the depicted events. This is a grand achievement.