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Sergei M. Eisenstein
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Based on the historical events the movie tells the story of a riot at the battleship Potemkin. What started as a protest strike when the crew was given rotten meat for dinner ended in a riot. The sailors raised the red flag and tried to ignite the revolution in their home port Odessa. Written by
Konstantin Dlutskii <email@example.com>
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.
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