In the midst of the Russian Revolution of 1905, the crew of the battleship Potemkin mutiny against the brutal, tyrannical regime of the vessel's officers. The resulting street demonstration ... Read allIn the midst of the Russian Revolution of 1905, the crew of the battleship Potemkin mutiny against the brutal, tyrannical regime of the vessel's officers. The resulting street demonstration in Odessa brings on a police massacre.In the midst of the Russian Revolution of 1905, the crew of the battleship Potemkin mutiny against the brutal, tyrannical regime of the vessel's officers. The resulting street demonstration in Odessa brings on a police massacre.
Eisenstein had already made a more successful film before this, more reflexively about the seeing eye. So, even though there is a more rip-roaring story here, you may have to struggle a bit with how faceless appears this world to us, these days so accustomed to the paradigm of the individual hero. But Eisenstein was an architect - literally, as well as in film - and so space matters, our relationship with space through motion matters.
In other words; this may have been preserved to us as a museum piece, which is an indictment of our own understanding of cinema as coming down to us by the books and lists of assorted institutions, but at the time it was part of the most deeply revolutionary film school, one that rigged trains as movie studios and sent them scurrying the countryside to film the people and show them to themselves. I mean, here was a man - Eisenstein - who studied Japanese ideograms to understand synthesized image; who discovered that editing to the beats of the human heart affected more, true or false it shows the desire to both know and reach out.
Our cinematic ideas have mostly regressed into mechanical reproduction since the time when these things were first engineered. Oh, there's plenty of Eisenstein every time you open the TV, but none of it is knowing. It's merely a matter of going-through-the-motions, without the blueprint anymore.
So, look at how crowds are orchestrally conducted through stark geometries, how Eisenstein dissects cinematic space with even a stationary camera. But this type of cinema meant to agitate the people, was never about a thought, it was about an action.
And so with this one. There is the one hero who, although dead, calls out to the people. They rush to him, like ships around their harbor. So on board the ship there is valiant effort for brotherhood and justice, inspired revolution; portside is the motherland, cheering the effort with aplomb. And in the end there is the hero ship, itself filled with heroes, now passing through a sea corridor lined with brother ships, all cheering the one. You can imagine the people cheering at the cinema, who had been there to cheer the real thing years ago.
And when I say 'the real thing' I mean the revolution 8 years before; the Potemkin event depicted here was purely fictional. Yet by the famous steps at Odessa is erected a monument to the fictional sailors, what better example of cinema shaping reality?
So yes, it is a revolutionary film. We may be inclined to make fun of the notions, or worse yet dismiss off-hand because of hindsight knowledge. But this was a film celebrating a time when the world seemed like it could be new again. Then came Stalin and, ironically, vanished all these filmmakers that sung the paeans.
- Aug 22, 2011