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 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.
- Jim Tritten
- Sep 30, 2000