Battleship Potemkin (1925, Sergei Eisenstein)

Funny how I’ve never watched this until now, and everyone else has. Even Katy has seen it more than once. So, moments that seem fresh to me are probably way over-discussed to everyone else. I mentioned the movie to Steve and he says “that sailor sure smashed the hell out of that plate, eh,” referring to one of my favorite bits, a decisive moment of minor rebellion which Eisenstein shows repeatedly, from multiple angles, like an explosion in a Die Hard movie.

Due to unrest over spoiled food, the ship’s captain decides to hang a bunch of crew members – a bad move, since the others have been simmering rage againt their superiors, and choose this moment to mutiny, their leader Vakulinchuk shouting “brothers!” as a rally cry – a shout that will be repeated at the end, when the other battleships descending on Potemkin, presumably to quash the rebellion, choose to join it instead. Before that, the State is shown as brutally repressive, mowing down innocent civilians (children! mothers!) pitilessly on the steps of Odessa, where the ship lands and becomes a heroic symbol to the locals.

An imagined, phantom hanging:

Such an impressive piece of filmmaking and propaganda for the working man, it was banned in Britain and France for fear of sparking revolution. I watched the restored high-def version and was glad to discover that it’s a vibrant, brilliant movie, not the dusty old piece of film history I feared it might be. The movement and editing are rightly acclaimed, but the photography of individual shots is spectacular as well – compares very favorably to those gorgeously-lit Sternberg films I’ve been watching, only this was shot on location.

I dig the the hand-painted red flag hoisted over the ship. The ship’s crazy-haired priest was portrayed as a villain with a cross he wielded as a weapon, on the side of the power elite against the people. A guy in Odessa tries to use the crowd’s fervor for his own purposes, yells out “smash the Jews” and ends up getting smashed himself, the first casualty on the shores.

Related posts