Battleship Potemkin Screen 5 articles

Battleship Potemkin

1925

Battleship Potemkin Poster
  • The Odessa Steps sequence has been much copied (Woody Allen, Brian de Palma, the odd Australian indie film). Seventy-five years on, it is advertising rather than cinema which most regularly resorts to these techniques. However much the speech of the movies has since changed, it is still a pleasure to view again a film which, without fully knowing it, wrote the grammar of cinema.

  • A climactic Russkie-on-Russkie sea battle, desperate with tension, actually eclipses the steps sequence for rhythmic buildup and pathos; given how influential Potemkin is, it might also be one of the most misunderstood movies of all time, championed by gore-happy directors without a thought to intent. The point was always solidarity.

  • After 80-something years, it’s not easy to recapture a movie’s initial impact. Seen through the prism of its descendents, however, Potemkin is something like The Battle of Algiers (plus Triumph of the Will,Psycho, and Scorpio Rising), shot by Akira Kurosawa and edited by Alain Resnais. Dynamic conflict is present in and between every filmic image as Eisenstein orchestrates a percussive shift in angles, cutting usually on action, from long shot to close-up.

  • As freewheeling as Eisenstein's Strike andBattleship Potemkin may have seemed, their inventiveness is invariably tied to a larger intellectual program: the dissolution of the individual into the mass. Both released a year after Lenin's death, they represent a culmination of the think-tank techniques of these early Soviet filmmakers, while also distinguishing themselves from the cruder agitation films of the late 1910s and early 1920s.

  • The film is much more than this sequence, of course, but every one of its five sections arcs toward violence, and each payoff is shot and cut with punitive force. The mutiny itself is a pulsating rush of stunts, unexpected angles, and cuts that are at once harsh and smooth. The whole thing starts with a rebellious sailor smashing a plate (in inconsistently matched shots) and ends with the ship confronting the fleet, a challenge rendered by percussive treatment of the men and their machines.

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