Battleship Potemkin (1925) – Sergei M. Eisenstein

DK Book’s The Movie Book brings me the next big title they highly recommended, Eisenstein’s seminal Battleship Potemkin. Running at a lean 76 minutes the story follows the crew of the titular ship during the Russian Revolution of 1905.

The crew stage a mutiny against the ship’s officers who rule with tyranny, events spin out of control, leading to a demonstration in the streets of Odessa, culminating in a massacre by the police.

Some of the events as portrayed in the film did actually happen, though upon reaching Odessa the story falls more in line with what the government wanted. And this is where one of the most iconic scenes of the film take place.

The Potemkin (or Odessa) steps serves as a backdrop for a sequence that has been mimicked and paid homage to over the years, but has not lost any of its power because of it. The most notable one is coming up on the What Else to Watch list, Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables.

It’s a very fast-paced silent film, pausing only to catch its breath before plunging us back into the revolution again.

The camera work and the editing tells you when to take your breath. The sequences on the Potemkin are cut quickly, and then there’s a breather as we follow the people of Odessa on their way down to the water upon hearing about the revolt on the Potemkin. A slow building tension as we see people mass together, until their sheer numbers seem overwhelming.

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From there, cuts happen quicker again, and the tension grows until the revolution seems in full swing.

The film is filled with some very nice imagery, not just the iconic steps sequence, but also seeing the sweeping sails of countless civilian boats sliding across the water to show their support for the Potemkin.

The steps sequence is brutal, incredibly well-crafted and paced, as the Tsar’s police slaughter countless people litter the walkway, a defiant mother stands with her ill child in her arms, facing the oncoming guns, and then things really go terribly for the people who would rise up against the tyrannical rule of their leader.

The final act of the film sees the Potemkin taking no attackers, as a squadron sent by the Tsar comes to sink them. The men stand against them, fighting for what they know is right, but the numbers seem against them. All against one. Until…

It’s a well crafted film, and seeing it as whole, instead of only in part like I had seen it originally in a film class makes a more profound impact, and illustrates the story, and the way it was created all the better.

Check out this Russian film, and more with DK Book’s The Movie Book and join me for more!!

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