Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Battleship Potemkin (1925)



In 1905 as the Russian Battleship Potemkin was sailing back to its home port of Odessa, the crew rose up against the Tsarist officers; just one of the many incidences of revolution that was starting to spread across Russia. When one of the sailors dies in the uprising he is temporarily laid to rest on the dock in Odessa to demonstrate to the city the oppressive rule that they live under on-board. Hundreds of locals come to see the body and show their support for the revolting sailors. However, this enormous gathering of civilians is ruthlessly dispersed by Tsarist soldiers who open fire, killing many. Finally, the Potemkin is to be escorted by a squadron of ships, but it turns out that the ships in the squadron are also supporters of the revolution, and the film closes with thunderous applause.

I have seen The Artist, but I think that this is the first real silent film I've ever seen. With cue cards providing select dialogue and also introducing some of the main players, it relies on the music to help drive the story forward. While the music did its job as it was playing, the transitions could be quite jarring, sometimes with a sudden change within a scene. There is no doubting director Sergei Eisenstein's vision for this film, and the scale of the film impressed me. However, I'm watching this 87 years later and there were some scenes that bugged me, and others where I just couldn't figure out what was going on! I think because of the dingy cinematography and not so great editing, it took me a full minute into to the Odessa steps scene to realise that the reason people were fleeing and falling over in the street was that they were being shot at by militia!

I'm certainly glad I watched Battleship Potemkin (you can too here if you want), however being a silent, subtitled, black & white film it's not a particularly accessible film and lacks a lot of the impact that it presumably had 87 years ago.

8 comments:

  1. I agree, I watched this film in the single college film class I took. We watched several films across all decades and this was the only one I didn't like in the end.

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    1. Just a little more editing would have made such a difference. I also thought some of the initial revolution was a bit silly; there was definitely some "yes we're revolting, but we'll still do as we're told! Yes we'll let this tarpaulin be put over our heads!" It was a hell of a story to try and make silently, but I think it failed at several points.

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  2. I would love to watch this movie, i heard so much good things about it, this is the best action movie for me , i am a fond of Sc-Fi Movies



    High School Diploma

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  3. I watch a lot of silent films, though mostly comedies. I saw this for the first time recently and wasn't blown away by it but liked it a lot. I think you're right that it doesn't have quite the power now as it did 87 years ago but if you put yourself in the shoes of someone in 1925 the scene on the steps must have been terrifying. I still think that scene is one of the greatest I've seen.

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    1. You're right that it must have been terrifying Tom; for me though a little extra editing - like gunshots BEFORE people started kneeling and lying down in the street - would have made a big difference. I think that I should give it another watch soon, it's not long after all.

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    2. That's one of the great things about early films, you can watch four of five in the time it takes to watch a modern blockbuster. The last Chaplin film I watched was only 14 minutes!!

      Have you seen Metropolis? That's another of the most famous silent films but I didn't really like it. The imagery is amazing but I'd expected more from what i'd heard about it.

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    3. Haven't seen Metropolis yet, but our local Picture House cinema is having a classic Sci Fi season starting with Tron and ending with Metropolis. So I'll have seen it within a month. Hadn't realised that it was silent actually!

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    4. That sounds good. It's a film that everyone should see and you can really tell how much it's influenced other films.

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