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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.