Movie Reviews - Featured Films » Epic Films - Silent

The Battleship Potemkin Movie Review

eisenstein film czar steps

1925 – Sergei Eisenstein –

The central committee of the Communist government decided in 1925 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the unsuccessful 1905 revolution against the Czar by sponsoring a series of films. Sergei Eisenstein and his collaborator Nina Agadzhanova-Shutko planned an epic that would encompass dozens of locations from Moscow to Siberia. All that changed when poor weather forced the film crew to the seaport of Odessa, where Eisenstein began elaborating on the visual potential of the flights of steps leading to the harbor. He decided to abandon his more elaborate plans and focus instead on the sailors' mutiny aboard the battleship Potemkin, their return to port, the ensuing rebellion of the masses inspired by the example of the crew, and the bloody massacre of the people by the Czar's troops.

At first it seems that the film has no hero, but then the infectious spirit of revolt makes clear that Eisenstein saw the oppressed masses as the true heroes of his drama. Politically he was right, but cinematically he may be wrong. The genuine power of the film derives from the masterful technique, and perhaps the true hero is the celebrated displays of editing; at least that is what lifts the heart. The shots fly by in Eisenstein's montage sequences at an average of one every two seconds; in the film as a whole the average shot lasts about four seconds, a much faster pace for films then and probably even now. Eisenstein's theory was to assemble brief, individual shots that would assume greater emotional meaning and impact as a sequence (just as individual words mean more when arranged in a sentence). And he was right. A snappily cut-together trailer can make audiences eager to see a film that is really a dud, the flash cutting in a music video can make a mediocre song sound better, and of course many people buy soft drinks based in part on the rapid-fire editing of an appealing cola commercial.

The propaganda of montage, in other words, can inspire the emotions, and Eisenstein used it masterfully. The flurry of shots of the Czar's troops shooting the masses on the Odessa steps juxtapose the helpless faces of the people, long lines of jackbooted cossacks, the smoke of rifle fire, sprawling bodies, menacing shadows, a slain mother, and her baby carriage helplessly rolling down the steps amid the chaos. Other great montages get overlooked due to the fame of the steps sequence, but they are moving as well. When the battleship takes to the sea in anticipation of the Czar's flotilla, Eisenstein cuts back and forth rapidly from shots of the engine's grinding pistons and spinning cam shafts to those of the water churned up off the hull. You can almost feel the ship pick up speed, and even a conservative Republican would find it hard not to root for the rebellious sailors as they go off to level their guns at more representatives of the evil Czar. Such is the power of montage. The film may be silent in that it has no words on the sound-track, but the power of the editing gives Potemkin a voice that is loud and clear.

Cast: Alexander Antonov (Vakulinchuk), Vladimir Barsky (Comdr. Golikov), Grigori Alexandrov (Senior Officer Gilyarovsky), Mikhail Gomorov (Sailor Matyushenko), Levchenko (Boatswain), Repnikova (woman on the steps), Marusov (officer), I. Bobrov (recruit), A. Fait (recruit), Sergei Eisenstein (priest), Alexander Lyovshin (petty officer), Beatrice Vitoldi (mother with baby carriage), Konstantin Feldman (student), Protopopov (old man), Korobei (legless veteran), Yulia Eisenstein (woman bringing food to mutineers), Zerenin (student) Screenwriter: Sergei Eisenstein Cinematographer: Edouard Tisse, V. Popov Composer: Eric Allaman, Edmund Meisel Producer: Jacob Bliokh Running Time: 71 minutes Format: VHS, LV.

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ Movie Review [next]

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or