Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 Blind Spot Series: Battleship Potemkin

Directed by Sergei Eisenstein and written by Eisenstein, Nina Agadzhanova, Nikolai Aseyev, and Sergei Tretyakov, Battleship Potemkin is a dramatization of mutiny between crew and officers of the Tsarist regime in 1905 Russia. The film is a look into a rebellion that some say would be one of the most crucial periods in the history of Russia. Starring Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barsky, and Grigori Aleksandrov. Battleship Potemkin is a powerful and astonishing film from Sergei Eisenstein.

The film is about a real-life incident that many believe set the seeds for the Russian Revolution in 1917 where sailors at the Battleship Potemkin rebel against their Tsarist officers on the ship leading to a mutiny and a cry for a rebellion against the Tsarist regime of 1905. The story is separated into five parts to explain how this rebellion came about where the first part is about sailors feeling oppressed by the officers as they’re forced to eat rotten meet filled with maggots where a doctor claims that it’s safe. It’s among these little moments that would trigger this mutiny where the death of a sailor becomes this rallying cry for the people to rebel against the Tsarist government. The film’s screenplay uses that five-part structure in not just to showcase the seeds of this rebellion but also the growing tension between the people and the government over things like rotten food and such.

The direction of Sergei Eisenstein is truly entrancing in the way he frames many of the images that is displayed on film. Even as he makes the battleship an integral part of the film where it represents this idea of old vs. new where the sailors and such have been taking care of the ship while the officers just order people around. Much of the framing has Eisenstein use a lot of wide and medium shots to display this growing disconnect between the sailors and officers where the latter makes these grand claims over the rotten meat filled with maggots that the sailors refuse to eat. It would lead to these little moments where Eisenstein builds up some suspense with a series of montages to showcase this growing tension that leads to this confrontation between officers and sailors that leads to a mutiny.

Eisenstein’s direction also has some dazzling images such as the shot of a red flag in displayed as it’s the only thing that it is in color where the rest of the film is in black-and-white. The use of soft-lenses and close-ups add to the drama which includes the much revered Odessa Steps sequence where Tsarist soldiers come down the steps to kill the protestors while a baby carriage with a baby in there is coming down those steps. The way Eisenstein and his co-editor Grigori Aleksandrov, who plays the chief officer the sailors oppose in the film, create these cuts are among some of the most thrilling moments which includes a lot of reactionary shots and images that are just unforgettable. Even the film’s climax where the lone battleship is set to go up against the entire Russian navy is a symbolic moment to showcase a rebellion that is happening. Through these very mesmerizing cuts, Eisenstein builds something up where it’s about the unexpected. Overall, Eisenstein crafts a very intoxicating yet haunting film about the 1905 Russian Revolution and the seeds it would plant for the revolution that would emerge 12 years alter.

Cinematographer Eduard Tisse, with additional work from Vladimir Popov, does a brilliant job with the film‘s black-and-white photography to display the sense of tension that occurs inside the battleship as well as the entrancing images in the Odessa Steps sequence. Art director Vasili Rakhals does amazing work with some of the set pieces such as a few scenes in the battleship including the use of some miniatures as well as the look of the pier in Odessa. The film’s music from its 2007 restoration is by Helmut Imig with original music from Edmund Meisel is truly spectacular for its sense of bombast with its orchestral arrangements to play into the film‘s suspense and action.

The film’s phenomenal cast includes some noteworthy performances from Beatrice Vitoldi as the woman with the baby carriage, co-editor Grigori Aleksandrov as the chief officer Giliarovsky, Vladimir Barsky as the ship’s leader Commander Golikov, and Aleksandr Antonov as the sailor who would lead the rebellion against the officers.

Battleship Potemkin is an outstanding film from Sergei Eisenstein. The film is truly one of the most important films of the early 20th Century in terms of its technical brilliance as well as how to build up suspense with the use of montages. It’s also an important film to showcase a piece of history that would lead to the Russian Revolutions that occurred in the early 20th Century. Though it is sort of a propaganda film against the Tsarist regime that would be overthrown after the 1917 revolution. It is a film that manages to be engaging in what the Bolsheviks were trying to do back in 1905 against a regime that overstayed its welcome. In the end, Battleship Potemkin is a magnificent film from Sergei Eisenstein.

Sergei Eisenstein Films: (Glumov’s Diary) - Strike (1925 film) - (October: Ten Days that Shook the World) - (The General Line) - (Que Viva Mexico) - (Bezhin Meadow) - Alexander Nevsky - Ivan the Terrible

© thevoid99 2013


Dan Heaton said...

This is a great choice for the Blind Spot Series. I saw this back in college in a film class in the late '90s, and I remember being blown away. It was good to see it in that setting because we really dug into to what Eisenstein accomplished with his editing approach. Nice review!

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. I was blown away by this film. I'm just happy that I've done all of my Blind Spots and will now get ready for next year's selection.