Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Battleship Potemkin [Blu-ray]
Battleship Potemkin (Russian: Броненосец «Потёмкин», Bronenosets Potyomkin), sometimes rendered as Battleship Potyomkin, is a 1925 silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein and produced by Mosfilm. It presents a dramatized version of the mutiny that occurred in 1905 when the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin rebelled against their officers of the Tsarist regime.
Battleship Potemkin has been called one of the most influential propaganda films of all time, and was named the greatest film of all time at the Brussels World's Fair in 1958. The film is in the public domain in some parts of the world.
The film is composed of five episodes:
"Men and Maggots" (Люди и черви), in which the sailors protest at having to eat rotten meat;
"Drama on the deck" (Драма на тендре), in which the sailors mutiny and their leader, Vakulinchuk, is killed;
"A Dead Man Calls for Justice" (Мёртвый взывает) in which Vakulinchuk's body is mourned over by the people of Odessa;
"The Odessa Staircase" (Одесская лестница), in which Tsarist soldiers massacre the Odessans; and
"The Rendez-Vous with a Squadron" (Встреча с эскадрой), in which the squadron tasked with stopping the Potemkin instead declines to engage, and its sailors cheer on the rebellious battleship.
Eisenstein wrote the film as a revolutionary propaganda film, but also used it to test his theories of "montage". The revolutionary Soviet filmmakers of the Kuleshov school of filmmaking were experimenting with the effect of film editing on audiences, and Eisenstein attempted to edit the film in such a way as to produce the greatest emotional response, so that the viewer would feel sympathy for the rebellious sailors of the Battleship Potemkin and hatred for their cruel overlords. In the manner of most propaganda, the characterization is simple, so that the audience could clearly see with whom they should sympathize.
Eisenstein's experiment was a mixed success; he "was disappointed when Potemkin failed to attract masses of viewers", but the film was also released in a number of international venues, where audiences responded more positively. In both the Soviet Union and overseas, the film shocked audiences, but not so much for its political statements as for its use of violence, which was considered graphic by the standards of the time. The film's potential to influence political thought through emotional response was noted by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who called Potemkin "a marvelous film without equal in the cinema ... anyone who had no firm political conviction could become a Bolshevik after seeing the film," The film was not banned in Nazi Germany, although Himmler issued a directive prohibiting SS members from attending screenings, as he deemed the movie inappropriate for the troops.
The most celebrated scene in the film is the massacre of civilians on the Odessa Steps (also known as the Primorsky or Potemkin Stairs). In this scene, the Tsar's soldiers in their white summer tunics march down a seemingly endless flight of steps in a rhythmic, machine-like fashion, firing volleys into a crowd. A separate detachment of mounted Cossacks charges the crowd at the bottom of the stairs. The victims include an older woman wearing Pince-nez, a young boy with his mother, a student in uniform and a teenage schoolgirl. A mother pushing an infant in a baby carriage falls to the ground dying and the carriage rolls down the steps amidst the fleeing crowd.
The massacre on the steps, which never took place, was presumably inserted by Eisenstein for dramatic effect and to demonise the Imperial regime. It is, however, based on the fact that there were widespread demonstrations in the area, sparked off by the arrival of the Potemkin in Odessa Harbour, and both The Times of London and the resident British Consul reported that troops fired on the crowds with accompanying loss of life (the actual number of casualties is unrecorded). Roger Ebert writes, "That there was, in fact, no czarist massacre on the Odessa Steps scarcely diminishes the power of the scene ... It is ironic that [Eisenstein] did it so well that today, the bloodshed on the Odessa steps is often referred to as if it really happened."
The scene is perhaps the best example of Eisenstein's theory on montage, and many films pay homage to the scene, including Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, Tibor Takacs' Deathline, Laurel and Hardy's The Music Box, George Lucas's Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Chandrashekhar Narvekar's Hindi film Tezaab, Shukō Murase's anime Ergo Proxy and Peter Sellers' The Magic Christian. Several films spoof it, including Woody Allen's Bananas and Love and Death, "Australia", Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker's Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult (though actually a parody of The Untouchables), Soviet-Polish comedy Deja Vu, Jacob Tierney's The Trotsky and the Italian comedy Il secondo tragico Fantozzi. The 2011 November 7 Parade in Moscow also features an homage to the film. The Irish born painter Francis Bacon (1909–1992) was profoundly influenced by Eisenstein's images, particularly the Odessa Steps shot of the nurse's broken glasses and open mouthed scream. The open mouth image appeared first in his Abstraction from the Human Form, in Fragment of a Crucifixion, and other works including his famous Head series.
The Russian born photographer and artist Alexey Titarenko paid tribute to the Odessa Steps shot in his series "City Of Shadows" (1991–1993) by using crowd of desperate people on the stairs near subway station in Saint Petersburg to demonize the Soviet regime and as a symbol of human tragedy