Monday, May 24, 2010

Battleship Potemkin

1925, Eisenstein, USSR, 73m

Another miracle of the silent film, demonstrating it's possibilities beyond the cinema of words. There may be things which can be expressed in words alone, but silent cinema seems particularly suited for exalted themes, where script is likely to prove inadequate. The Passion of Joan of Arc was one such theme, and the present film, portraying a society in the grip of rapid violent social change, usually termed revolution, is another such. If talking cinema is comparable to drama, silent film may be like painting or dance.

A mutiny broke out on the Potemkin in June 1905. The immediate provocation is the serving of maggot infested meat, which is refused by a part of the crew. The disobedient ones are ordered to be shot, but at the last moment, the firing squad refuses to fire, and soon the ship is taken over and the officers cast into the sea. As the ship sails into Odessa, the populace joins the rebellious sailors in a mounting crest of mass emotion, followed by a bloody massacre by the Czarist forces. The Potemkin sails away, and is allowed to proceed unchallenged by a squadron of ships sailing in the opposite direction, betokening the rebellious currents which are to gather momentum.

Visceral passion, a mounting anger and the thirst for the opressor's blood are what the movie is all about. The film has a heavy sledge hammer masculine quality, a brutal realism which starts from the most elemental human need of food. The insult implicit in the serving of rotten meat sparks of anger spreading like a fire. The condemned rebels are covered with a tarpaulin before being shot. The entire drama of the mutiny is captured in a breath stopping sequence. The film has the quality of a natural cataclysm, moving with the fierce energy of a tidal wave.

Ofcourse, there is the long, celebrated sequence of the firing down the steps, the bayoneted militia advancing implacably like a roadroller, as the populace scatters in silent screams, to be confronted with the sword slashing cavalry from the opposite side.

One may miss on the artistry in being swept by it's sheer power. The rippling waves shimmering in shafts of light, sail boats in joyous procession, and the naval squadron in pitch darkness--the camera delights continually.

To call it a propaganda film is to miss the epic sweep and grandeur. It's a movie that comes straight from the red heart.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Justly celebrated as one of the greatest films ever - it showcases some many revolutionary cinematic techniques along with a gripping plot. Eisenstein's other works are nearly as good, but failed to attract the same amount of attention: "Ivan", "October", etc