DIRECTOR: Sergei Eisenstein
“The fictionalised version of the 1905 Revolution” in Russia; that is how this film will be described. The truth is simple: This is a propaganda film, so successful and subversive back in the 1920’s that Hitler’s regime loved it, but also stopped their own troops from watching it. Banned for years in several countries across the globe, with the U.K. banning it for the longest, Battleship Potemkin stands the test of time as one of the most influential movies ever made.
Broken up into five acts, the most famous of these being the “Odessa Steps”. A bloody, violent scene in which Russian troops massacre a crowd of civilians, this sequence was so successful that many believed that this massacre actually took place, when in fact, it did not. There were many such events in the turbulent history of Russian politics, but the “Odessa steps”, which nearly matched its homage in Brain De Palma’s The Untouchables in 1987, is a work of fiction.
This is a film of moments and when those moments work, they are stunning, but the rest can be dismissed a simply another work of silent cinema, with clichés only being given weight by the original score by Edmund Meisel, a score which is probably one of the best element of the entire film. Flamboyant, intricate and well composed and cued to the action perfectly.
Though much has been made of Eisenstein‘s use of montage, which if you do not know about this in advance, will probably go over your head. The montages, which were relatively new at the time, were well executed and have become the back bone of mainstream cinema so it was hard to discern the importance of this during the film, but there are there and they were very well executed, as we see the inner working of the battleship, both domestically and during the heat of battle.
Eisenstein also ratchets up the tension brilliantly throughout, keeping up the pace, maintaining the action and building a case for revolution, though the propaganda aspects are right on the nose, but so what? It works, it is effective and whilst its politics are dated, much of the look of the film has clearly inspired so much which has come since.