I hadn’t seen this film since my Film 101 class back in my Film Studies days. I remember having had a rough night the evening previous, and nodding off in between the mutiny and the famous Odessa Steps sequence. After watching THE UNTOUCHABLES a month ago, POTEMKIN had been on my mind. I stumbled across it on YouTube, and was able to watch the entire film online. Which was great, save for the commercial breaks which were automatically placed at regular time intervals, and so it cut directly in the middle of the Steps sequence. Bad film karma, YouTube!

I watched BRONENOSETS POTYOMKIN (BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN; 1925) on 3.2.11. It was my second viewing of the film. FULL MOVIE HERE

When film historians talk about this film they do so for two reasons. One, it is considered the greatest propaganda film ever made. This is the story of the battleship crew’s rebellion against tsarist rule in Russia, and certainly puts the subjects in a positive light, and the oppressors in a tyrannical and blood-thirsty light. While this criticism is fundamentally true, I bristle a bit any time it is dismissed as merely a propaganda film. Film, in conception, is meant to make you feel a certain way. In that sense, this is no more propaganda than SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, BRAVEHEART, or ACE VENTURA (okay, maybe a little more than ACE VENTURA).

The more important place this holds in film history is its use of montage, as created by Director Sergei Eisenstein. He had conducted several experiments in film prior to this production, based on the Kuleshov effect, and theorized that an image is only as important as those which precede and follow it. You can see that on display throughout POTEMKIN, though never so effectively as in the Odessa Steps Massacre scene.

Is this a pleasure to watch? Well, the moments of activity… the meat check, the rebellion, the Odessa Steps, and the potential battle at the end… they are very engaging, very much moving. There are prolonged periods in between these segments where Eisentsein tests out some theory, and these slow down the pace of the film greatly. I’m supposed to give back my film degree for thinking that, but it is true. These segments in no way reduce the power of the film, but they certainly reduce its entertainment value.

But then, this was not a film made for entertainment. It was made to elicit an emotional response. And it certainly does that very well. There is a reason that filmmaker after filmmaker pay homage to the many moving images of this classic 1925 film. And that reason is that they get embedded in your memory, they have that kind of impact. One can’t see the image of the shot woman and forget it. If you see the still it is memorable, if you see it in the context of the film it is heartbreaking.

Glad I revisited this. Didn’t fall asleep either. Glad I can get through one of the all time great pieces of film without passing out, I guess.



I think if I fail to give this a bonus point for use of montage, then I have to get beaten by some thug as Martin Scorcese and Brian de Palma watch and nod.



~ by johnlink00 on March 3, 2011.

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