Saturday, July 24, 2010

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

When it comes to studying the history of motion picture production one must take into account all that film has to offer. Even propaganda produced by Soviet Russia plays a humongous role in the evolution of filmmaking. Battleship Potemkin is heralded as one of the greatest silent pictures of all time and perhaps one of the most influential. Here film took a marvelous step forward as an art that stirred audiences with a new use of editing that all modern audiences are use to today. One of film's most influential scenes comes from this picture and has been copied many times over by some of history's greatest directors. This movie proves to be a revolution figuratively as well as literally.

Potemkin is a film based on the true life 1905 mutiny of the crew of Russian battleship Potemkin against the Tsarist regime. It is a dramatization and propaganda film supporting Socialism and the rise of the Communist movement in Russia. The film is presented in five parts. The first depicts the protest of sailors being treated poorly and fed spoiled, maggot covered meat. Second the mutiny that follows and the leader of the rebellion, Vakulinchuk, is killed in the squeamish as they take over the ship. Third the sailors and people of Odessa mourn the loss of Vakulinchuk. Fourth is the famous scene of the massacre of Odessans in the scene known as the "Odessa staircase." The film's concluding act depicts a squadron sent to stop the Potemkin, but refuses to attack, instead joins the cause of the rebellious sailors against the Tsar regime.

Director Sergei Eisenstein was the man in charge of the production of what is considered he most influential propogamnda film of all time. He experimented with editing in creating montages to enhance emotions and lead the audience to sympathize with the rebellious crew and the people of Odessa. Though editing montages were performed before, never were they used so sharply to create such emotions with shocking imagery and that stirred many audience members. Images of war were manifested to shock the audience with it gruesome events exagreated to a point to propel the onlookers into sympathizing with this Socialistic movement.

The scene held in the highest regard in this picture was the Odessa steps sequence. Though historically this massacre never occurred, Eisenstein used real events as his influence and the steps as his dramatic location of choice to portray its impact. The solders decent the steps in a militaristic manner, uniformed and powerful. They decent of the people and begin their attack, killing aggressive and innocent alike. Quick cuts with imagery of dead and dying civilians, bloodied by the attack, being stomped on my the soldiers as they plow through the crowd. We watch as a school teacher screams covered in blood and as a baby carriage is sent down the stairs with a baby crying hurdling towards its doom. The editing and emotion overlayed in this scene has everything to shock viewers of this film. This scene was edited down for the American release of the film for its graphic nature, but it is certainly powerful. This scene not just editing-wise was influential for the history of film, but also the use of a montage on a large staircase would be used in several films in history for its impact was seen as being so powerful. We can see versions of this very similar scene in films like Brazil, The Godfather, The Untouchables, and even Naked Gun 33 1/3. This manifests just how a good piece of art is impersonated because of its greatness. Whenever you watch a film with a great stair scene, you might need a second look for it may have been inspired by this scene, whether you know it or not.

Potemkin was not only influential for its filmmaking, but for its impact on the world in the 20th century politically. Firstly it was used to create sympathy for the Socialistic movement in the time between World War I and II. The film would run form a short time in countries outside of the Soviet Union, but would be edited and eventually band in countries, including Nazi Germany, Great Britain, and France. Despite its ban in Germany, Joseph Groebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister found this film inspiring for his own propaganda. Hitler was obviously inspired by the troops in the Odessa scene as being imposing and powerful made his own army seem just as imposing and act in a similar manner. Joseph Stalin, leader of Communist Russia, would eventually ban the film himself during WWII as to not inspire a rebellion under his dictatorial reign, proving that a film can be more powerful then a man.

The film has stood the test of time. It is hailed as one of the best films of all time, besides being one of the most influential. It was voted the greatest film of all time at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels. It has influences art and film alike since its released. Its editing has evolved the way people would watch films. It is rare to discover films with such an impact, and though it is a film promoting Socialism and actually inspired much evil in the world, it is still a film and a piece of art that must be respected as a true piece of inspirational history that will forever stand as a record of the world and art at that time period.

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