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The Battleship Potemkin

November 17, 2010

Bronenosets Potyomkin (The Battleship Potemkin)
Directed by Sergei Eisenstein
USSR, 1925
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
Second complete viewing

Synopsis:

Depiction of the mutiny that took place on the Russian Battleship Potemkin in 1905. The crew rebel against their Czarist officers, resulting in a massacre in the streets of Odessa.

Essential Scene:

All crew are on deck. Captain Golikov seeks to quell the argument that has been rumbling below deck for days, about the fact that the crew are forced to eat maggot-ridden meat. He asks that all who enjoyed the soup step forward, as an act of loyalty.

Only high ranking officers and a handful of sailors step forward. The rest of the crew stand stock still. The Captain threatens to hang the men who did not step forward. The sailors look up in fright and imagine bodies hanging, while senior officers look up at the same area and smile at the thought.

As the Captain calls for the armed marines, the sailors arrange to meet by the turret. Whispers move along the line and small crowds of men — strange, it’s a silent film but you can almost hear it.

The armed marines gather, and the crowd of men start to move towards the turret. Some hesitate and become a smaller crowd at the other end of the deck. They are told to stay where they are by a higher officer. The smaller crowd tries to join their shipmates; but by threatening to use violence, the senior officers manage to move them back.

The trapped men try to escape through the hatch.

Captain Golikov: Back! The hatch is not for the likes of you.

The Captain starts to push the men away himself.

Captain Golikov: I’ll shoot you down like dogs!

A senior officer orders that the trapped men are covered in tarpaulin, then orders the armed marines to stand to attention. The ship’s priest prays for the “unruly” and the marines aim their guns at the tarpaulin.

Various men under the tarpaulin drop to their knees. One man under the tarpaulin collapses completely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One sailor, Vakulinchuk, yells just as the command to fire is spoken —

Vakulinchuk: Brothers! Who are you shooting at?

The rifles waiver. The infuriated senior officer repeatedly yells at them to fire. The command is ignored by every armed man.

Mutiny has begun.

Thoughts:

Ok, I admit it. I cried during this — and I don’t cry easily when watching a film. Apart from Bambi, but I don’t talk about that…

I had seen the Odessa steps sequence numerous times before in various classes and it had inevitably struck a chord with me then. But there is something incredibly harrowing about seeing the film from beginning to end. Eisenstein’s use of editing and extreme close-ups leave an impression to say the least. The rebellion is brought down to a human level, tapping into our ability to feel for our fellow man at a time of crisis and uncertainty, and our ability to join together in an outpouring of grief and anger.

Which means that, as a propaganda film, The Battleship Potemkin has most certainly done its job. I’m not saying I’m going to join the Communist Party, but within those 70-odd minutes I followed the plight of the citizens and mutineers to the point of complete emotional involvement.

An absolute must-see. Politics or no politics, this is an example of emotive film at its best.

The Odessa steps sequence is so famous, we have decided to both discuss it in a dedicated section when Ally gets hold of a copy to review.

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