Dir: Sergei Eisenstein/ Silent/ B&W/ 1925 

In the first great international success of the new Soviet propaganda cinema, Eisenstein’s BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN starts with a truly dialectical food drama. The film’s opening section is called ‘Men and Maggots’ and it is the crew’s complaint that their meat is crawling with maggots – rejected by an officer, despite the close-up evidence – which sparks a mutiny.

To call BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN a visionary and technical landmark in the history of world cinema is overly redundant since nearly every analysis, conversation or review of the film refers to it as such. However, this respectful nod of awe is also appropriately necessary. Director Sergei Eisenstein’s flavourful symbolism, starkly gorgeous visuals and rousing passions are phenomenal accomplishments. Nearly every scene looks like a beautiful photographic masterpiece when separated from the action, and when viewed in motion is nothing short of a fluid, poetic gorgeousness.

Any film lover unfamiliar with the legendary “Odessa stairs” massacre is ignorant to the powerful potentials of the film medium. There are few, rare moments in film history comparable to the stark brutality of this sequence. (The Ford Theatre sequence in “Birth of a Nation” is the only equal to this.) The perfect symmetry of the soldiers declining the stairs and symbolically firing down upon the civilians is jarring in its effectiveness. The most widely praised moment of this sequence is a mother’s shooting which sends her child careening uncontrollably down the stairs in a stroller. The civilians who attempt to stop the carnage are mowed down under the fire of the advancing troops. 

Following the “Odessa stairs” sequence, the sailor-controlled Potemkin sails forward heroically to face an advancing fleet commissioned to sink the mutinous ship. While the final moments of the story may be drawn-out, the tension is undeniable. The film is famous for its political stance against an autonomous Russian government, its brilliant use of montage editing and symbolism, and preference towards group action to highlight the protesting nature of the film, as opposed to personal characterizations of the characters. However, these famous factors are only necessary when studying the mechanics of the filmmaking. “Battleship Potemkin” is a tired subject for familiar film students and knowledgable film critics, but for unfamiliar viewers, Sergei Eisenstein’s masterpiece is nothing short of fiery, shattering drama. 

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