← Back to Reviews

Battleship Potemkin

Battleship Potemkin

We've discussed substandard wizardry in Underground, now let's discuss the other end of the spectrum. While the medium of film has no shortage of quality wizards, the one I'd point to as definitive is Sergei Eisenstein. If Kusturica is a gypsy wizard, with dreamcatchers and tarot cards, then Eisenstein is the kind of wizard that lives in an ivory tower and works obsessively on perfecting his craft. His most famous creation, Battleship Potemkin, is the perfect product of that personality. That is to say, it's a tech demo, but one that boasts tech that'll make you **** your pants.

You already know what I'm referring to: its montaging techniques. That's what it's famous for, in fact, it's what launched Russia (soviet union, whatever) into the spotlight of world cinema. For a tech demo to single-handedly earn a country the same reputation as Japan or Italy, it'd have to be nothing short of earth-shattering, and that's exactly what it is. Take a look at some pre-Potemkin films - Nosferatu, Sherlock Jr., Birth of a Nation - all great films in their own right, but whatever implicit message they wanted to convey was done in the same way you'd do in a book or a play. Potemkin communicated in a new way - through what I can best describe as complementing images. For example, everyone knows the Odessa steps sequence, in which the people face off against the military: there it contrasts the images of the ascending crowd running about and the descending army mowing them down at a mechanical rhythm. It's a show of oppression by the enemy, but it's more eloquent than anything cinema has ever had up to that point. I can't even begin to imagine what a big deal this was at its release. It must've been like working a hundred kilometres from home, and one day accidentally discovering you own a car.
True, it was intended as propaganda, but the same techniques would later become essential tools for great directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Vatroslav Mimica, so I'm not gonna complain.

Mind you, Potemkin has more to offer than just the Odessa steps sequence. That kind of technique is present in the whole film, and even besides that, it would've never been remembered this well if it wasn't for the amazing cinematography. Montage aside, all the individual images look amazing. Noone can deny Eisenstein was a visual genius, and his style fits this kind of film like a glove. The world is in constant motion. Something is always askew, or tumbling down, or flailing wildly. You don't get a moment of peace up until the end. I usually watch films slumped in my couch, but if it's by Eisenstein, I'll watch it sitting up like a jumpy merkat. It just has that effect on you. Of course, you can't not bring up the amazing score accompanying the visual chaos.

Battleship Potemkin is usually considered the best Russian film of all time, and I heavily disagree with that. Most important one, absolutely, but not the best. Good art, to me, comes from a mix of good technique and strong personality. As amazing as Potemkin's technique is, it still has the soul of a tech demo, and thus can't be as memorable as Come and See, The Return, or Stalker. I'm a neckbeard zoomer who considers Russians to be the most talented people on Earth, so I don't take the title of ''best russian film'' lightly, but I still respect Battleship Potemkin as I should. Because of that weird dynamic I have with it, I'm gonna do something I've never done before - not give it any rating. A 9 feels disrespectful, a 10 feels insincere. I'm gonna recommend you see it, more as a matter of literacy than pleasure, but that doesn't mean you won't enjoy it.

Edit: apparently it needs a rating to be approved. Here's a
based purely on subjective enjoyment