The Battleship Potemkin is a Soviet silent film made in 1925 illustrating the mutiny of 1905 from the battleship of the same name, when the crew rebelled against Tsarist officers. Set through five episodes, it is literally a communist propaganda film. Nonetheless, it is one of the most well received and influential films of all time. The film was directed by Sergei Eisenstein, who used a myriad of revolutionary visual techniques, which have since then gone on to influence nearly every film that came afterwards. As even Joseph Goebbels himself ironically stated, the film is so powerful, it could make anybody a Bolshevik after watching. It is presented in a sophisticated, detailed manner, with a wonderful orchestral soundtrack and all.
Although black and white, the visuals are one of the main highlights in the film. I feel as though this is one of the few films that could be filmed in simple colors, typical Hollywood tints, or anything else, and still manage to look great and convey its point accurately. There are powerful images of rotten meat the members of the Potemkin must eat, vicious looking officers, a priest with wild hair, and so forth. Aside from the techniques such as montage that were used in the film, you can easily see how some visuals were influential for future films. A pair of glasses dangling, a man thrown overboard and then flashing to an image of a life preserver left unattended, and so on and so forth. I won’t spoil it much, but let’s just say the visuals are amazing.
The most striking visuals are the Odessa steps scene, as some of you may have already guessed. In its historical context, this was pretty wild. Basically, civilians were being massacred by Tsarist forces from atop a massive set of stairs. It was filmed in vivid detail, and only a heartless philistine could possibly be unsympathetic towards the hordes of people being brutally killed by the upper class. The usage of shadows, close ups, all of it is wonderfully done. Scenes like this are overflowing with rich symbolism as well.
One of the visual aspects that I feel is overlooked is in regards to the people themselves. Sure, the detail in figures like the deranged looking priest and the barking officers are more obvious, but if you notice carefully, Eisenstein seemed to have put an emphasis on the masculine beauty and inherent ruggedness of the sailors, the fragility of the elderly, and so forth. It all works very nicely, except, perhaps the lower class people like the sailors should have been more weak looking, in order to truly go with the themes of poor living conditions.
Overall, this is without a doubt a magnum opus. I’ve put off watching it for too long, and so I must say, anyone interested in films simply has to watch this film. As a Marxist, perhaps I am a little too enthusiastic about this film as it does an amazing job at illustrating revolutionary spirit. But then again, most people I have seen are just as enthusiastic, if not more than I, Marxist or not.