Battleship Potemkin

Battleship Potemkin, with it’s great work of montage editing, remains one of the most important films of world cinema. Directed by Sergei Eisenstein as a revolutionary propaganda, this silent Soviet film is an account of mutiny and revolt. Eisenstein experimented with film editing techniques that would provide the best emotional response.

Battleship Potemkin constitutes five different episodes. ‘Men and Maggots’, the first episode, starts with two sailors expressing their desire to participate in the Russian revolution as they face the tyranny of their officers. The rebellion of sailors aboard starts with them refusing to eat the rancid meat which they believed even the dogs wouldn’t eat.

The second episode ‘Drama on the deck’ shows the sailors on the deck when they are moments away from being executed. When the rebellion bird Vakelenchuk promptly yells “who are you shooting at?”, the sailors mutiny. However, Vakelenchuk dies after getting shot in this part. In the third episode, ‘A dead man calling for Justice’, Vakelenchuk is mourned as he lay dead in a tent at Odessa. His death starts an uprising amongst the people and they revolt against the authorities.

The fourth episode ‘The Odessa steps’ is a depiction of the incident of Black Monday. This episode starts with people supplying goods to the sailors for their journey but the whole scenario suddenly gets intensified as the imperial soldiers massacre the Odessans. This part also has an emotional and heart touching scene where a mother – with her injured son in her hands – struggles with guards to make them stop firing.

The last part, ‘One against all’, shows victory which is followed by tension among the sailors who are confused whether to shoot the other fleet or not. Eventually, everything gets resolved and the sailors cheer as they join each other.

Just like the content of the film, the techniques used in making the film are revolutionary as well. At the time when most of the other films let the action unfold in front of a fixed camera without any panoramic shots, Eisenstein used editing to master space and time. Insert shots, close-ups, establishing panoramas of the ship at sea – all are mixed and matched to clearly communicate the story. One can see the use of the Kuleshov effect in this film. The sound scheme in this movie goes on to intensify it. The music stops and starts with Renaissance among the sailors which gives more emphasis on Renaissance. The tone of the music changes with the victory of the sailors.

Battleship Potemkin had one of the greatest cinematography of the time and is hailed as a technical masterpiece by film critics. Every admirer of cinema should watch this film!

  • Kirtesh Goswami

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