You might have thought that watching a silent film in this day and age requires a certain tolerance. The ability to be able to ignore the shortcomings of the era and to have to put yourself in the shoes of the desired demographic to truly enjoy it. Brilliant movies are timeless, I realised this during my viewing of “Metropolis”, a 1927 silent directed by Fritz Lang. That film has a run time of 153 minutes depending on the version you watch and it doesn’t drag that masterpiece down to the depths of such over bloated productions like “Pearl Harbor” for example. “Battleship Potemkin”, like “Metropolis”, is a timeless film and it’s accomplishments are made all the more impressive by the snack like run time of 66 minutes.
Sergei M. Eisenstein directed “Battleship Potemkin” with the clear intention of having it as a propoganda film. It follows the events that took place in 1905, whereupon the battleship Potemkin’s sailors were being fed maggot infested meat which they refused to eat. Their rebellious nature resulted in a number of them being put to the firing squad, but after rifles are lowered, a rebellion breaks out on the ship and leads to the start of the infamous Bolshevik revolution. I’m not up to date on my history so I’m at a loss to honestly inform you how historically accurate these events are. What I do know is that a film shouldn’t be judged on it’s historical accuracy or loyalty to it’s respective source material. That said, the events that take place in “Battleship Potemkin” are believable and awe inspiring.
I found myself amazed quite often at what Eisenstein accomplished despite the restrictions of his time. Title cards are used to display dialogue as is to be expected, but what surprised me was the use of subtitles over scenes instead of cutting away to a title card during some scenes. Also worth noting that really caught me off guard was the film’s use of colour. Don’t get me wrong, the film is still “black and white” but when the red flag is raised on the Potemkin as the revolution begins to pick up steam, we get to see the scarlet red that radiates out from the surroundings void of colour. It’s a spectacular and innovative metaphor that just shows Eisenstein’s pure scope and vision that he has funneled into this film. I can’t stress how important the film is in terms of cinematic history, all I can say is that even if you have a fleeting interest it is a must see.
Needless to say the cinematography is incredible. It’s a treat to watch endless Russian civilians lining up to support the sailors of the Potemkin on their mission against the Tsar. The camera effortlessly conveys the sheer scale as a result of the huge number of Russians that are lining up in their allegiance. Too many in fact to fit on the walkways, they literally pour in from all directions, its just truly epic. When the scene pans out to reveal the enormous backlog of civilians lined up along the path and just keeps going, and going, and going. That’s when you know that these events as portrayed here are hugely significant to the people of Russia and that what has happened will never be forgotten. The famous steps of Odessa scene is really something to behold and I refuse to spoil what takes place here, it’s something that needs to be experienced first hand and would be a crime to convey to you with my hugely inadequate writing.
“Battleship Potemkin” is an epic contained within an hour. The more I think about it the more I find I love within it’s remarkable ambition and execution. It’s a valuable part of history that should be cherished and something I believe everyone should experience.