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The Battleship Potemkin

Page history last edited by Air Dupaix 14 years, 7 months ago



The Battleship Potemkin is a silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein, which was released in 1925.  Potemkin documents the 1905 Russian Revolution, focusing specifically on the mutiny of the crew of the Battleship Potemkin against the Tsarists.  With the film, Eisenstein helped pioneer a style of filmmaking being cultivated in the Soviet Union at the time: "Soviet Montage".  The film is considered a masterpiece of composition and execution, and has become an important component of the cinematic canon. Speaking on the film, Helen Grace asserts, "it is still a pleasure to view again a film which, without fully knowing it, wrote the grammar of cinema" (







Conceived as a propaganda film, The Battleship Potemkin does not rely on narrative ambiguity to affect its viewer.  Instead, much of the film's visual and narrative force comes from Eisenstein's radical employment of editing technique.  More specifically, Eisenstein uses the spatial relationships of shots and images in the film to create a "dialectical tension", placing disparate images jarringly close to one another in order to fragment the cinematic reality. It is this relationship that forces the viewer to consider the ideological implications of the events on-screen.  His theoretical structure of montage propels the film as it illuminates the social unrest and conflict  of the Soviet uprising. The importance of scenic structuring (and its implications on the film as a whole) is outlined in his article "Film Form: Methods of Montage




The Odessa Steps Sequence



A famous example of Eisenstein's constructive technique at work is the scene of the civilian massacre at the hands of the Cossacks that takes place on the giant stairway that leads into the city of Odessa.  As Grace insightfully notes, "the power [of the sequence] is achieved by the principle of conflict in montage: the juxtaposition of images of innocence against the images of violence" (sensesofcinema).  In the scene, Eisenstein intercuts scenes of fleeing citizens with the ever-forward marching soldiers systematically firing on the crowd.  Quick, disorienting edits are used to communicate the chaotic urgency of the scene, conveying the emotional gravity of the images and situating the gaze of the viewer firmly and sympathetically on the defenseless victims.  Close-up shots of boot-heels and horrified expressions are intercut with the rhythmic progression of the attackers, revealing the efficacy of Eisenstein's attention to  individual shot composition, especially in the midst of his dialectical editing.  Huttunen's observation that Eisenstein's philosophy of montage operates as "a tool for politicial agitation" (4) seems particularly striking in this sequence.



Revolution and Context


Intended as a work of propaganda cinema, Eisenstein utilized his command of film technique to affect the perspective of his audience. Potemkin portrays the failed mutiny and revolutionary events of 1905 (which eventually contributed to the Bolshevik overthrow in 1917) as sympathetic, brave, and humanistic-or rather, as the inevitable result of the cruelty and inhumanity of the Tsarist regime. Eisenstein was able to "direct [the viewer] emotionally, intellectually, and ideologically", with the intention that the viewer "after experiencing the artwork...was no longer the same as before, but instead drew certain conclusions" (Huttenen 5). Helen Grace explains that, "the film was conceived as part of a cycle of myth-making films intended to tell the story of the Revolution" (sensesofcinema).  By evoking the nostalgia and rallying-quality of the revolution, the film tied the current government to the 'triumph of the proletariat', which was no doubt perceived as a desirable quality of the Eisenstein's work, as the Stalinist government labored to associate itself with the memory of Vladimir Lenin's Bolshevik revolution.  Its success as a political tool, as well as a work of revolutionary cinema, meant that it was received positively by those who saw it.  Unfortunately, the film did not succeed in reaching the Soviet masses, as Eisenstein had intended (although it did reach large exposure, and gain some notoriety, international circles) (Wikipedia).

Works Cited


“The Battleship Potemkin.” Wikipedia. 22 Sept. 2009


Grace, Helen. “Battleship Potemkin.” Senses of Cinema 2000. 22 Sept. 2009


Huttenen, Tomi. “Montage Culture”. University of Helsinki. 9 Jan. 2005. 23 Sept. 2009


Comments (2)

Sean Desilets said

at 9:20 am on Oct 13, 2009

Possible refinements:
* Link to page on Eisenstein's essay, and references to it
* Smaller bits of film with interpretive work on particular cuts
* Though we argued against plot synopsis, one of the most interesting things about this film is its amazing narrative compression. That might be worth considering
* Could do a little comparative work with _Birth of a Nation_ or _Metropolis_
* Link to ideology page?

Sean Desilets said

at 11:16 am on Sep 24, 2009

• Excellent use of sources
• Maybe something about the historical moment—not so much the events in the film but the film itself
• Would be interesting to look at one or two particular cuts and to talk about how they operate

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