Have begun reading Sergei Eistenstein’s famous Film Form, and watching Potemkin was like watching theory put into practice in a way rarely done. There are theorists (or philosophers) and then there are people who like to make movies. Though there are, every so often, artistic filmmakers, there aren’t very often intellectual artists who make films. Watching this shortly after Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation served to illustrate just how diverse the film world was in its early days. Still, they have in common propaganda; and neither Griffith and his pragmatic spectacles nor Eisenstein and his emotional genius could have imagined that one day a man devoid of their gifts and imagination, and plagiarizing their methods would become their heir: Jerry Bruckheimer.
Potemkin begins with a montage sequence of crashing waves from every angle and view. The film continues this quintessentially Eisensteinian style throughout. (Has anyone coined the term “Eisenstyle”?) The shots shortly thereafter of the sailors sleeping below deck in hammocks mimics the first shots of the film. The camera is up high, down low, all over, and almost always short takes. Peter Jackson’s King Kong came to mind – a film that (I’m almost positive) didn’t have a single shot longer than 10 seconds.
Eisenstein also used close-ups for striking effects – such as the rotten meat covered in maggots. Even the meat seemed to be captured from every vantage point. His use of fade-ins (such as the hanged sailer and the frenzy on shore) still seem innovative and remarkable. Provocative use of perspective with cameras. There was intense drama building up to the execution scene (that never happened); a wide array of shots. The sailors were covered with the tarp and thereby de-personified. The hero’s cry, “Brothers, who [sic] are you shooting at?” effectively re-personifies the condemned men. In scenes of increased drama, Eisenstein enhances the action by shortening the shots. As an officer is thrown overboard, we are shown an image of the maggots on the meat, reminded of infestation and rotting, and of the ship doctor’s recommendation for the maggots: just rinse them off with brine (i.e. sea water).
There are other notes I have and thoughts about this film, but of course time still lacks. It was remarkable, moreso than I had been told. This one has held up well and has been forgotten (or never known) by all too many. The staircase scene (as cliched as it has become) is utterly incredible. I would hope that it would be shown to Montage 101 classes everywhere.