Precious Bodily Fluids

The Battleship Potemkin

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.

This entry was published on April 4, 2008 at 2:23 pm. It’s filed under 1920s Cinema, Russian/Soviet Film and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “The Battleship Potemkin

  1. Hi Zach! I found Ailsa’s blog through yours so I thought I’d better leave a comment. Great blog! I loved the Gilda review. By the way, did Mr. Hannula make your class watch Birth of a Nation? On a different note, I have an art history blog and I thought about you the other day when I did a post on Jimmy Page’s Pre-Raphaelite art collection.


  2. I was expecting to be underwhelmed by Battleship Potemkin, but I couldn’t help but be blown away – especially the staircase scene (I know, I know). It made me feel all giddy about film.

    Have you seen Dziga Vertov’s “Man With a Movie Camera”? I’m a bit infatuated with the Soviets right now.

  3. Zach on said:

    Margaret – well, hello there. No, Mr. H did not have us watch BOAN, or if he did, I didn’t watch it. That’s entirely possible. Fascinating regarding Jimmy Page. I’ll have to read your blog. You and everyone who drove with me in the old days still associates me with Led Zeppelin. Sigh.

    Ailsa – I’m with you. I have decided that we need to be more resentful. Namely, we need to be more resentful of the popular state of mind among cinema academics who find it unacceptable to be turned on by films. You’re right: Potemkin was amazing, and it giddified me, too. May that feeling never fade away! And no, I haven’t seen Djidoga Verotototv’s movie. I’m baby-steppin’ right now. Sigh.

  4. Djidoga Verotototv… now there’s true master, a pioneer.

  5. khaled Al-Quzahy on said:

    Really an inspiring way of analysis and skilfully done.

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