Thursday, September 20, 2007

Forerunning Revolution

“The Battleship Potemkin” movie poster
Stenberg V. A., Stenberg G. A., 1929

The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe.
You have to make it fall.

Che Guevara

The Battleship Potemkin is a silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein and produced by a Russian film-studio Mosfilm in 1925. Potemkin has been called one of the most influential films of all time, and it was even named the greatest film of all time at the World's Fair at Brussels, Belgium, in 1958.

The film presents the Battleship Potemkin uprising, a real-life event that occurred in 1905 when the crew of a Russian battleship rebelled against their oppressive officers during the reign of Tsar Nikolas II. The uprising was caused by the harsh discipline in the Imperial Navy and the low morale due to the defeat in the Russo-Japanese War. The revolt was sparkled after the sailors were given rotten meat with maggots as their ration. The instigators were caught and sentenced to death. During the execution the ship was taken under control of the sailors and the officers were thrown overboard (as seen on the poster). Then Potemkin headed for Odessa where a general strike had been called. The demonstrations involved lots of clashes between civilians and troops throughout the city with plenty of causalities. After visiting Odessa Potemkin encountered a joint squadron sent for its interception. However the ships did not engage in the battle when Potemkin refusing to give up sailed right through the centre of the squadron. The crossed and lowered cannons on the poster depict the sailor’s deviation to fire at their brothers in arms. One of the squadron’s battleships - Georgiy Pobedonosets — even joined Potemkin in his rebellious quest. This is where the film ends. Later Georgiy Pobedonosets surrendered to the authorities and the Potemkin sailed to Romania where the crew went ashore as the supplies and fuel was all used up. After a while the Romanian government returned the ship to Russia.

The film was created to commemorate the 20 year’s anniversary of the first Russian Revolution of 1905. In Russia the film received mixed success however becoming a hit worldwide both among the general audience who was impressed by the violence level of the movie, and among the professionals of the cinema. The film was soaking with new ideas and techniques proving the revolutionary theories of Sergei Eisenstein. Take the last shots – the black and white panorama of the sailing Potemkin has the soviet flag, which was painted bright red by the film director himself. In the time of black and white silent cinema this was mind-blowing.

And indeed the film shook the cinema industry. Quotes from Battleship Potemkin are present in German cinema classic Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, The Godfather, The Untouchables, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult by Abraham brothers and numerous other movies.