Battleship Potemkin Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ October 6, 2010
Propaganda films have ranged in variety over the past hundred years or so, but the best ones oftentimes remain classic not just because of their subject, but the way they are filmed, what they change about the state of cinema, and what they intend to change in their viewer's mindset. After seeing "Triumph of the Will," I had thought I had seen the masterwork in the genre of propaganda films, but this treasure is beyond what is commonly referred to as propaganda. Taken from a true account of a ship mutiny in 1905, Sergei Eisenstein changed the way films were made, especially because he was one of the first to use montages. These five sequences, spliced together to create a narrative about the Bolshevik Revolution to come, made for emotional turmoil on the part of the viewer. Yes, there are some overtly political elements and definitely enraging sequences, but this film does not shrink from reality. The story goes that these shipmates were being fed rotten meat infested with maggots, that citizens are murdered, bloody in the streets, and that these men, fueled by the good tide of Communism, rose to the challenge of overthrowing their oppressors. It's definitely a film that leans to the goodwill of the Russian government, but there is also some shocking imagery and poetic visuals that will astound you. It's simply awe inspiring how some of the more violent and cruel deaths of these citizens are actually shown even though the times were ridden with censorship. An old woman is shot through the eye, and her blood runs down her chin while her glasses sit broken on her face! The visual alone will haunt your dreams, but that's not the worst death to accompany this film. There's also truth to this violence, and so it becomes even stranger to watch the film, knowing it's more than a propaganda film, but one made to encroach sympathy and anger for the ills of old. Breathtaking for its simplicity and yet irrevocably strong, it definitely stands the test of time.
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
October 20, 2011
When assessing any classic film, one has a duty to point out any flaws or shortcomings even while accepting whatever historical significance the film holds. While it's pointless to criticise an old film without knowledge of its artistic, social and technological context (in other words, what could and couldn't be done at the time), it's every bit as asinine to go all rose-tinted and claim that someone has great worth purely because of its age.

We might admire silent films as a genre, but that does not mean that every silent film is up to the standard of The General. We might acknowledge the contribution that The Birth of a Nation made to the art of editing, but that does not excuse its inherent racism. Likewise, it is possible to admire Battleship Potemkin for its advances in the art of montage and for its spectacular set-pieces. But admiration of either aspect is not enough to excuse its overwrought tone, poor storytelling and its abject failure as a piece of propaganda.

Battleship Potemkin could be called the high point of Sergei Eisenstein's first career. Prior to falling out with Joseph Stalin in the late-1920s, the eccentric Soviet filmmaker had won the favour of the Communist Party with his first feature Strike, an episodic recreation of a 1903 strike at a Russian factory. As part of his theory of montage, Eisenstein intercut scenes of factory workers being suppressed with footage of cattle being slaughtered, using unrelated images to generate an emotional response. The film impressed Stalin and Eisenstein was commissioned by the Party to make Battleship Potemkin as a follow-up.

Both Strike and Battleship Potemkin use a past event in pre-Soviet Russia to illuminate the class struggle of the present. Bolshevism, and the Marxism upon which it was based, rested on the principle that history is based upon struggles between the workers and the bourgeoisie, with the former eventually leading a revolution to overthrow the latter and create a society based upon equality and communal ownership (a rank generalisation, but for these purposes it will suffice). By invoking examples of revolts or struggles which occurred before the Bolsheviks swept to power, Eisenstein would instil in people the idea that they were part of a greater struggle, and that liberty was now within their grasp.

There is no denying that Battleship Potemkin deserves credit and admiration on a technical level. While the age and variable quality of surviving prints makes it difficult to judge Eisenstein's visuals, the use of montage has never been replicated to quite the same effect in any other film. We tend to think of montage as an editing technique to denote the passage of time - cutting together scenes of, say, a couple together in various poses or locations to show how long they have been together.

Eisenstein's montage, on the other hand, is driven by emotional response: shots of people are intercut in such a way as to provoke a reaction from the crowd. One example of this comes early on, when the crew are arguing about being served maggot-ridden meat. Eisenstein intercuts gruesome shots of the meat with the sailors' faces, to reinforce their degraded state. While the direct practice of Russian montage has been virtually non-existent since the 1950s, Eisenstein's work represents a huge step forward in the language of editing: his use of cutting to convey emotion is as radical as D. W. Griffith's use of panning shots to show battles on a huge scale in The Birth of a Nation.

There are also several moments in Battleship Potemkin which are exciting, or at least impressive. The Odessa Steps sequence, depicting a bloody but completely fictitious massacre, has entered the canon of all-time great scenes, and remains without question the best part of the film. The shot of the pram running down the eponymous steps was famously parodied in The Untouchables, which was itself parodied in the third Naked Gun film seven years later. But the scene is also memorable for its shocking moments, from the sight of a young boy being shot to the silent scream of a woman with shattered spectacles, an image which Francis Bacon used as the basis for several of his paintings.

So far, then, Battleship Potemkin would seem to be as much of a classic as it has been revered to be. But once we get beyond admiring its technical achievements, or experiencing brief shock at the violent moments, or gaining some small understanding of the context in which it was made, what we are left with is a lot more underwhelming and poorly constructed than its reputation would lead us to believe. Its flaws are not enough to completely turn our hearts, but all the admiration in the world can't make up for them.

For starters, the film is thinly written and poorly paced. Silent films relied primarily on physical expression to tell their stories and flesh out characters, since having actors mouth long speeches intercut with lengthy inter-titles would not be dramatically engaging. By using exaggerated movement and meticulous facial expression, the likes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin were able to convey in a second what the talkies would need a whole minute to say. This gave silent films an in-built modesty and efficiency, so that when they did run longer than an hour (or two, as Metropolis did), they usually earned the right to do so.

Even at 74 minutes, Battleship Potemkin is about three times longer than it needs to be to serve such a simple story. Eisenstein's use of montage may generate a certain amount of emotion, but it has the side effect of dragging out the action long after the point has been made, and made, and made again. Compared to later propaganda works like Triumph of the Will, the point the film makes about class unity and power is insultingly simple, even to an audience who were potentially illiterate and therefore couldn't read inter-titles.

While Eisenstein may have the subtlety of a hammer, he lacks the sharp edge of a sickle. There's no point trying to assess Battleship Potemkin in terms of characters, because the point of Soviet propaganda was to instil collective identity and prioritise class unity over the satisfaction of individual wants and needs. Complaining that there is no discernible protagonist, or that the only charismatic character is killed off after 20 minutes, is nothing more than a reflection of our own film discourse; we expect things to be a certain way because we have been taught that that is the only way.

Even if we accept this, however, the film is massively overwrought and narratively fanciful. Because this is a propaganda film, it's a waste of time trying to separate fact from fiction, because everything has been dressed up both in the language of Eisenstein's editing and the political views it takes. But even with that level of acceptance, it is frankly ridiculous to believe that the whole fleet would refuse to fire on the Potemkin having been impressed by their bravery. Not only is it a huge anti-climax, it's so out of the blue and illogical that it threatens to undo whatever hard work Eisenstein had done up to that point.

Worst of all, Battleship Potemkin fails because it does not cut the mustard as propaganda: it does not do what is says on the tin. Just as all good comedies should make you laugh, and all good horror movies should scare you, so a properly made propaganda film should draw you into the story or ideas so that you are convinced by them, even if only for the moment when the film is playing.

Propaganda films are the exception to the rule that you cannot judge a film by its box office. Triumph of the Will worked because it appealed to ordinary men and women, many of whom didn't vote for the Nazis in the first place: it was a hit because, to quote Leni Riefenstahl, it "impressed an audience which was not necessarily interested in politics". Battleship Potemkin, which had all the distribution you could ask for, failed to become a popular hit. This is not because punters in the 1920s were stupid: it is because the film preaches to the converted. The Party's message had become so saturated in popular art and culture that there was no need for anyone in the Soviet Union to see it.

Time has not been kind to Battleship Potemkin. Certainly the decision of the Brussels World's Fair to name it the greatest film ever in 1958 looks every bit as foolish as the Academy's decision to give the Best Film Oscar to How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane. Its innovations in editing and structure still stand, and as an historical artefact it retains some degree of importance. But otherwise there is precious little to celebrate about it, falling short on an emotional level of both Griffith and Riefenstahl.
Super Reviewer
October 5, 2010
Well, it kicks the shit out of Birth of a Nation, at least.
Super Reviewer
October 6, 2010
Eisentsein's "Battleship Potemkin" is an undeniable game changer for film and he ushered in a whole new way of perceiving editing theory, but as for the story?... well, it's extremely overwrought, melodramatic and nonsensical, well too me at least. Just because it features fine examples of the birth of a vision, editing and scoring does not mean what were watching is good. Sure, it's a very influential picture, but as far an enjoyment goes, it's batting zero.
Super Reviewer
½ September 3, 2010
Great movie, but somewhat boring. I didn't get to watch the entire movie yet, though. I plan on watching it again.
Mr Awesome
Super Reviewer
½ July 19, 2010
Comically exaggerated versions of good and evil are paraded before the ignorant masses in order to inspire a great emotional response... No it's not the World Wrestling Federation, it's 1925's Battleship Potemkin, a piece of early Soviet propaganda from director Sergei M. Eisenstein, who makes great and, pardon the pun, revolutionary use of the montage. The storyline is simple: some sailors, tired of being served rancid meat, revolt and take over their ship. One of the men is killed by the officers, and when his body is taken back to shore, a giant impromtu memorial is created by the citizens of the town. The czar's army is sent in to squash the memorial/revolt, and several women and children are killed. Although it's supposed to be a historical drama, most of this story never took place, and was embellished in order to generate a bigger, more passionate response from the audience. The film was so powerful in it's time however, that it came to be viewed almost as a documentary. Hitler's propagandist called this one of the greatest films ever, and it shows the proper way in which to shape movie-goers opinions using the most suggestive images. I found it to be on the trite side, and when it goes for the gut, it's clumsy and obvious. The much lauded stairway sequence is amazing though, and it truly inspires horror with it's graphic depictions of violence. But one great five or ten minute scene does not a great film make. I can overlook outrageously over the top silent film performances if they don't get in the way of the story (Birth of a Nation is one example of great filmmaking overcoming distasteful subject matter and performance), but Battleship Potemkin didn't engage me with it's one-dimensional story.
Super Reviewer
January 20, 2008
It took me many years to finally get to see this, and when I did it wasn't what I expected, and so I was a smidge disappointed. Now, having seen it again, I can appreciate it much more. It would definitely help if I knew more about Russian history -- and I'm 1/4 Russian...go figure.

Anyway, much of the attention to this film goes to the massacre scenes on the Odessa steps. While I won't deny the power of that sequence, that's not what moved me. The rebellion scenes on the ship -- the poor living conditions, the cruelty of the leadership, the maggots in the meat -- that's what I remember. But most of all are the scenes on the docks where the dead sailor is lying in state inside the tent. The cinematography of those scenes is mesmerizing. I had remembered that from my first viewing, and the scenes were even more beautiful the second time around.

My admittedly lean experience wih Russian films -- including Solaris and Ballad of a Solider -- has so far been positive. I look forward to more.
Super Reviewer
September 30, 2009
There are three people who created cinema in my mind and Eisenstein is one of them. This is a classic story of revolution that has been copied many times but never really bettered. A must for all lovers of the movies, every frame of this film could be hung in a gallery as a work of art in its own right!
Super Reviewer
January 29, 2007
85 years later and battleship potemkin is still considered by most to be one of the greatest war films of all time. criticized often because of its manipulative appraoch, people often forget that this was eisenstein's purpose. the film was sort of an experiment to see how well a film could pull at the emotions of an audience, and for this film it works. the odessa stairway scene is still to this day one of the most shocking and tragic scenes in the history of film and its images are easily cemented on the brain. a true classic.
Super Reviewer
½ January 24, 2009
One of the earliest and most innovative peices of cinema, especially in the technique department. This is a pretty cool and really interesting film that is a must check out for all true die hard film enthusiasts/fanatics.
Super Reviewer
½ December 5, 2008
The Odessa Steps sequence really suprised me, being so graphic. It upset me a little bit. Overall the film was okay for entertainment value, but outstanding when you deal with it technically.
Super Reviewer
April 29, 2008
a stirring piece of propaganda and a must see for serious film fans for it's innovative technique
Super Reviewer
August 13, 2007
The birth of the cinematic montage, more than just a propaganda film. A basic, poignant, groundbreaking masterpiece.
Super Reviewer
½ June 15, 2007
Based on the historical events the movie tells the story of a riot at the battleship Potemkin. What started as a protest strike when the crew was given rotten meat for dinner ended in a riot. The sailors raised the red flag and tried to ignite the revolution in their home port Odessa.

When I was told about Battleship Potempkin I thought I was going to watch an oustanding piece of cinema. Hmmmm.... I got that and I didn't.

Technically this film is faultless, some oustanding editiing, camera angles and some brilliant cinematography. There are also some interesting close-ups, which depict the emotions of the character well. However I just couldn't figure out the story or why what was happening was happening. The baby carriage scene was a worthwile watch, as the anguish of the characters sorudning the scene was displayed well and you really felt emotional during that. After that I couldn't really tell you what went on.

Worth the watch to see some brilliant editiing and cinematography and a film which is considered a cinematic masterpiece. Just don't dwel too much on what I've said. I'll probably need to watch it again
Super Reviewer
½ December 10, 2011
The cinematography and action scenes are quite sophisticated for its time.
Super Reviewer
½ February 10, 2012
Now I see where Brian De Palma got his idea for The Untouchables. This was a masterpiece. It was beautifully directed, produced, and written. The Odessa Steps sequence is with out a doubt the best scene in film history. It was so dramatic and entertaining. It was emotional that engaging. I also couldn't believe how much propaganda they had back then. I had a bit of trouble with keeping up. The scenes came so fast and it was silent so it is a very difficult film to keep up with. But if your patient then the experience can be rewarding. The editing is also really good considering that this was made during the 20's. Back when they used film reels they had to actually cut the film and paste them to get the scenes they want. Considering that there is so many cut scenes imagine all the work they had to do. And I'm here struggling writing this review. This film is for those that are into good old classic cinema.
Super Reviewer
January 4, 2012
From a theatrical history point of view, the Battleship Potemkin is required viewing as it pushes the bar of what a silent film can deliver. However, from an entertainment point of view, Potemkin is creaky and suffers from a depreciation in quality of the film. Soviet propaganda experts will no doubt enjoy this film.
Super Reviewer
June 12, 2011
Battleship Potemkin (1925) is a silent film that is often considered one of the most influential propaganda films as well as one of the greatest films of all time. The film is a Russian revolutionary propaganda film and involves sailors, who are treated subhuman, causing them to mutiny and stand up to their inhumane circumstances. The crew must endure many hardships in their struggle for fair treatment and go on to inspire countless others to stand up to the oppressive ways of the ruling government. The film's Director, Sergei Eisenstein, used the film as an experiment in his theories of montage and it is used in several different ways throughout the films five segments. While Eisenstein certainly isn't the only Director to use montage in his films, the emotional impact felt from these sequences are truly timeless and hugely influential. I have seen many propaganda films in my lifetime but Battleship Potemkin remains with me as such a powerful and inspiring piece of the genre in its strong and powerful message.
Much of the flow and feel of the film is reminiscence of the propaganda genre but the original use of montage is on display in the film and while elaborated on in later films, is the most pivotal in Battleship Potemkin. At times the film may come off to some as preachy or very direct but in terms of propaganda films it gets the message across with set pieces that are edited together using montage to great effect, both visually and emotionally. As a propaganda film it uses the plea to basic human rights and liberties to show the audience its message in a very real way. At the core of every propaganda film is a desire to express a message and to portray it in such a way as to inspire those that stand for the cause and convince or plea to the hearts of those that don't yet. The emotional pull touches each and every viewer with its depiction of innocence and fairness being taken away from the citizens and even military personnel. The film does a very good job of balancing the message of the film with just letting the events play out and the viewer making a decision on the matter themselves. Battleship Potemkin is one of the greatest films and remains such nearly ninety years later due to its wonderful balance and dramatic use of montage by the films gifted Director. To truly appreciate it's brilliance you have to view the film and make your own analysis of the message and the film lets you do this without prompting you with bias agendas.
What an amazing feat for cinema in 1925 and is still today considered an essential piece of film history. Truly shocking and graphic for the day, the film is filled with tense and gripping imagery and a score that follows closely to really build the tension. The red flag, which was hand colored onto the original negative was an amazing symbolic image that really added something special to the film and it's message! Highly Recommended if you are into film and want to know one of the most influential and loved films of all time!
Super Reviewer
½ October 18, 2012
Battleship Potemkin had without a doubt the greatest cinematography of its time, and for decades to come. The Odessa steps scene was so beautiful and artistic it truly felt like a piece of art. I hope to explore more Eisenstien in the future. This is a Soviet and a world classic, with limited propaganda. Short and always to the point. Magnificent film
Super Reviewer
½ May 26, 2011
Slow-moving, repetitive, over-dramatic, tub-thumping and dull. Its official, I'm a film heathen. Watching Battleship Potemkin reminded me of reading Marxist polemics at uni... sincere, but dry dry dry. That's my excuse.
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