Battleship Potemkin (1925)

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*. Roger Ebert: “The Battleship Potemkin has been so famous for so long that it is almost impossible to come to it with a fresh eye.” Or to say anything new about it. Ebert’s essay spends a lot of time talking about how the experience of seeing it with musical accompaniment by a modern rock band let him see something fresh in it. I’ve only ever seen it on a small screen.
*. Ebert also makes a point of saying that the film’s impact depends very much on its cultural context. It is, after all, a self-conscious propaganda film, promoting an out-of-date ideology. How much does that influence our response to it today? Do Lenin’s words appearing as an epigraph put you off? Note that as late as 1972 Sergio Leone’s Duck, You Sucker! had to lose its revolutionary epigraph from Mao Zedong.
*. Originally the movie had an introduction by the more quotable Trotsky, but this was removed at Stalin’s request.

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*. In my comments on Cabiria I remarked on how I thought spectacle was perhaps the defining characteristic of the new art of film. The usual textbook answer to what made film different than anything that had come before is editing. Fair enough, even if that wouldn’t be my answer. Advances in editing came later than spectacle, and I think the quick cutting from different points of view is something shared by modern painting and literature as well. I know this isn’t a fashionable position to take and that there are counterarguments, but anyway.
*. Cinema was growing up very fast in the 1920s, laying down new rules while advancing technically by leaps and bounds. But much of this movie remains fresh. The scene of the soldier breaking the plate I still find striking (it must have been electrifying in 1925!), and several of the faces remain unforgettable.

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*. I’m always impressed by the tracking shots on the Odessa steps. Indeed, the fact that the camera was smoothly following the action down the steps impressed me more the first time I saw the movie than the montage editing (as impressive as that is). Fifty years later the Steadicam would follow Rocky up the Philadelphia Art Museum’s flight of steps, marking another significant moment in film history (or at least technology, if there is a difference).
*. David Thomson: “in seeing cinema as a matter of so many angled compositions or ‘shock shots,’ he [Eisenstein] was locking himself into an editing style that was always cutting away and that would never appreciate real time or space.” A fair observation. But. Think of today’s rapid-fire, music-video editing. Does it appreciate real time or space? With the ubiquity of CGI and percussive montage has film gone down another “dead end”? One from which there is no backing out of? Something to ponder.

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