Battleship Potemkin (1925): The Russian Revolution Idealized

Battleship Potemkin

 

“The Battleship Potemkin” is a silent propaganda film about the Russian Revolution against the Tsar. It is based around the events of the mutiny that occurred in 1905 on the ship but is turned into a metaphor to represent the underclass versus the privileged class of the revolution. It is great? I don’t think so, but it isn’t bad either. I’ll explain what I mean when we get down into the assessment.

The film was directed by S.M. Eisenstein, written by N.F. Agadzhanova-Shutko, Sergei Einstein, Nikolai Aseyev and Sergei Tretyakov and produced by Jacob Bliokh.

The premise is the people are angry about the corrupt Tsarist regime and the sailors on the Potemkin are feeling the same way. After the Admiral’s doctor says the meat does not have worms in it (when it clearly does) it sparks a mutiny which sets things in motion against the Tsar and his regime.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The music for “The Battleship Potemkin” is stunning. It is classical and is good at capturing the emotions behind certain events, such as the Massacre at Odessa or the mourning of the rebel leader Vakulinchuk. It was the music that kept me watching more than anything else. Edmund Meisel and Vladimir Heifetz did a wonderful job.

Cinematography – The cinematography is really good, especially for the time period. The Massacre at Odessa is shot using a long shot and truly captures the loss of life and the tragedy of the event.

Massacre at Odessa – In Odessa the Tsar arrives with his troops and begins slaughtering the people, who at this time have killed some of the Jews (the fact that the film doesn’t show this as wrong is a major point against it, screw Anti-Semitism). Ending with a mother holding her child that was slaughtered by the troops who is slaughtered in turn. The old women begging for the fighting to stop are also slaughtered by the troops leading the Battleship Potemkin to fire on the palace.

One Against All – This is a great scene. In a silent film without any color, the flag on the ship still shows itself red symbolizing the struggle and cost to be free. There is a showdown between the Potemkin and the Tsars fleet but due to the sailors on the other vessels the ships change sides ending the standoff (which has great building tension) with victory.

The Message – If those without power stand together, you will be victorious. There will also be much sacrifice for it to happen in the first place, but one person’s sacrifice can lead thousands to action (the death of the Revolutionary). These were the major themes which capture the idea of revolution and we how we as a society idealize it, really well.

Okay: The Mutiny – The mutiny is chaotic and there is some setup at least. From the Doctor saying the wormy meat is good to eat, from the Admiral calling for those who did not eat the meat to be killed and of course the fight itself. The problem is we don’t really know any of the characters. Everyone is ideas, which in my opinion doesn’t make good propaganda. Shouldn’t I care about the characters? If I don’t know them as people it is kind of hard too. I see their struggles but I have no idea what they care about since what they want in regards to revolution is always defined in the most general and vague sense. Still good action keeps it from being a con, but the events on the ship are some of the weakest parts.

The Cons: Mourning the Martyr – This scene dragged on for a really long time and I had no idea why so many random people cared about him. We never saw him interact with them so there was no reason for it. He had a nice mustache I guess? When the mutiny occurred on the ship there were a few people doing action. It never appeared that he was all that in charge. Which maybe is a point too, you become greater than your role as people turn you into more than you were…the Science of Martyrdom.

Anti-Semitism – One of the first things that happens is the villagers turn on the Jews. This is hateful, makes no sense and the one Jewish character we see is presented as a suited, arrogant businessman. What the hell? If this scene had been presented as the mob being imperfect and the act being wrong (hell even a sign of things to come with the Revolution’s success) it’d have a point beyond just anti-semitism…but it doesn’t and it really hurts the film. It’s like black-face in the old Hollywood films. Sometimes peoples hatred and ignorance is just disgusting.

This is very clearly a propaganda film, which hurts the quality of the film since the characters are just ideas and not people, the anti-semitism really brings the film down since it shows from the beginning how stupid the mob and can be and since this is propaganda, the mob is in the right…and no matter how good the soundtrack, Massacre at Odessa and and cinematography are, it is not enough to save this film.

Final Score: 6 / 10. It’s a piece of history with some good visuals and music, but not much else beyond the idea of what Revolution is, not the reality.

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