Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Starring: Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barsky
Directed By: Sergei Eisenstein (October; Strike)
Overview: This Russian Revolutionary Classic tells the tale of a mutiny on a Battleship and the subsequent aftermath of the uprising.
Acting: As in Strike, Sergei Eisenstein has no one man as the hero, rather choosing to tell the tragedy and heroism of a people. Focus on the everyman in chains as a theme works rather well, as it must in a tale of revolution and stressed loyalties, but the cast, especially the ship's crew, seemed forced in their acting, a little contrived.
Cinematography: One thing that Sergei is good at is montage. The care he takes in setting up a scene is meticulous. 'The Odessa Staircase', the most classic scene from the film, takes painstaking care to ensure that the full effect of the tragedy is understood through his images. This is what silent film is about: visuals. Directors these days would do well to learn a lesson from this one.
Script: "Those aren't worms, they're maggots. Just wash out the meat with brine." - Ship's doctor responding to sailors complaining about the rotten food.
The intertitles in this film are more narrative than dialogue, which is an affliction I've always had issues with in early silent cinema. It works on occasion, but to have it fed to us constantly takes away from the natural pace and timing that we see in the flawless siege and staircase scenes.
Plot: Eisenstein admittedly separates the sides all too clearly. The officers and the tsarist guards are vicious and resolute, unwavering in their contempt for their lessers. Would one sympathetic officer have lessened the story? Not for me, but this way the force of Revolution was the character, rather than any interpersonal stories that could have diluted it. From the initial mutiny to the staircase to the exciting climax, the story is good, though a little slow at times.
Mood: Ignoring the humanity and reducing the players to archetypes works fine once you get used to it, it was the same in Strike. The musical accompaniment is certainly a worthy addition. I can't say that I was into the film as much as I wanted to be, primarily due to the acting, but if you're into Russian Revolutionary history, this has to go on your list, not only for additional context, but Battleship Potemkin has, itself, become a part of history, a yardstick of the new state. That historical context actually adds to this, making it important film.
Overall Rating: 76% (This Film's Got Guns)
Aftertaste: Clearly a communist director full of national pride, Sergei Eisenstein made a much better movie in Battleship Potemkin than in Strike. This was made in the same year, though there is more focus in the actual events of Potemkin rather than in the telling and its artistic merit, as Strike focused on. I suppose in hindsight, Strike was worse for me because of all the expressionist penchants that Eisenstein had while making it. Melodrama was Potemkin's strength, and was used to enhance our feeling of the tragedies and hopes, whereas Strike used farcical comic representations of spies and fat cats, made more archetypal on purpose, making it seem more cartoonish, less serious, as though telling a fable, though it was a very sobering subject.
I'm certainly looking forward to October.