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Sergei Eisenstein vol.1

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Russia In Revolt
September 2007 SITE MAP   SEARCH

Battleship Potemkin
cast: Alexander Antonov, Vladimir Barsky, Grigori Alexandrov, and Mikhail Gomorov

director: Sergei Eisenstein

73 minutes (PG) 1925
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 10/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
This is, rightly, Eisenstein's best-known film and is, indeed, one of the most famous films yet made. Do you remember when you first saw it? The first time that I saw it was in an art-house cinema a couple of days after I had quit a job and stormed out over conditions. It is exactly the right film to see under those circumstances. Anyone who has ever had to work for someone else will walk with an extra bounce in his or her step after watching this one.

It tells part of the story of the failed 1905 Russian revolution and it concerns itself with one of the ships of the Black Sea fleet. Moral in the Russian navy was at a low after its recent defeat in the war against Japan. Conditions onboard the Potemkin are poor and when the crew refuse to eat the inedible, rotting food, the martinet of a captain decides to make an example of some sailors by having them executed. This proves too much for the crew and they rebel, casting the officers overboard. One of the ringleaders, Vakulinchuk, is killed in the struggle and his body is taken ashore to Odessa harbour. The people of Odessa are inspired by his example and they bring fresh food out to the sailors. For a day, all is joy. Then the authorities send troops in to massacre the unarmed civilians on the Odessa steps in one of the most moving (and parodied) scenes in cinema. The ship opens fire on the oppressors and then sails out to meet the rest of the Black Sea fleet, and history.
menacing shadows in Battleship Potemkin
Eisenstein is in full command of his art here and after this his films, admittedly partially through external pressure, became more lopsided. The shots of different statues of lions appearing to be one moving creature as the Potemkin fires on the Opera House is one example of what he is capable of. He is also perfectly comfortable about using establishing shots to suggest the passage of time, and his use of crowds is as astonishing today as it ever was. There is even a wicked touch of black humour when the people of Odessa are crying out for justice and one man calls out, "Kill the Jews!" The crowd stop and glare at the man and he is forced to pull the brim of his hat over his face and slink away. Eisenstein was, of course, Jewish.

This edition of the film has a new, modernist score by Ed Hughes in surround-sound, and there is a short documentary of it being recorded in England in February of this year included here as on of the bonus features. Another bonus feature is the entire film with the score that was composed for it by Nikolia Kayudov, in glorious non-Dolby mono. There is yet another version of it, this time with a score by Edmund Meisel, but for that you have to go to the 2007 DVD release of Eisenstein's October. All three scores have their different merits.

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