Bronenosets Potemkin

 (Sergei Eisenstein, USSR, 1925) 69 minutes


Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Production Manager: Yakov Bliokh
Screenplay: Sergei Eisentsein, from
  the screenplay for '1905 God'
  by Nina Agadjanova
Cinematography: Eduard Tisse
Editor: Sergei Eisenstein
Music (1926): Edmund Meisel
Aleksandr Antonov (Vakulinchuk, sailor)
Vladimir Barsky (Captain Golikov)
Grigori Aleksandrov (Lieutenant Guiliarovsky)
Mikhail Gomorov (Matushenko, sailor)
Alexsandr Levchin (Petty Officer)
Marussov (Officer)
Ivan Bobrov (Conscript)
N Poltavtseva (Woman with pince-nez)

Reviews and notes

1986 Berlin
2003 Odense (Denmark)
2005 Sao Paolo (Brazil), Espoo (Finland)

This, the best known of Soviet films, was the first to establish the reputations of its director, Sergei Eisenstein, and of the Soviet cinema in general. Its revolutionary innovations in technique, depending especially on a creative use of film editing, created an enormous effect wherever it was shown; in some countries the censor paid tribute to its power by banning it altogether. It presents an historical reconstruction of the part played by the sailors of the Potemkin in the Russian revolt of 1905. There are three major movements: the first reaching its climax in the revolt of the sailors; the second in the massacre of the citizens on the steps of Odessa; and the third in the encounter between the Potemkin and the Czarist fleet. It is an outstanding example of Eisenstein's methods, above all in editing, and as such will repay detailed and repeated analysis.
- British Film Institute catalogue 1945.

An art as young as the film cannot be expected to have produced many classics. Indeed, the majority of its most heralded achievements prove in retrospect to be of but poor quality. Towards the end of the silent era, however, between 1925 and 1930, there occurred in Russia a kind of early flowering of the new art. It was then difficult to be objective about the Soviets, and at the time of their production, such film met with suspicion. To this period belongs Battleship Potemkin. The simple story - an episode in the abortive revolution of 1905 - was originally conceived as part of a larger production, but Eisenstein, confronted with the material available in Odessa, decided to expand it into a full length film.

Circumstances surrounding Soviet production at this time were very different from those of Europe and America. The importance of the film was recognised. Lenin had proclaimed, "For us, cinema is the most important of the Arts!" But the USSR was faced with economic boycott and armed intervention without, and with famine within. The studios lacked equipment. Cameras were obsolete and decrepit. Film stock was scarce. Unable to expose film, directors turned to theory. These were the days of wordy battles over Montage, and the theory of the Kino-eye. Rigorous theory is a sound basis for practice. The little film available was used to great purpose.

Foremost among the Russian directors was Sergei M. Eisenstein. Basing his theories on the Marxist principle that "the whole is more than the sum of the parts", he showed how the joining together of strips of film and patterns of movement could be made to build up an emotional climax far greater than that contained in an individual shot. The "Odessa Steps" sequence, possibly the most discussed reel of film in existence, is a realisation of these theories.

The film is a silent one, but Eisenstein is never hampered by the desire for dialogue. His early training was gained as a producer of pageants, and he conveys his meaning by appeal to the eye alone. Abstract sound and music would have heightened the appeal, and the film was accompanied [in 1926] by a special musical score composed by Edmund Meisel. Unfortunately this has not been recorded.
- George A. Eiby, WFS Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1946.

For the film's Moscow premier, Battleship Potemkin was accompanied by a kind of temp track, a "hastily assembled pastiche of pre-existing orchestral cues. For the 1926 debut in Berlin, Eisenstein hired composer Edmund Meisel to write a proper score - "I told Meisel I wanted the score to be rhythm, rhythm, and above all pure rhythm," wrote the director - and Meisel's composition [itself believed lost for several decades] has been reproduced here in a new performance by conductor Helmut Imig and the 55-piece Deutsches Filmorchestra Babelsberg. It's good to hear Battleship Potemkin as it was originally intended - or, at least, as close to the original intent as is possible, with frantic strings, rich horns, and a propulsive quality that underscores the film perfectly.
-Casey Broadwater,, 28 April 2010.

The 2005 restoration of the Russian premiere version was under the direction of Enno Patalas in collaboration with Anna Bohn. The restoration was managed by Deutsche Kinemathek - Museum fur Film und Fernsehan, Berlin. Supported by Bundesarchiv - Filmarchiv, Berlin and British Film Institute, Gosfilmofond of Russia, Russisches Staatsarchiv fur Literatur und Kunst, Moscow.

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