59. The Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Directed by Sergei Eisenteintein

Written by Nina Agadehanova, Nikolai Aseyer, Sergei Eisenstein and Sergei Tretakov

Produced by Jacob Bilokh

Starring: Griogori Aleksandov, Ivan Brobov, Julia Eisensteintein, , A Glauberman, Aleksandr Antonov and Aleksand Levishin

Country: Soviet Union

Release Date: December 21st, 1925

Why you should see it? 

This is considered one of the best films of the silent era and it is the most influential propaganda films. This film had been quoted in an endless number of films especially the scene of the massacre of the Odessa Steps.

This movie is an amazing movie with stoning composed sots and perfect edition, it is a film so well constructed that you can see why this movie influence the moder cinema. In this film the silence is the biggest element giving force to the image and to ensure attention to both composition and montage. Battleship Potemkin is based in the up-rise of the Potemkin ship in 1905.

Eisendtein, was a pioneering Soviet Russian film director and film theorist, often considered to be the “Father of Montage”.


ACT I: “Men and Maggots”

In June of 1905, the armored battle ship Potemkin is near Odessa on the Black Sea returning after Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese war.

We see many sailors asleep in their gently swaying hammocks. A petty officer walks checking the dormitory. A young sailor sleeps with a shoulder and arm hanging outside his hammock. This inconveniences the movements of the officer, and he reacts by whipping the young man. A few of the other sailors wake up and observe this act.

In the morning, the ship’s cook has hung large pieces of beef just outside the kitchen. We see ordinary sailors talking to each other, pointing to the meat, and calling others to look.

An officer on a railing higher up notices the unusual gathering, and the sailors convey to him that the meat is disgusting.

The officer eventually calls the ship’s doctor, who goes down to get a close look at the meat. The ship’s doctor, whose demeanor is that of a servile sycophant, after looking carefully through his pince-nez, says the meat is not rotten, as it has no worms but only maggots, and those can be washed out with brine.

We see preparations to serve a meal on table tops that are swinging because they hang from ropes in the ceiling. Large steel bowls are put on the tables and soup is served as the only food. Some of the sailors do not eat the soup.

Later, we see in the kitchen the washing up of dishes after the meal. One of the items washed is a dish that has an inscription around near the border. The inscription reads: Give Us This Day our Daily Bread. The dishwasher holds the dish for a moment, reads it again and shows it, and smashes it. The washing crew abandons the work station.

Later, we see many sailors buying cans of food and other provisions at a porthole, evidently a canteen. An officer walks by, glares at the sailors, who stand motionless and glare back. At one point, in talk occurring below decks, sailor Vakulinchuk (Aleksandr Antonov) says they are being treated worse than the Russians in Japanese POW camps.

Other sailors complain about unbearable conditions, of being treated contemptuously by pompous officers and there is talk about doing something about it.

ACT II: “Drama at the Harbour”

Soon after next light, all hands are called on deck. Everyone lines up. Captain Golikov (Vladimir Barsky) comes up from a trap entrance and yells that no disobedience or strike will be tolerated, and he will hang everyone in the ship if he is disobeyed. Sailors look up at the masts and imagine bodies hanging from the horizontals.

The Captain then orders all those who ate the borsch made with the meat to step under the cannons in a show of loyalty.

Most of the sailors move under the cannons, but a group of about fifteen do not.

The captain proceeds to inform those who did not eat the soup that he will kill them. The group tries to go below decks through the captain’s trap entrance, but officers push them back. Upon the captain’s orders, a tarpaulin is thrown over them, to make it psychologically easier for others to shoot.

The ship’s Orthodox priest makes an appearance on an upper deck, calling the disobedient to repent, and holding a golden cross high. Under the tarpaulin, some sailors get on their knees.

The captain orders a shooting squad of marines to advance and get in position to shoot at the tarpaulin. When the captain finally gives the order to fire, there is hesitation, and the moment is seized by ordinary seaman Vakulinchuk, who intervenes to save the men by appealing to the firing squad to ignore their orders.

The marines still do not shoot. Everyone looks at each other for a while. Vakulinchuk jumps on the guns and continues to speak. Vakulinchuk implores his shipmates to rise up against those who oppress them, namely the officers of the ship. The captain repeats the order, but it is not followed. Instead, Vakulinchuk persuades the rank and file to riot and turn on the officers.

There are dramatic scrambles and running and taking cover and pursuits below deck to grab rifles, but since the rifles are in the hands of the rank and file, there isn’t much shooting. The resisting officers are beaten and thrown overboard to drown, including the doctor.

The ship’s priest, whose appearance is suggestive of Rasputin, gets pushed down a ladder and pretends to be dead.

Before being thrown overboard, one of the officers manages to grab a gun, pursues Vakulinchuk and shoots him from the back, hitting the head. Vakulinchuk then manages to put his hand up and touch his head wound, then falls from high into a tackle and writhes for a while before he tumbles down into the water.

By then, all the commanding officers are overboard and the ship is under mutineer control. There are shouts to save Vakulinchuk, several sailors jump into the water and get to him, but he is brought on deck already dead.

The mutineers feel bonded by their common the struggle, and the motto All for One and its counterpart One for All is shouted around.

There is a shot of the doctor’s pince-nez hanging delicately from a side rope. It was the pince-nez used as a magnifying glass through which the wriggling maggots had been seen in close up.

ACT III: “A Dead Man Calls for Justice”

The Potemkin sails under the mutineers’ control to dock at the port of Odessa. The body of Vakulinchuk is taken to the shore to lie in state, under a tent improvised on the pier, holding a candle and with a sign on his chest reading “KILLED FOR A BOWL OF SOUP”

First he is looked at by a few curious people. Some old women look and pray briefly. But the word gets around, more and more people come filing past his remains, and little by little enormously long columns of mourners pass by, coming across bridges and down stairways and making long queues on breakwaters..

The locals gather in spontaneous groups to talk about the events, and clearly there is seething political ferment against the tsarist régime, although a few voice contempt for the mutineers.

As a sneering member of the bourgeoisie heckles a woman protester, the reaction shot of a man turning around shows anger and has an element of threat.

During another heated discussion, someone in the crowd on shore says,”Kill the Jews!”

But the bulk of the citizens of Odessa, after filing past Vakulinchuk, get all whipped up and vow to destroy the oppressors and help the mutineers. There are close-up shots of the clenching fists of the hundreds of spectators who are fed up with the régime.

Large numbers of small sail craft approach the battleship to support the crew, bringing food supplies and live fowl in cages and live pigs.

ACT IV: “The Odessa Staircase”

A great many of the townspeople have gathered on the long and wide flights of stairs overlooking the harbor, leading down towards the piers. They are in a good mood and often shouting encouragement towards the ship. Men, women, and children of all ages have come to see what is happening.

Without warning, troops in white tunics appear at the top of the stairs, rifles pointing horizontally, and slowly march down the steps. For a few seconds, people scramble away, downwards and to the sides, including a man without legs and another on crutches. Then the soldiers open fire, indiscriminately, against everyone, unarmed men, women, children, and the aged.

Dozens and dozens of people scramble downwards and towards the side. Aged people cower behind low walls. The soldiers keep marching down and firing aiming carefully, as they shoot down against the fleeing.

A woman carries her dead son’s body in her arms, upwards towards the shooters, expecting them to let her pass. She stops a few steps in front of them, says “My son is very ill” but a second later she is shot. People look onto the sight, horrified.

People stampede over others who have fallen, dead or alive. We see a military boot stepping on the wrist of a child.

We see someone wearing glasses with a frightened look, and then the same glasses on the floor broken by a bullet that passed through one lens.

The victims include a mother who is pushing a baby in a baby carriage. As she falls to the ground, dying, she leans against the carriage, nudging it away. It rolls down the steps amidst the fleeing crowd. Desperate onlookers watch the seemingly endless journey of the pram rolling down unchecked.

Cossacks on horseback then arrive from the pier side, and slaughter the helpless people from the bottom of the stairway with saber cuts.

ACT V:”The Rendez-Vous with a Squadron”

The crew on the Potemkin goes into battle stations, and turns its guns on the town, shooting against buildings where Tsarist soldiers might be concentrated. By then the carnage on the stairs stops, as only soldiers remain standing there.

The crew of the Potemkin then puts out to sea to avoid an attack from the shore.

A squadron of warships is steaming towards Odessa to retake the Potemkin.

The crew on board the Potemkin expects this. They leave many on sentry duty and most others try to sleep. When multiple ships are sighted far away on the horizon, they take up steam and move to meet them on the open sea while everyone who was sleeping wakes and goes to battle stations.

As the ships come nearer, the Potemkin is sending light and flag signals calling on the other side’s crews to treat them as brothers.

The barrels of numerous cannons are ominously leveled towards the outnumbered battleship Potemkin, but at the moment when the ships come into range, their crews allow the mutineers to pass through.

The crew of the Potemkin rejoices, and rank and file from the squadron come to the deck rails, waving in friendship and brotherhood as the ships pass traveling in opposite directions.


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