Directed by: Sergei Eisenstein
Written by: Nina Agadzhanova & Sergei Eisenstein
Starring: Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barksy, Grigori Aleksandrov, Mikhail Gomorov
Generally, propaganda should not be celebrated in the way they distort truths for the benefits of a particular cause. They cause more harm than good but Battleship Potemkin shows how it can be adapted into a tremendous and groundbreaking feature film. Never has a silent film felt so loud and boisterous to capture so much pain.
Onboard the titular ship, we follow a group of sailors under the thumb of captains that do not care for their safety. Amid the revolution happening in their home country of Russia, Vakulinchuk (Aleksandr Antonov) leads an uprising amongst his fellow sailors.
The narrative explored in this feature serves as a celebration of what occurred during the first Russian Revolution in 1905, which included workers strikes and mutinies across the nation. The toppling of the monarchy in place did not occur until later, but the uprising highlighted in Battleship Potemkin shows the seeds for what would occur in the near future and change the way Russia would look for years to come.
Every sequence that occurs in Battleship Potemkin serves the uprising that occurs amongst the Russians and displays the atrocities done by the government towards its people. It’s shown in two different locations, which include the actual ship and the mainland, where the people are fighting to have their voices heard. Both settings show the utter disregard the officials have for the people, which results in violence at each turn.
On the ship, the issue comes from the abuse by the commanding officers, and the turning point for most of them comes from the rotting meat they were forced to eat. It spoke to the lack of dissent that was allowed within this group. The sequence begins with commanding officers telling the sailors that the meat is good to eat, even when the sailors surrounding them can clearly see that it’s rotting and has insects all over it. When the ship doctor is called upon to make the final determination, the sailors believe that he would state what would be best for the soldiers. Instead, he sides with the commanding officers and states that the insects on the meat just happen to be maggots that can be washed off before the food is cooked. Imagine that, it’s only maggots, everything thing is now fine. The refusal to consume that meat led to the punishment of these sailors and it became the final provocation before they revolted.
That sequence demonstrates a breakdown in trust amongst the sailors and the authority figure that is meant to be looking out for them. Similarly, the same issue takes place on land with the sequence that has become the defining moment of the film. It shows the people cheering on the events happening on the ship as soldiers get in attack formation and begin to indiscriminately fire upon the people, which includes older folks and babies. That brutality and sheer force used by these soldiers created some horrifying imagery, including a baby in a carriage tumbling down the Odessa steps and a woman getting injured in which her spectacles break. Mixing the visuals and the sound editing that surrounds it shows the level of evil harbored in the acts by these soldiers.
Battleship Potemkin uses the visual and sound mix to become one of the greatest silent films and one of the more essential views to see just how far the medium could be pushed. Among all of the carnage, the film has a strong unifying message, which shows that the people of Russia would fight back against the oppressive forces that surround them. It starts and ends with the so-called “regular folk” and how they begin to want more than what their leaders are providing for them. With its small 75-minute runtime, it really flies by because of how engaging each sequence becomes. A true work of cinema.