Sunday, 11 February 2007

DVD: The Battleship Potemkin

Lowdown: One of the first proper films ever hails the people's revolution.
The main thing one needs to know about Battleship Potemkin is that this is a proper feature film from 1925. The film is Russian, and you don't need a vivid imagination to figure out what it will be about given its origin and its time. However, it is very much still a proper film around 80 minutes long; whatever you may say about it, Battleship Potemkin is an original film by definition.
The story is fairly simple by today's standards: The Russian battleship goes through a mutiny after its evil officers force the crew to eat meat full of maggots and then order to shoot those that refused. After the people take control of the ship it cruises to the port of Odessa, where the locals support the mutiny. However, the Tsarist Cossacks then come in and shoot down the demonstrating people Tiananman style in a scene that became very famous in the history of cinema.
The film is definitely lacking when compared to the better films of today's crop. Character development is lacking, for a start, and the story is not as well anchored as it should be. That said, if you take the time perspective into context, Battleship Potemkin is a mighty achievement: it is undoubtedly a gripping film with a lot standing for it. It makes a lot of statements on what people should be standing for, on blind acceptance of orders, and even on issues of faith and racism. It even has some special effects!
However, judging the film the way I would judge other films would be a crime. First and foremost, watching Battleship Potemkin is a lesson in the history of the art of film making. Not only that, it is a lesson in history, period: it is very interesting to see the way people behave and the way people dress (mustaches were very fashionable at the time). It is incredibly interesting to see how the world looked like 100 years ago! No media other than film can provide such an experience.
Best scene: There is a good reason why the massacre in the street of Odessa became the film's most famous scene.
Picture quality: Ok - it's black and white, it's not widescreen. It's pretty bad. But give the film a break - it's from 1925!
Sound quality: This is a silent film. Dialog is conveyed through captions popping up from time to time. However, the DVD is accompanied by what is claimed to be the original musical score "escorting" the film. Badly recorded, it does provide some accompaniment, but it is not of the attachment level one associates with a modern day film score.
Overall: 3 stars as a film, but don't take those stars into account; watch Battleship Potemkin for the experience: Battleship Potemkin is an anthropological experience of the first degree.


Graeme Watson said...

The Pet Shop Boys recorded a new score for this film and performed it along with a screening in Trafalgar Square.

I think you can buy the CD on Amazon.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Thanks for the tip! I'll look it up.

Uri said...

Wasn't a scene in the Untouchables that's [stolen from/a homage to] this film? (the one with the trolly sliding down the stairs in slow motion).

Moshe Reuveni said...

I didn't think about it, but you're absolutely right. When we saw it in Potemkin we were mostly admiring the technological changes that took places in the design of the trolley over the years.
That said, I wouldn't call it "stealing". It was more like paying homage...

With regards to trolleys, we have a problem. Australians call them by all sorts of weird names, like "prams" and "push chairs". The English are even weirder. When I say "trolley" Jo looks at me as if I'm a moron (which is her default way of looking at me, but never mind).
To solve the problem I think I'll just use the literal Hebrew translation and call it a wagon.