Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Eisenstein: Oktyabr [1928] Russian titles



The Battleship Potemkin (Russian: Броненосец «Потёмкин», Bronenosets Potyomkin), sometimes rendered as The Battleship Potyomkin, is a 1925 silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein and produced by Mosfilm. It presents a dramatised version of the Battleship Potemkin uprising that occurred in 1905 when the crew of a Russian battleship rebelled against their oppressive officers of the Tsarist regime.
Potemkin has been called one of the most influential films of all time, and was named the greatest film of all time at the World's Fair at Brussels, Belgium, in 1958.

Film style and content

The film is composed of five episodes: "Men and Maggots" (Люди и черви), in which the sailors protest at having to eat rotten meat; "Drama at the Harbour" (Драма на тендре), in which the sailors mutiny and their leader, Vakulynchuk, is killed; "A Dead Man Calls for Justice" (Мёртвый взывает) in which Vakulynchuk's corpse is mourned over by the people of Odessa; "The Odessa Staircase" (Одесская лестница), in which Tsarist soldiers massacre the Odessans; and "The Rendez-Vous with a Squadron" (Встреча с эскадрой), in which the squadron ends up joining the sailors' side

Eisenstein wrote the film as a revolutionary propaganda film, but also used it to test his theories of "montage". The revolutionary Soviet filmmakers of the Kuleshov school of filmmaking were experimenting with the effect of film editing on audiences, and Eisenstein attempted to edit the film in such a way as to produce the greatest emotional response, so that the viewer would feel sympathy for the rebellious sailors of the Battleship Potemkin and hatred for their cruel overlords. In the manner of most propaganda, the characterization is simple, so that the audience could clearly see with whom they should sympathize.

Eisenstein's experiment was a mixed success; he "was disappointed when Potemkin failed to attract masses of viewers", but the film was also released in a number of international venues, where audiences responded more positively. In both the Soviet Union and overseas, the film shocked audiences, but not so much for its political statements as for its use of violence, which was considered graphic by the standards of the time.[citation needed] The film's potential to influence political thought through emotional response was noted by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who called Potemkin "a marvellous film without equal in the cinema ... anyone who had no firm political conviction could become a Bolshevik after seeing the film."

The Odessa Steps sequence

The most famous scene in the film is the massacre of civilians on the Odessa Steps (also known as the Primorsky or Potemkin Stairs). In this scene, the Tsar's Cossacks in their white summer tunics march down a seemingly endless flight of steps in a rhythmic, machine-like fashion, slaughtering a crowd, including a young boy, as they flee. After the boy falls, his mother picks up his body and yells at the soldiers to stop firing. They do, only to shoot her minutes later. Toward the end of the sequence, the soldiers shoot 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.

The scene is perhaps the best example of Eisenstein's theory on montage, and many films pay homage to the scene, including Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, and George Lucas's Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Several films spoof it, including Woody Allen's Bananas and Love and Death, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker's Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult, and the Italian comedy "il secondo tragico Fantozzi" (in English, "The Second Tragic Fantozzi Movie")

The massacre on the steps is fictional, presumably created by Eisenstein for its dramatic venue and effect, as well as for propaganda and to demonize the Czar and the Imperial regime. It is, however, based on the fact that there were widespread demonstrations in the area, sparked off by the arrival of the Potemkin in Odessa Harbour, and both the Times of London and the resident British Consul reported that troops fired on the crowds with accompanying loss of life (the actual casualties are unrecorded). Film critic Roger Ebert writes, "That there was, in fact, no czarist massacre on the Odessa Steps scarcely diminishes the power of the scene ... It is ironic that [Eisenstein] did it so well that today the bloodshed on the Odessa steps is often referred to as if it really happened."

Distribution, censorship and restoration

After its premiere in Soviet Union, Potemkin was shown in the United States. It was shown in an edited form in Germany, with some scenes of extreme violence edited out by its German distributors. A written introduction by Leon Trotsky was cut from Soviet prints after he ran afoul of Joseph Stalin. The film was banned in Nazi Germany, Britain, Spain (though not during the Second Republic), France, and other countries for its revolutionary zeal. It was even banned in the Soviet Union for a short period when the Comintern, for diplomatic reasons, ceased to promote mutiny among the navies of capitalist countries.

Today, the film is widely available in various DVD editions. However, in 2004, a three-year restoration of the film was completed. Many excised scenes of violence were restored, as well as the original written introduction by Leon Trotsky. The previous titles, which had toned down the mutinous sailors' revolutionary rhetoric, were corrected so that they would now be an accurate translation of the original Russian titles in the film.


As a propaganda film, Eisenstein declared his wish that the score should be rewritten every 20 years, in order to retain its relevance to each new generation.

The original score was composed by Edmund Meisel. A salon orchestra performed the Berlin premiere in 1926; its instrumentation was flute/piccolo, trumpet, trombone, harmonium, percussion and strings without viola. Meisel wrote the score in twelve days and nights due to the late approval from the censorship board. Due to this problem, Meisel would repeat large sections of the score, unchanged, in an effort to complete the project. Composer/conductor Mark-Andreas Schlingensiepen has reorchestrated and improved the score based on the original piano score and has adjusted it to fit the reconstructed version of the film available today.

In its commercial format (on DVD, for example) the film is usually accompanied by pieces of classical music that have been subsequently added; Dmitri Shostakovich and Nikolai Kriukov are two composers whose works have been used. In an attempt to make the film relevant for the 21st century, the Pet Shop Boys composed a new soundtrack in 2004, accompanied by the Dresden Symphonic Orchestra. Their soundtrack, released as Battleship Potemkin in 2005, was premiered in September 2004 at an open-air concert in Trafalgar Square, London.
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