Sergei M. Eisenstein – Bronenosets Potyomkin aka The battleship Potemkin (1925)


Marie Seton wrote:
When he made Potemkin in 1925, Sergei Eisenstein was not only a man with his total personality dedicated to creative work — albeit a creative work aimed at destroying all orthodox concepts of ‘art’ — but he was also a revolutionary fighter, a propagandist for the Russian Revolution. Thus, his work had a utilitarian purpose as well as an artistic one. He was educator and artist. At its most obvious level, Potemkin was regarded as propaganda for the Revolution; at a deeper level it was a highly complex work of art which Eisenstein thought would affect every man who beheld it, from the humblest to the most learned.

Часть первая “Люди и черви”
Act I: Men and Maggots

Waves smashing against the pier. Trotsky’s quote.
Matyushenko and Vakulinchuk, discussing the need for the crew to support the revolution taking place within Russia. Night. Potemkin is anchored off the island of Tendra, off-duty sailors are sleeping in their bunks. An officer inspects the quarters, stumbles and takes out his aggression on a sleeping sailor. Vakulinchuk awakes and gives a speech : “Comrades! The time has come when we too must speak out. Why wait? All of Russia has risen! Are we to be the last?”
Morning. On deck, sailors are remarking on the poor quality of the meat, rotten and covered in worms. The ship’s doctor, after inspection of the meat says these are maggots that can be washed off. Senior officer Giliarovsky forces the sailors to leave the area. The crew refuses to eat the borsch and chooses bread and water, buys canned goods at the ship’s store. While cleaning dishes, one of the sailors sees an inscription on a plate “give us this day our daily bread.”
Out of rage, the sailor smashes the plate. End

“Часть вторая “Драма на Тендре”
Act II: Drama on the deck

Часть третья “Мёртвый взывает”
Act III: The dead man calls out

Часть четвёртая “Одесская лестница”
Act IV: The Odessa Steps

Marie Seton wrote:
A vivid description of Eisenstein’s handling of the great mass of people who participated in the massacre on the Odessa stairs was recorded by Maxim Shtraukh : ‘ In the period of one week people in panic pushing and trampling each other ran down and rolled down the stairway in order on the signal of the director — ‘stop!’ — to stop and again go up and begin the panic, the pushing, the trampling, the running down and the rolling down of the bodies. Above, they were
squeezed by the measured steps of the soldiers’ boots and below by mounted Cossacks cutting into the people. This canvas of fabulous slaughter by the will of the director again brought to light the reality of the past as in a nightmare. ‘*

Eisenstein and Tissé worked with magnificent energy and inspiration. They infected everyone and everything with their own feelings. ‘They went tirelessly up and down this stairway of 120 steps all the time finding new and different possibilities of expression.’ By the standards of Hollywood of 1925, their technical equipment was exceedingly primitive. But they overcame these limitations by original experiments. They used mirror reflectors for the first time in the Soviet Union, and Tisse devised out-of-focus photography. For the mass scenes he employed a change in lenses in place of a change in camera set-ups. This prevented camera self-consciousness in inexperienced people. In order to shoot the downward movement on the steps, invention was resorted to. A movable wagonette, large enough to hold the cameras, Tisse, Eisenstein and his assistants, was constructed. It was shuttled up and down alongside the stairs on specially built wooden rails. By this means the camera could follow the downward motion of the soldiers and the crowd on the steps.

Часть пятая “Встреча с эскадрой”
Act V: Rendez-vous with the Squadron

Shooting began on March 31, 1925. Sergei began with filming in Leningrad and had time to shoot the railway strike episode, horsecar, city at night and the strike crackdown on Sadovaya Street. Further shooting was prevented by the deterioration weather: permanent fog began. At the same time the director was placed in tight time constraints: the film was needed to be finished by the end of the year, although the script was approved only at the 4th of June. Objectively assessing the situation, Sergei Eisenstein decided to give up the original script consisting of eight episodes to focus only on one – the uprising on the battleship “Potemkin”, which in the all-encompassing scenario of Agadzhanova took up only a few pages (41 frames). Sergei Eisenstein together with Grigori Aleksandrov essentially recycled and extended the script.[8] In addition during the progress of making the picture some episodes were added which were not provided by Agadzhanova’s scenario or by Eisenstein’s scenic sketches, such as the storm scene with which the film begins. As a result, the content of the film was very far from the original script by Agadzhanova.

The film was shot in Odessa which at that time was one of the centers of film production and where it was possible to find a suitable boat for shooting.

The first screening of the film took place December 21, 1925 at the ceremonial meeting dedicated to the anniversary of the 1905 revolution in the Bolshoi Theatre.

The premiere took place in Moscow on January 18, 1926 in the 1st Goskinoteatre (now called the Khudozhestvenny).

The silent film received a voice dubbing in 1930 (during the life of director Sergei Eisenstein), restored in 1950 (composer Nikolai Kryukov) and reissued in 1976 (composer Dmitri Shostakovich) at Mosfilm with the participation of the USSR State Film Fund and the Museum of S.M. Eisenstein under the artistic direction of Sergei Yutkevich.

In 1925, after sale of the film negative to Germany and reediting by director Phil Jutzi, “Battleship Potemkin” was released in the world in a different version of the author’s intention: the shooting of sailors was moved from the beginning to the end of the film. Later it was subjected to censorship and in the USSR some frames and intermediate titles were removed, words of Leon Trotsky in the prologue were replaced with a quote from Lenin.[12] In 2005, under the overall guidance of the Foundation Deutsche Kinemathek, with the participation of the State Film Fund and the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, the author’s version of the film was restored with the music by Edmund Meisel.

In the film the rebels raise the red flag on the battleship but the Orthochromatic B/W film stock of that period made a red flag look black so a white flag was used instead. The flag was handtinted red for 108 frames by Eisenstein himself for the premiere at the Grand Theatre, which was greeted with thunderous applause by the Bolshevik audience.

Language(s):Russian intertitles
Subtitles:English, French, Spanish

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