What I Watched Last Night: Battleship Potemkin (1925) With live organ accompaniment

Director: Sergei M. Eisenstein

Plot: 1925 silent propaganda film depicting the civil unrest and eventual uprising against the Tsarist regime in 1905 Russia.

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Do they REALLY need that many lookouts? Seems excessive. 

Widely regarded as the best silent film ever, Battleship Potemkin is a hugely influential propaganda piece depicting the overthrow of the Russian Tsarist regime in 1905. Director Sergei Eisenstein was a cinematic visionary, this being only his second picture. In fact, he made just seven films in his lifetime but he never failed to provoke a reaction- his final work, Part II of his Ivan the Terrible biopic, was banned by Stalin himself and wasn’t released until 1958, 10 years after Eisenstein’s death.

Potemkin is split into five parts, focusing on the uprising of sailors of the eponymous battleship against the trigger- happy elitist commanders. Their efforts inspire the local townsfolk of Odessa to take to the streets in rebellion. Tsarist troops then appear, and attempt to suppress the masses in an incredibly moving and complex sequence known as ‘The Odessa Steps’. While this part did not actually occur, what better way to rile up a nation than to show monolithic militia shooting children in the back and walking over their corpses?

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Battleship Potemkin was a huge production, with the many hundreds of extras providing realism and the scope of the setting making for dynamic, mesmerising cinema. For this particular screening (in Leeds town hall, for the 27th Leeds film festival) the organ accompaniment was perfectly suited to the turbulent on screen action. During the final act the rumbling pipes served as a rousing musical translation of the thunderous, ‘brotherly hurrahs’ by the victorious Russian people.

This is a tense, thought provoking film of epic scale and vision, only enhanced by the illustrious surroundings. Eisenstein was a pioneer, and the first director to understand that by carefully editing footage it was possible to portray multiple simultaneous events, thus creating a more profoundly exciting experience. His ‘intellectual montage’ paved the way for every film thereafter – everyone from De Palma to Gilliam has paid tribute to Battleship Potemkin and those who hadn’t should.

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