BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #59: Battleship Potemkin, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list has a good number of films I hadn’t seen before so it is a good source for my challenge.
It feels a little daunting to write about Battleship Pretension’s namesake, but I will try. I haven’t watched Battleship Potemkin since my early film history classes in college, so it was interesting to revisit it. In school we learned about the various film techniques used, focusing on the Odessa Steps sequence and the significance of Eisenstein’s use of montage. Those things are fascinating, and I appreciated them this time around, but the two things that struck me during this viewing were the scale of the film and the sophistication of the story telling.
It struck me watching the third act of the film – “A Dead Man Calls For Justice” – the sheer scale of the film in terms of the number of people that appear on screen. There must have been hundreds of people standing in line to pay their respects to the fallen sailor. There are other crowd shots that had incredible volumes of people in them. There were no computers back then to duplicate sections of the crowd over and over again to give the illusion of size; they needed real people to fill the spaces. There is something charming and authentic knowing that everything is analog and real. It also makes the scenes of violence like the Odessa Steps feel more dangerous and scary.
Battleship Potemkin is 92 years old and was released ten years after Birth of a Nation. There are shots in the film that must have felt incredible to early film audiences. In act two – “Drama on the Deck” – the Captain of the boat threatens to hang the men who are rebelling, and the sailors look up to the yardarm and see shadows of bodies hanging there. We have seen a million of those shots as modern film viewers but I can’t imagine what it must have been like to see a shot like that for the first time. Also, shots like the famous one of the baby in the perambulator rolling down the steps must have been heart wrenching to viewers. It is still hard to watch now.
Battleship Potemkin has never been one of my favorite silent films, but I would never deny its importance or place in film history. It is important to look back to appreciate how far we have come and to celebrate early achievements of an art form I love.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Battleship Potemkin ranking: Cruiser