Battleship Potemkin

Released:  1925

Cast:  Aleksandr Antonov, Vladimir Barksy, Grigori Aleksandrov

SUMMARY:  This film is divided into five separate acts, beginning with Act I:  Men and Maggots.  In 1905, two sailors aboard the Potemkin, Matyushenko and Vakulinchuk, are talking about the revolution going on within Russia, and the need for the navy to join in.  When an officer takes out his anger on a helpless sailor, Vakulinchuk takes the opportunity to give a rousing rebellion speech to the others.  The next morning, the sailors discover that the meat they are being fed is rotten and infested; when they complain, the ship’s doctor says the meat is fine, and the worms can be washed off.  However, the crew members still refuse to eat it.  In the next act (Drama on the Deck), an officer decides to make an example of some of the men:  he calls forward everyone who didn’t eat the meat, and announces that they are guilty of insubordination.  They are to be executed immediately.  Just as the First Officer gives the order to fire, Vakulinchuk asks the men in the firing squad to consider who they are shooting at; they then reconsider, and refuse to fire.  Instead, the crew masses together in an uprising, kill the officers, and toss the doctor into the ocean.  During the skirmish, Vakulinchuk is killed by one of the officers.  In Act III (A Dead Man Calls for Justice), the Potemkin docks at Odessa, and the crew takes the body ashore.  They leave it in a tent on the dock, with a sign noting that he was killed over a plate of soup.  Gradually, the townspeople begin to accumulate at the dock, but this attracts the attention of the police.

The rebellion begins to spread from the docks into the city, where a large crowd begins to gather and protest on the Odessa steps.  To control the mob, a group of Cossacks is sent out, and begin to slowly march down the steps toward the civilians.  They stop and fire once into the crowd, then continue advancing.  They also continuing firing into the crowd, causing panic and confusion among the people, who are trying to flee.  As a result, people are killed both by the soldiers and by the stampeding crowd.  When the sailors on the Potemkin hear about the event, they decide to launch an attack on military headquarters using the ship’s heavy guns.  In the final act (One Against All), the sailors hear that several warships are approaching them, with the intent of forcing an end to the rebellion.  The Potemkin leaves port, appearing to flee from the approaching ships, but then turns to face them, intending to stand and fight.  As a last measure, one may on the Potemkin shouts out for the sailors on the other ship to join them.  To their surprise, this appeal works:  the other ships do not fire on the Potemkin, instead allowing them to sail past unharmed as the men on every ship cheer.

MY TAKE:  This is pretty obviously a pro-Soviet film, as it portrays every authority figure as dominating and cruel, and glorifies the revolutionary spirit and unity of the ordinary sailors, particularly Vakulinchuk.  As someone who lives in a country formed by a revolution, I don’t want to suggest that these feelings are unwarranted; however, I have trouble not seeing this as propaganda.  Obviously, I did not personally experience the Russian Revolution, but I don’t quite believe that every single authority figure was a tyrant that abused their power.  I do know that the Tsar was rather brutal in his attempts to crush the rebellion, so the famous Odessa Steps sequence is believable.  However, a lot of the rest of it is a little overdone.

RATING:  Meh.

 

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