Battleship Potemkin (Blu-ray)
Battleship Potemkin still packs a lumpen proletariat wallop 85 years after it was first released
Reviewed by Marc Savlov, Fri., April 23, 2010
Battleship PotemkinKino (Blu-ray), $34.95
The potential poetry of propaganda is a cinematic undercurrent too often overlooked, or looked down upon, particularly in the 60-odd years since the end of World War II. It ignores the basic fact that filmmaking, like any other art form, is at its lusty red heart a form of communication, and, even more relevant to today's media-blasted landscape, a type of emotional communication. Nothing quickens the blood during times of socioeconomic strife and xenophobic skirmishing like an artfully constructed political message masquerading as a work of high art, or – even more effective – low entertainment. (For the former, soar in lockstep with Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will and Olympia; for the latter, have a roll in the gutter with Veit Harlan's Jud Süss.) Even immigrant-born, American melting-pot icon Frank Capra wasn't immune to the allure of wartime propaganda. His World War II-era series of films Why We Fight (produced in conjunction with Disney, no less) remains smart, entertaining (from both a historical and a filmic perspective), and altogether convincingly crafted. But even Capra's punchy forays into direct-answer propaganda seem like reactionary Super-8 loops compared to Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 masterpiece of blood-drenched outrage and world-shaking mutiny, Battleship Potemkin, which still packs a lumpen proletariat wallop 85 years after it was first released (and then censored, banned, and re-released, again and again). The core language of film owes as much to Eisenstein and his revolutionary techniques as it does to D.W. Griffith and Orson Welles; after all, it was Potemkin that popularized the concept of montage via its legendary Odessa Steps sequence. To this day one of the most riveting, horrific, and empathetically turbocharged pieces of motion picture history ever recorded, Eisenstein's mind-bogglingly complex composition – utilizing a seeming cast of thousands of extras in addition to the unnamed, iconic main figures – is a gory ballet of marching Cossacks, frantic Odessites, trampled innocence, and doomed dissent. It's the terrible, beautiful highlight in a film that's nothing but highlights, underscoring the efficacy and necessity of the failed 1905 uprisings against Czar Nicholas II. If you haven't seen Battleship Potemkin in its restored form (first unveiled at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival; Kino's cut was released on DVD in 2007), then you haven't seen Battleship Potemkin. This Blu-ray release ups the ante considerably – the image is close to flawless – carrying with it an emotional resonance that's further underscored by the driving, martial (and very Soviet) score by Edmund Meisel, which accompanied the film to its initial release in Berlin in April 1926. Extras on Kino's Blu-ray are few but excellent, chief among them an exhaustive documentary on the German restoration process from start to finish. Solidarnosc!