Sunday, January 13, 2008

Movies--Battleship Potemkin

I'm taking a Film Theory class this semester, so I've got a whole list of movies to watch--13 in total. Only two of which I've seen. We're not focusing on any particular period or type, near as I can tell, so there is a really good variety of movies currently on my Netflix queue. I thought since I had to watch one per week anyway, I'd blog about it here. Just to shake things up a little bit.

The first film on my list is Battleship Potemkin. I was a little bit wary of this one, because in some ways, I'm very uncultured, and I didn't know if I wanted to watch a silent, Russian film with sub-titles. But man, was I wrong. Battleship Potemkin is one of the most intense films I have ever seen.

The description I read of Battleship Potemkin called it a propaganda film, and of course, it is. The propaganda elements can't be ignored. But that's not why the film works. If it was just propaganda, I don't think anybody would really be interested in 83 years after it was made. It's actually got some serious moments of ambiguity that makes you think about and question what you are watching, especially at the end of part 2, when the leader of the revolt (or mutiny!) on the ship is murdered, and in part 3, when everybody rallies around his death and turns him into a serious martyr.

There are some really effective shots, as well. Obviously, since it's a silent, the "dialogue" is sparse. Of course, that means none of the words are wasted. Everything is pointed, and it carries even more of an emotional punch. The music is also extremely dramatic. It made me think of a ballet--which I suppose is pretty obvious, but I don't think I've ever watched a full-length silent before.

It's actually making me think a lot about the way I tell stories. Obviously, I don't have a very strong, dramatic musical score to rely on to raise the tension--and in the version of Battleship Potemkin I saw, the soundtrack is very intense. But the filmmaker, Sergi Eisenstein, frames some very effective images that said more than any words ever could. There was on scene when the army began shooting indiscriminately into the gathering, agitated crowd. They hit a boy. But that wasn't the end. The boy fell and was trampled. His distraught mother finally found him, picked him up, and carried him to the advancing soldiers. She begged for help. They shot her. Again, the film is propaganda, so of course, there was no other way that particular scene could end. But even though I knew it was coming, and knew I was being manipulated, the way the scene was shot and presented still hit me right in the gut.

I'm going to watch it again before we discuss it in class on Wednesday. But my initial, gut reaction was just "wow." It also made me feel personally very agitated, tense, frustrated, and scared. I guess that's why it's called propaganda--I was ready to go fight the Tsar, too.

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