The quintessential propaganda movie. So this is about the crew of a Russian ship, the Potemkin. When there is a disagreement regarding the quality of the food that is being served, it directly leads to a mutiny, which indirectly leads to an uprising against the Russian overlords. Speaking plainly, it is a bit difficult to approach reviews for old school classics such as this one, because there are a few questions that I feel that I am required to address when I go about critiquing. Is this mandatory viewing for any film lover? Absolutely, and with good reason. Over at theyshootpictures.com, a place where I occasionally go for classier (and sometimes snootier) film recommendations, this is ranked as the 11th best movie of all time, and that is not without merit, especially from a technical standpoint. Does this demand multiple viewings? I’m pretty certain I will see this again at some point in my life, but I have no inherent desire to rewatch this. Does it play well to today’s modern audience who can’t stand in a line for more than 45 seconds without checking their smart phones? Well, I wouldn’t necessarily go that far.
I’ve dabbled a bit in silent films, but it’s hard to deny: almost every silent movie feels about twice its length due to modern film and television desensitizing our attention span. With shorts, it’s not that big of a deal, but for full length features, you do feel it, even if it’s a modest 69 minutes like this one is. With Battleship Potemkin, they made the smart decision to divide this into five definitive chapters, all of which feel like their own personal segment. This allows you to pace yourself, which puts your A.D.D. at ease. The first three chapters are all well and good, but they aren’t what you talk about once you walk away from it, as they are mostly setup. The last two chapters are where this feature truly shines, most notably with The Steps of Odessa. This isn’t just a massacre, it’s an ambush, so much so that you, as an audience member, are taken aback with how jarring the tonal shift is.
It’s one of the first montages in cinema, and it is unnerving, even in the year 2014; seeing this relentless opposition bear down on innocent bystanders would be disturbing even in a non-propaganda movie. Also, in the fifth chapter, it features honest to God tension that keeps building and building to music that continues to crescendo until the point that you’re ready to yell at the screen, and it’s pretty impressive that a movie that is this old can still be so affecting. The print on Netflix is very crisp, and there is plenty of memorable imagery to be found here. Even without the context, the propaganda effect is not lost; the flashing of fast title cards that read, “the land is ours” and “tomorrow is ours” leave an imprint in your brain, whether it be on a conscious or a subconscious level. Should you watch this? Yes, it’s 100% required viewing, if only to see what we came from in cinema.
Battleship Potemkin (1925) ****
– Critic for Hire