I’m not a big fan of black and white silent movies. As someone who is used to a modern cinema, I get bored rather quickly by a slow paced edit, static shots and speechless characters. Recently, I’ve watched Sergei Eisenstein’s “The Battleship Potemkin” – a critically acclaimed silent film made in USSR in 1925. Sergei Eisenstein is one of the most influential filmmakers in the cinema history. He was a pioneer in the theory and practice of film montage. Eisenstein argued that the editing could manipulate the audience’s emotion and subconsciousness. No surprise, the idea appealed to the USSR government which saw it as a way to propagate their ideology. Consequently, Sergei Eisenstein was filming ideological movies. Although, the Soviet propaganda film was the last thing I wanted to watch in my spare time, there was a particularly bizarre thing that got my attention.
The Soviet ideology excluded the idea of individuality and personality. Every single person had to be a part of a social mechanism called Collectivism. This ideology can be clearly observed in Eisenstein’s film “The Battleship Potemkin”. Unlike contemporary films where a protagonist is a backbone of a story, “The Battleship Potemkin” doesn’t feature individual characters and professional actors. Nowadays, such idea can sound completely absurd. The modern storytelling embraces the character’s personality with the story evolving around it. So how the heck Eisenstein managed to pull out his critically acclaimed film “The Battleship Potemkin”? That question started bugging me, and I had no choice but to watch the film.
What can we expect from the one hundred years old black and white silent movie which doesn’t have a protagonist? Boredom? Outdated weird storytelling? The answer is No! Surprisingly, the movie has decent storytelling full of action, suspense and story plot twists. In addition, the montage even by modern standards holds up pretty well. Unlike films of that period, “The Battleship Potemkin” has fairly dynamic edit which incorporates symbolic inserts of small details and truly epic large scale expositions of a crowd. The film depicts an epic conflict of different social classes. The film’s goal is to increase the rage against the rich and aristocratic class and consolidate the feeling of collectivism and equality.
To comply with the Soviet ideology, the movie features a working class crowd which can be referred as the main protagonist of the film. As any other living protagonist, the crowd has its own character arc. The crowd character starts out as a relatively small group of mistreated people and ends up as a huge buzzing crowd fighting for justices.
As any other character the crowd should convey its emotions and a state of mind. All of it is conveyed through the large scale choreography and occasional close ups of individuals. The film features hundreds of military and civilian characters and dozens of military battleships.
Despite the film’s pure propaganda nature, it was named the greatest film of all time at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958. The movie was beyond my expectations and it was a joy to watch one hundred years old filmmaking at action.
Has anything changed throughout all these years? Do movies carry the same functionality as they carried in the times of the USSR and the Third Reich?