Battleship Potemkin is the oldest film on the list. It was made by Sergei Eisenstein in 1925 and is possibly the first film from this list that I had watched previously. Twenty-odd years later, I had little memory of the film aside from a vivid recollection of a flickering red flag in a silent black and white film.
The film is wonderful in many aspects, but there really are two that stood out to me. The first is how communistic the film is; this makes perfect sense as it has been called one of the most influential propaganda films of all time. These days, seeing a writer or director’s political leanings in their art is nothing new, but when film was young and censorship seemed so prevalent, I cannot imagine that it was easy.
The film was made nearly ten years into the Soviet Union’s new communist regime and reflects events that were a small part of the revolution that eventually toppled the Russian Empire, leading to the Russia we knew during the Cold War. The film was produced by Mosfilm, one of the first major studios in Russia. It was established in 1923, and essentially – although this is a wild generalization – under directions of Lenin. “While people are ignorant,” said Lenin, “the most important arts for us are cinema and circus…” (1) It is easy to see that the film was made as a stark reminder of the revolution that led to the country’s new government. This leads directly into my second point.
The film is presented in five acts, and the fourth, “The Odessa Steps,” is one of the most emotionally powerful scenes that I have seen in a film from the 1920s. It is an incredibly violent scene that would catch a first-time viewer will scant experience in American silent or black and white cinema completely off-guard. The film is based on the true story of the Potemkin and is rather accurate, except for this scene. Everything surrounding the scene on the Odessa Steps were created for the film, but it was a montage based on the real activities of the imperial soldiers; it was just packed into a concentrated moment to shine a spotlight on their activities.
Battleship Potemkin is a snapshot of time; it is this history of the seeds of the Soviet Union and I am grateful that I would have had a viewing of this in high school. I know that my young brain was not ready for it then, but today I think that everyone needs to see this film and I would add it to a list with Shoah about films that matter and depict our history.