20 December 2010, 17:44

“Battleship Potemkin” still the world’s best film?

“Battleship Potemkin” still the world’s best film?
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December 20 saw 85 years since the premiere of the famous film “The Battleship Potemkin” by the great Russian film director Sergey Eisenstein.

December 20 saw 85 years since the premiere of the famous film “The Battleship Potemkin” by the great Russian film director Sergey Eisenstein.

A year after its premiere, the film was recognized “the world’s best film of all times”. Since 1950s, it has been included each time into the top ten of the world’s best films which is compiled by the Sight & Sound British magazine by a survey of 100 experts from all over the world and renewed every ten years. This year, “Potemkin” occupied the third place in the top ten of the world’s best films which was published by Empire magazine.

Russian cinema expert Naum Kleyman comments on this choice:

“There are pieces of art which are eternal – the Greek temple Parthenon, Leonardo’s Giaconda, Beethoven’s Ninth symphony… “Battleship Potemkin” is one of them. In its time, the film was a breakthrough. Before it, cinematography was viewed rather as an entertainment than as serious art. At “Potemkin’s” premiere, people saw that cinematography can touch the innermost of one's heart, like music or theater."

In fact, Eisenstein made his film by an order from Soviet leaders to the 20th anniversary of the first Russian revolution of 1905. The revolution gripped all Russia but was suppressed by the government. 

The film’s script is based on one episode of the 1905 revolution – a mutiny on the battleship “Potemkin” in the port of Odessa in the Crimea. The city’s residents supported the rebels. To suppress the mutiny, the authorities brought in a squadron of battleships, but no one on these ships dared to fire at the rebellious sailors. Eventually, the authorities had to release “Potemkin” into the open sea.

“The film’s main message is in its ending,” Naum Kleyman believes. “Neither the squadron fires at “Potemkin” nor “Potemkin” fires at the squadron. In the time when Russia was gripped by the Civil War, such a finale was a real call for peace. I have seen people’s reaction to this film several times – at a film festival in Berlin and in the Parisian Opera where the film was shown on a very big screen and accompanied by a live orchestra. 5 thousand spectators watched it spell-bound from the beginning to the end!"

The first time when Eisenstein’s film was shown outside Russia was in Germany in 1926. Unfortunately, German censors found some scenes in the film too impressive and cut them out – despite the fact that this was the only copy which had to be returned to Russia. Later, in the time of Stalin’s hard-line regime, Soviet censors also cut some episodes out. The film was restored in 1970s, and the great Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich wrote a soundtrack for it (the original version of “Potemkin” was silent). However, this restoration was also not a complete one. The full version of “Battleship Potemkin” was shown only in 2009 in Berlin.

“Until now, “Potemkin” is used worldwide as a tutorial for beginning film directors,” Naum Kleyman says. “The film is an ideal sample of how to create a masterpiece by very laconic means. Many Hollywood film directors have studied this film up to every inch. Francis Ford Coppola once told me that he had collected all Eisenstein’s films. 85 years after Einstein’s masterpiece was released, experts still find new connotations in its every frame."   

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