Battleship Potemkin at The Music Box Theatre

by Meghan Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 12:03pm

On March 4th, The Music Box Theatre started showing Battleship Potemkin with a fully restored 35mm print and the original orchestral score by Meisel.

The story of The Battleship Potemkin is based in reality, as the crew of the real battleship of the same name rebelled against their oppressive Tsarist officers. The mutiny on the ship coincided with the Russian Revolution of 1905 and helped usher in the Russian Revolution of 1917. The film itself does not shy away from themes of revolution and political upheaval, and does not hide its nature as a propaganda film. Does this dampen its place in film history? Not at all!

On March 4th, The Music Box Theatre started showing Battleship Potemkin with a fully restored 35mm print and the original orchestral score by Meisel.

The story of The Battleship Potemkin is based in reality, as the crew of the real battleship of the same name rebelled against their oppressive Tsarist officers. The mutiny on the ship coincided with the Russian Revolution of 1905 and helped usher in the Russian Revolution of 1917. The film itself does not shy away from themes of revolution and political upheaval, and does not hide its nature as a propaganda film. Does this dampen its place in film history? Not at all!

Battleship Potemkin’s most famous and memorable scene is known as “The Odessa Steps”. While the events of this sequence have no historical foundation, it is still haunting and emotionally powerful. The scene is so embedded in our culture that, even as a young child, I’d emulate it by letting a play shopping cart with a doll in it roll down the driveway and try to catch it… and I hadn’t seen the film by then! The Odessa Steps are parodied and praised so often that they have even found their way into shows a child would be watching.

But, let’s stray from the usual Battleship Potemkin discussion of The Odessa Steps and focus on its overall impact as a film. While Eisenstein’s editing was not a total success with audiences, it certainly pulls on a person’s heartstrings. Quick cuts between shots of marching soldiers and fleeing civilians make you feel sympathy for the latter; longer takes of sailors’ quarters and rotting meat coupled with officers who see nothing wrong with anything make you feel the growing frustration of the sailors. Shots of lion statues, at first laying down, then rising, then roaring and looking shocked mirror the events occurring in front of them, as if they are reacting as the crowd. Images of machinery working mirrors work done by humans, and so on and so forth.

In Battleship Potemkin, every image means something. There is not a single shot or cut that is meaningless or there simply to add minutes to its runtime. That is what montage filmmaking really is – putting together images that mean something and relate to each other that otherwise would not. The film is short but does not skimp on message or meaning as each shot is specifically chosen both for its emotional impact and its ability to move the story ahead.

The films photography is breathtaking and the editing is outstanding. Modern audiences are now used to quick cuts and montage, but in the 1920s it was much less common. Battleship Potemkin was groundbreaking, and its influences on filmmakers are far-reaching. Political stances aside, the film is powerful and extremely well done. The new print looks fantastic and the score sounds incredible. If you miss it in theaters but have interest in film history or history in general, check this movie out.

Meghan Buckner is a digital cinema graduate of DePaul University and has been a front of house staff member at the Music Box since December 2009

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