The Battleship Potemkin

Every student of world cinema knows that Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) belongs among the handful of silent-film masterpieces. But it’s unlikely that even devoted cinephiles have seen this great Russian movie in the form Eisenstein intended — censorship, neglect, and deliberate distortion by both Soviet and Western hands have created some odd hybrids, including a print with music by the Pet Shop Boys. Now Kino International issues on DVD a restored version closest to the Russian master’s original plan, or so claim the film historians in the accompanying 40-odd-minute documentary, Tracing the Battleship Potemkin, directed by Artem Demenok. In any case, this internationallly sponsored, frame-by-frame restoration should create a whole new audience for Eisenstein’s brilliant piece of Communist propaganda — his artful re-creation of an actual sailors’ rebellion in 1905 against the cruel autocracy of the tsar, complete with heroic proles and moustache-twisting oppressors. Freshly translated inter-title cards and a new recording of Edmund Meisel’s original soundtrack add to our sense of Eisenstein’s long-acknowledged genius at editing — the music meets the action in a way Shostakovich’s lugubrious score from the ’50s never could. And what action: Long before the age of CGI, Eisenstein mananged crowds to breathtaking effect and created movement and terror with his economic composition of shots. Little wonder that this film — with its iconic massacre scene on the Odessa steps — has inspired directors as different as Hitchcock, Godard, Woody Allen, and the Zucker brothers. –