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. -
About the Author
Thomas DePietro, a former contributing editor of Kirkus Reviews, has also published in Commonweal, The Nation, and The New York Times Book Review. He recently edited Conversations with Don DeLillo, and his book on Kingsley Amis is forthcoming.