Battleship Potemkin

Directed by Sergei Eisenstein, 1925

Written by Sergei Eisenstein and Nina Agadzhanova Shutko


Pay special attention to the famous scene of the massacre on the Odessa Steps. Consider the many ways in which Eisenstein orchestrates this scene with his complex editing. Note the contrast between long shots of the entire steps, and close-ups of individual people (e.g. the woman with the pince-nez who is shot in the eye at the end); the alternation between shots from below (of the citizens racing away in panic) and from above (of the soldiers in rigid formation descending and firing); the changes of tempo from frantic movement (at the start of the sequence) to near-immobility (in the center of the sequence, when the mother approaches the troops, carrying her wounded son, and the troops halt for a moment before they again open fire), to frantic movement again (at the end of the sequence); and the insertion of little dramas within the larger drama of the massacre (especially with the baby carriage). Think also of how the sequence juxtaposes shots of longer and shorter duration, travelling shots and fixed shots, alternating camera angles, verticals and horizontals, and patterns of light and of dark.

Consider the ways that patterns of montage are used as well to organize other sections of the film. The film as a whole is very heavily edited; it contains 1346 shots in a time of 86 minutes (when the film is run at correct silent speed)--a remarkably high ratio compared to other narrative films, both then and now. Consider also how Eisenstein uses montage to expand time and show us the same action from different viewpoints (both the Odessa Steps massacre and several other sequences in the film take longer in terms of screen time than they would last in terms of real time).

How important are Eisenstein's ideological intentions (in a film made during the early days of the Soviet Union) to the appreciation and enjoyment of the film now?

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