You know I hate to agree with Joseph Goebbels on anything, but in his statement about 1925's Battleship Potemkin
; "anyone who had no firm political conviction could become a Bolshevik after seeing the film," I can't say I think he's wrong. A film by Sergei Eisenstein, revolutionary both in political temperament and in terms of the history of cinema, it tells the true story of a 1905 mutiny aboard a Russian battleship through the perspective of Soviet propaganda, with broad, starkly simplistic moral divisions between factions shown. Eisenstein's ability as a filmmaker, though, contributes enormous force to the argument.
As Roger Ebert says in his essay on the film
, a lot of the impact comes from cutting--noting Eisenstein "was a student and advocate of Soviet theories of film montage, which argued that film has its greatest impact not by the smooth unrolling of images, but by their juxtaposition." Soldiers and officers loyal to the Tsar are presented either as snarling, cartoonish villains or as faceless killing machines, but the rhythm of Eisenstein's images is more naturalistic, more objective and helps us to see the cold marching of soldiers down the steps in Odessa as they slaughter civilians as a powerfully, uncontrollable evil.
The same technique earlier in the film helps humanise the sailors as we view them eating and sleeping, chatting with one another and protesting from the perspective of a seemingly candid succession of cuts that are really of carefully composed images.
One sympathises with the common people portrayed and is repelled by the senseless evil of the Tsar's forces and there's a genuine feeling of triumph when brothers in the cause appear miraculously, and a sense that this revolution is a groundswell of true human compassion and camaraderie in the face of the cold, unnatural hatred and greed of the Tsar.
It presents an extremely biased perspective and almost makes one buy it as impartial. Even the horrific hyperbole of the Odessa Staircase massacre comes off as simply horrific and enraging.