The Battleship Potemkin Showing Next Week on DISH Network

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The Battleship Potemkin was conceived as an episode of an eight-part series celebrating the failed 1905 revolution. A French magazine article about the mutiny provided the likely starting point for the film’s scenario. The cast was assembled from residents of Odessa, augmented by Eisenstein’s colleagues, with First World War newsreel being used for shots of the fleet in the film’s final section.

The negative was sold to Germany in 1926 and returned to the Soviet Union in 1940, minus material excised by the German distributors. Ivor Montagu brought a print to Britain for the London Film Society’s 1929 screening, while Jay Leyda took a print to the United States in 1936. Both prints came from Moscow and escaped the German cuts. The 1997 restoration by Ennio Patalas of the Munich Film Museum incorporated twelve scenes from the British print and further material from a restoration by the New York Museum of Modern Art based on Leyda’s print. The Munich restoration is the nearest we have to a complete version.

The film’s reputation in the Soviet Union was allied to that of its director. Although Potemkin was a celebration of people power, Eisenstein was attacked for not following the party line. After Stalin’s death, dissidents including Solzhenitsyn accused Eisenstein of being an opportunist, while the authorities branded him a Stalinist. A member of a Soviet delegation visiting Hollywood in 1979 opined that Eisenstein could only be taken seriously for his editing and cinematography. A review of the DVD for the Maoist Internationalist Movement in 2001 was equally dismissive, complaining of unfinished plot threads resulting from Eisenstein’s concern with achieving maximum effect. In the West, the initial response was mixed. The correspondent of The Times summed up the negative view: ‘The Battleship Potemkin disappoints most of the hopes which the censor’s ban has aroused. . . . In particular, the massacre of the citizens of Odessa, effective enough in itself, loses all reality from the omission of any mention of the riots and arson which were its immediate cause.’ When the Sight and Sound top ten list was published in 1952, such opinions went unheard. The Battleship Potemkin was judged the greatest film at the Brussels World Fair in 1958 and if it has lost its pre-eminence, it regularly features in Sight and Sound decennial listings.

The circumstances of Soviet film-going make it difficult to gauge the response of the first audiences. Richard Taylor concludes that the film was popular on the workers’ film circuit in the USSR, but less so where people had to pay. In Moscow, it ran for a month in the winter of 1926; Robin Hood, starring Douglas Fairbanks, ran till the summer. Potemkin’s commercial potential in the West was summed up by Fred Schader in Variety:

It may interest a few Russians in this country, but it is utterly devoid of entertainment and box office value. The authorities need not fear that the showing of this picture will cause any unrest among the lower classes in this country, for not enough of them will see it to make any difference. Those that are out-and-out reds, and those that are inclined to socialism will undoubtedly find great things about the picture, but hardly anyone else will.

Censorship ensured that the film was more talked about than seen; Potemkin was too dated to arouse general interest by the time it became freely available, and it does not feature in audience polls.

By: Francis David

Francis helps people understand the DISH Network DISH TV Service and DISH Network receivers. He can help you find the best DISH Network Deals for new customers.

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