Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Battleship Potemkin

By Marjorie Baumgarten

DECEMBER 7, 1998: 

D: Sergei Eisenstein; with Alexander Antonov, Vladimir Barsky, Grigori Alexandrov, Mikhail Goronorov; live musical accompaniment by the Golden Arm Trio.

(1925)

You don't know jack about movies 'til you've experienced Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin. We may have learned things like film narrative from classics like Birth of a Nation and The Great Train Robbery, or cinema poetry from beauts like Sunrise and Un Chien Andalou, or twinkling laughter from any number of comic geniuses. But from Battleship Potemkin we experience the thrill of the movies -- as vividly in 1998 as ever, be it five years ago or 50 or right now for the first time. The Russian-born Eisenstein, who edited as well as directed this 1925 film, shows us the thrill of slamming shots together, of shaping images into ideas, yanking meaning from the mass. There are moments in Potemkin that are as rousing as any ever put on film. An artist working under the strictures of socialist realism, Eisenstein took for Potemkin's narrative a Russian story based on historical incident: a ship uprising in 1905 during which the sailors broke out in mutinous rebellion over the worm-ridden rations they were forced to eat by their czarist commanders. As word of the sailors' rebellion spread inland across Odessa, the townspeople gathered spontaneously in the local square and were indiscriminantly shot down on the steps by the armed Cossacks (thus engendering Eisenstein's famed Odessa Steps sequence, one of the most watched sequences in all of filmdom). The escalation of the people's rebellion in the face of the jackboots of repression continues in many more permutations throughout Potemkin, and Eisenstein and cameraman Edward Tisse lead us powerfully through these heady eruptions, as charismatically as if they were Jim Morrison declaring, "We want the world and we want it now." Battleship Potemkin represents the thrill and the power of the movies to anoint our lives with the passion for greater things. With live musical accompaniment by Golden Arm Trio, and a new print struck to commemorate both the 100th anniversary of Eisenstein's birth and the 50th anniversary of his death, this screening should be on of those only-in-Austin events for which the Alamo Movies & Music series is becoming famous.


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