Battleship Potemkin (Russian: Бронено́сец «Потёмкин», Bronenosets Patyomkin), sometimes rendered as Battleship Potyomkin, is a 1925 Soviet silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein and produced by Mosfilm. It presents a dramatized version of the mutiny that occurred in 1905 when the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin rebelled against their officers.
Battleship Potemkin was named the greatest film of all time at the Brussels World's Fair in 1958.
The film is set in June 1905; the protagonists of the film are the members of the crew of the Potemkin, a battleship of the Imperial Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet. Eisenstein divided the plot into five acts, each with its own title:
The scene begins with two sailors, Matyushenko and Vakulinchuk, discussing the need for the crew of the Potemkin to support the revolution taking place within Russia. While the Potemkin is anchored off the island of Tendra, off-duty sailors are sleeping in their bunks. As an officer inspects the quarters, he stumbles and takes out his aggression on a sleeping sailor. The ruckus causes Vakulinchuk to awake, and he gives a speech to the men as they come to. Vakulinchuk says, "Comrades! The time has come when we too must speak out. Why wait? All of Russia has risen! Are we to be the last?" The scene cuts to morning above deck, where sailors are remarking on the poor quality of the meat for the crew. The meat appears to be rotten and covered in worms, and the sailors say that "even a dog wouldn't eat this!" The ship's doctor, Smirnov, is called over to inspect the meat by the captain. Rather than worms, the doctor says that the insects are maggots, and they can be washed off prior to cooking. The sailors further complain about the poor quality of the rations, but the doctor declares the meat edible and ends the discussion. Senior officer Giliarovsky forces the sailors still looking over the rotten meat to leave the area, and the cook begins to prepare borscht although he too questions the quality of the meat. The crew refuses to eat the borscht, instead choosing bread and water, and canned goods. While cleaning dishes, one of the sailors sees an inscription on a plate, which reads "give us this day our daily bread." After considering the meaning of this phrase, the sailor smashes the plate and the scene ends.
All those who refuse the meat are judged guilty of insubordination and are brought to the fore-deck where they receive religious last rites. The sailors are obliged to kneel and a canvas cover is thrown over them as a firing squad marches onto the deck. The First Officer gives the order to fire, but in response to Vakulinchuk's pleas the sailors in the firing squad lower their rifles and the uprising begins. The sailors overwhelm the outnumbered officers and take control of the ship. The officers are thrown overboard, the ship's priest is dragged out of hiding, and finally the doctor is thrown into the ocean as "food for the fish".
The mutiny is successful but Vakulinchuk, the charismatic leader of the rebels, is killed. The Potemkin arrives at the port of Odessa. Vakulinchuk's body is taken ashore and displayed publicly by his companions in a tent with a sign on his chest that says "For a spoonful of soup" (Изъ-за ложки борща). The sailors gather to make a final farewell and praise Vakulinchuk as a hero. The people of Odessa welcome the sailors, but they attract the police.
The Odessa steps in silent movie formatThe best-known sequence of the film is set on the Odessa steps, connecting the waterfront with the central city. A detachment of dismounted Cossacks forms a line at the top of the steps and march towards a crowd of unarmed civilians including women and children. The soldiers halt to fire a volley into the crowd and then continue their impersonal, machine-like advance. Brief sequences show individuals amongst the people fleeing or falling, a baby's pram rolling down the steps, a woman shot in the face, broken spectacles and the high boots of the soldiers moving in unison.
In retaliation, the sailors of the Potemkin decide to fire on a military headquarters with the guns of the battleship. Meanwhile, there is news that a squadron of loyal warships is coming to quell the revolt of Potemkin.
The sailors of the Potemkin decide to go all the way and lead the battleship from the port of Odessa to face the fleet of the Tsar. Just when the battle seems inevitable, the sailors of the formerly loyal ships incredibly refuse to open fire on their comrades, externalizing with songs and shouts of joy their solidarity with the mutineers and allowing them to pass unmolested through the fleet, waving the red flag.
Full Movie with English SubtitlesOn the 20th anniversary of the first Russian revolution, commemorative Commission of the Central Executive Committee decided to stage a number of performances dedicated to the revolutionary events of 1905. In addition, as part of the celebrations was suggested a "grand film shown in a special program, with an oratory introduction, musical (solo and orchestral) and a dramatic accompaniment based on a specially written text". Nina Agadzhanova was asked to write the script and direction of the picture was assigned to 27-year-old Sergei Eisenstein.
In the original script the film was to highlight a number of episodes of the 1905 revolution: Russo-Japanese War, massacre of the Armenians, revolutionary events in St. Petersburg, Moscow uprising. Filming was supposed to be conducted in a number of cities of the USSR.
Eisenstein hired many non-professional actors for the film; he sought people who had a specific type instead of famous stars.
Shooting began on March 31, 1925. Sergei began with filming in Leningrad and had time to shoot the railway strike episode, horsecar, city at night and the strike crackdown on Sadovaya Street. Further shooting was prevented by the deterioration weather: permanent fog began. At the same time the director was placed in tight time constraints: the film was needed to be finished by the end of the year, although the script was approved only at the 4th of June. Objectively assessing the situation, Sergei Eisenstein decided to give up the original script consisting of eight episodes to focus only on one – the uprising on the battleship "Potemkin", which in the all-encompassing scenario of Agadzhanova took up only a few pages (41 frames). Sergei Eisenstein together with Grigori Aleksandrov essentially recycled and extended the script. In addition during the progress of making the picture some episodes were added which were not provided by Agadzhanova's scenario or by Eisenstein's scenic sketches, such as the storm scene with which the film begins. As a result, the content of the film was very far from the original script by Agadzhanova.
The film was shot in Odessa which at that time was one of the centers of film production and where it was possible to find a suitable boat for shooting.
The first screening of the film took place December 21, 1925 at the ceremonial meeting dedicated to the anniversary of the 1905 revolution in the Bolshoi Theatre.
The premiere took place in Moscow on January 18, 1926 in the 1st Goskinoteatre (now called the Khudozhestvenny).
The silent film received a voice dubbing in 1930 (during the life of director Sergei Eisenstein), restored in 1950 (composer Nikolai Kryukov) and reissued in 1976 (composer Dmitri Shostakovich) at Mosfilm with the participation of the USSR State Film Fund and the Museum of S.M. Eisenstein under the artistic direction of Sergei Yutkevich.
In 1925, after sale of the film negative to Germany and reediting by director Phil Jutzi, "Battleship Potemkin" was released in the world in a different version of the author's intention: the shooting of sailors was moved from the beginning to the end of the film. Later it was subjected to censorship and in the USSR some frames and intermediate titles were removed, words of Leon Trotsky in the prologue were replaced with a quote from Lenin. In 2005, under the overall guidance of the Foundation Deutsche Kinemathek, with the participation of the State Film Fund and the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, the author's version of the film was restored with the music by Edmund Meisel.
Battleship "Prince Potemkin-Tauride" at the time of the shooting of the film was written off, prepared for recycling and was in poor condition. Instead the battleship "Twelve Apostles" residing in the port of Odessa was shot in the film. By this time it was turned into a warehouse of floating mines making it difficult for the shooting. Scenes taking place indoors were filmed on the cruiser "Komintern".
In the film the rebels raise the red flag on the battleship. However, with the limitations of that time the red flag in the black and white transmission looked black. Therefore, in the movie a white flag was shot. In the copy intended for the premiere at the Grand Theatre, 108 frames, the scene where the flag appears was hand-painted in red which greatly impressed the audience.