Monday, September 13, 2010

Links: Battleship Potemkin

First we have Roger Ebert's Great Movies review of Potemkin, in which he argues for the film's ability to remain fresh despite its age and influence:

"The film once had such power that it was banned in many nations, including its native Soviet Union. Governments actually believed it could incite audiences to action. If today it seems more like a technically brilliant but simplistic ``cartoon'' (Pauline Kael's description in a favorable review), that may be because it has worn out its element of surprise--that, like the 23rd Psalm or Beethoven's Fifth, it has become so familiar we cannot perceive it for what it is.
Having said that, let me say that Potemkin, which I have seen many times and taught using a shot-by-shot approach, did come alive for me the other night, in an unexpected time and place."

For a little background on the Soviet Montage style of editing, and how it was different from the editing that came before it, check out Film Reference:

"The Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (1898–1948) wrote that Griffith's crosscutting embodied the essential class disparity of a capitalist society. He meant that the lines of action in Griffith's editing remained separated, like the classes under capitalism. Inspired by the October Revolution, Eisenstein and other Soviet filmmakers developed in the 1910s and 1920s a more radical approach to editing than Griffith had countenanced. . . .
Eisenstein believed that editing was the foundation of film art. For Eisenstein, meaning in cinema lay not in the individual shot but only in the relationships among shots established by editing. Translating a Marxist political perspective into the language of cinema, Eisenstein referred to his editing as "dialectical montage" because it aimed to expose the essential contradictions of existence and the political order. Because conflict was essential to the political praxis of Marxism, the idea of conflict furnished the logic of Eisenstein's shot changes, which gives his silent films a rough, jagged quality. His shots do not combine smoothly, as in the continuity editing of D. W. Griffith and Hollywood cinema, but clash and bang together. Thus, his montages were eminently suited to depictions of violence, as in Strike, Potemkin, and Ten Days. In his essays Eisenstein enumerated the numerous types of conflict that he found essential to cinema. These included conflicts among graphic elements in a composition and between shots, and conflict of time and space created in the editing process and by filming with different camera speeds."

Finally, Passport to Dreams Old & New does its best to make MIke's head explode (or at least shoot him in the eye) with this essay On Dialectical Montage and Disneyland:

"Montage has been applied to early attractions in generally crude form; the art of the attraction did not, after all, reach maturity until 1967. And yet there are prescient precedents in the form of Snow White’s Adventures in 1955, where the directly linear mode of conveyance moved viewers past rapidly approaching and receding simple painted sets. The form of the attraction replicated, abstractly and then literally, Snow White’s famous flee through the forest in escaping the Huntsman. This famous and influential sequence has had a comparable influence on cinema as Eisenstein’s famous Odessa Steps in Battleship Potemkin. Snow White itself, in turn, influenced Eisenstein when he saw it in 1937 as part of his effort to get his lost project Que Viva Mexico! finished in Hollywood. The influence stretches backwards too: Walt Disney had his animators watching silent films as research, and Snow White’s frenzied twisting and turning in the forest is comparable to Lillian Gish trapped in the closet at the climax of D. W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms."

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