A fixture in the critical canon almost since its premiere, Sergei Eisenstein’s film about a 1905 naval mutiny was revolutionary in both form and content.
“Even now I feel again the emotion it aroused in all of us. When we left the theatre, we started erecting barricades ourselves. The police had to intervene before we would stop.”
Luis Buñuel, My Last Sigh, 1982
Declared the greatest film of all time at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair and one of only two films to have appeared on all of Sight & Sound’s critics’ polls (1952–2002), Battleship Potemkin has also been widely censored, as much out of fear of the perceived influence of its ideas as for any contentious material on screen.
In essence, it tells a five-part story of a naval mutiny leading to full-blown revolution, but while this material could be crudely propagandist in other hands, Eisenstein uses images of such dynamic compositional strength and editing of such frame-perfect precision that it’s hard not to be swept along, regardless of personal politics. Despite endless quotation and parody, the set-piece massacre on the Odessa Steps still packs a sledgehammer punch.
Other hugely influential Soviet films of the silent era – of which there are many – include The Man with a Movie Camera (1929) and Earth (1930).