Silent Feature Sunday: Battleship Potemkin (1925)

While I do watch many new films, and have annual awards and will discuss current cinematic topics. Part of my desire to create my own site was to not have an agenda forced upon me that was not my own. This allows me to discuss films from all periods of history whenever I see fit. Recently my Short Film Saturday posts have been running toward silents more often. I questioned this tactic for a second until I realized that if I really do hope to encompass all of film history then the silent era most definitely should not be ignored. If you mark the silent era from the birth of film (1895) to the first talkie (1927), and I realize it could be argued that the silent era stretched a few years beyond that, and also that there were experiments with sound very early; that’s still 27% of film history at current which was entirely silent. Therefore a weekly post (or, however often I put it up) is not out of line at all mathematically or otherwise.

The good news is that many silent films are available to watch online, and are in the public domain. So I will feature some here.

When I was studying film, from one source or another, I heard it said that Eisenstein’s work was more interesting in an academic sense than any other. Having sought out and seen this film on my own after having seen the famous “Odessa Steps” sequence, I could not have disagreed with this statement more. Surely, in a historical context one cannot explain the art of editing without discussing Eisenstein. For it was both in practice and theory that he pushed it forward as the essential component in the art. Yet I found the film tremendously gripping. In his book Film Form he explains himself that its structuring has much to do with it both here:

Potemkin looks like a chronicle or a newsreel of an event, but it functions like a drama.

The secret of this lies in the fact that the chronicle pace of is fitted to a severely tragic composition. And furthermore, to tragic composition in its most canonic form – the five-act tragedy.

And here:

The utility in the choice of a five-act structure in particular, for this tragedy was, of course, by no means accidental, but was the result of prolonged natural selection…

The impact of this structural decision is redoubled in my estimation by the film’s slender running time (75 minutes, officially speaking). It’s not a wonder then that some may not connect, seeing as a five-act structure can be seen as archaic, and some films who can be argued to employ one (such as A.I.) can disengage people.

That temporally truncated approach to a classical epic structure is only a small part of why it works for me. Regardless of whether or not it does for you this is one you should scratch of your list, which is another reason I’ve chosen to take on this theme, both to introduce essentials and to see more myself.