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Battleship Potemkin (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 16, 2010 by  



“Battleship Potemkin” is a true masterpiece that deserves to be owned by the cineaste. It deserves to be seen on Blu-ray and it embodies the true essence of cinema.  A wonderful silent film that will continue to impress today’s generation and future generations to come and is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2010 Kino International Corp. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potyomkin)

DURATION: 71 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: B&W/Color – Full Frame (1:33:1), DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

COMPANY: Kino International

RATED: NOT RATED

RELEASE DATE: April 20, 2010

Directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein

Script by Nina Agadzhanova

Music by Edmund Meisel (1926), Perofrmed by Deutsches Filmorchestra (2005)

Cinematography: Eduard Tisse

Starring:

Aleksandr Antonov as Grigroy Vakulinchuk – Bolshevik Sailor

Vladimir Barsky as Commander Golikov

Grigori Aleksandrov as Chief Officer Giliarovsky

Ivan Bobrov as Young Sailor Flogged While Sleeping

Mikhail Gomorov as Militant Sailor

Aleksandr Levshin as Petty Officer

N. Poltavtseva as Woman with Pince-nez

Konstantin Feldman as Student Agitator

Prokopenko as Mother Carrying Wounded Boy

A. Glauberman as Wounded Boy

Beatrice Vitoldi as Woman with Baby Carriage

Odessa – 1905. Enraged with the deplorable conditions on board the armored cruiser Potemkin, the ship’s loyal crew contemplates the unthinkable – mutiny. Seizing control of the Potemkin and raising the red flag of revolution, the sailors’ revolt becomes the rallying point for a Russian populace ground under the boot heels of the Czar’s Cossacks. When ruthless White Russian cavalry arrives to crush the rebellion on the sandstone Odessa Steps, the most famous and most quoted film sequence in cinema history is born.

For eight decades, Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 masterpiece has remained the most influential silent film of all time. Yet each successive generation has seen BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN subjected to censorship and recutting, its unforgettable power diluted in unauthorized public domain editions from dubious sources. Until now. Kino is proud to join the Deutsche Kinematek in association with Russia’s Goskinofilm, the British Film Institute, Bundesfilm Archive Berlin, and the Munich Film Museum in presenting this all new restoration of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN. Dozens of missing shots have been replaced, and all 146 title cards restored to Eisenstein’s specifications. Edmund Meisel’s definitive 1926 score, magnificently rendered by the 55-piece Deutches Filmorchestra in 5.1 Stereo Surround, returns Eisenstein’s masterwork to a form as close to its creator’s bold vision as has been seen since the film’s triumphant 1925 Moscow premiere.

The great Russian director Sergei Eisenstein, known for films such as the 1938 “Alexander Nevsky” and the 1944-1946 films “Ivan the Terrible”, but if there was one movie that the filmmaker will be remembered for is his 1925 masterpiece “The Battleship Potemkin”.  A film based on the true story of the sailors of the Battleship Potemkin that rebelled against the officers of the Tsarist regime.

When Eisenstein created “Potemkin”, his goal was to create a revolutionary propaganda film and in the process, the film would inspire many filmmakers at that time, including other silent film stars such as Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who absolutely loved the film and started screening the film to fellow friends in hope for distribution in the US.

Back in 1925, the film received a standing ovation in Russia and was no doubt a major success during its Bolshoi premiere in Moscow.  But its public premiere, like many other silent film masterpieces such as “Sunrise” and “Metropolis” received a less enthusiastic response. But as the film made its round to the US, despite seeing a censored version of the film, “Battleship Potemkin” was very daring for its use of violence in the film.  For Eisenstein and fellow Soviet filmmakers, the test for the director was the use of film editing to create an emotional response for the viewers.

And as the film made its round to other countries, having been edited in Germany, the film that was shown in 1925 was now a more politically correct film that would feature less on the violence and more of the story but unfortunately over the years, the film would be tampered with in order to fit music, frames were stretched and cut and with too much editing, by the time people wanted to celebrate Eisenstein’s masterpiece, no one knew how the original film was supposed to be, the original film was considered lost and footage cut was never restored.  Even when the repeatedly cut negative was returned to the USSR in the ’40s, the reprint was further edited, stretched and retitled.

In fact, the film would have a chance to receive another for restoration in the 1970’s by Eisenstein scholar Naum Kleinman who tried to restore it using negative and other print materials but having had to work with the stretched film of the ’40s, he had to make do with what he had.

Eighty years later, Enno Patalas who worked at the Munic Filmmuseum made an attempt to reassemble the film from prints held by MoMA and the British Film Institute and in 2005, the definitive restoration of “Battleship Potemkin” was created and in 2010, the Blu-ray release of Eisenstein’s masterpiece showcases all the hardwork that went into the restoration.  The new version includes 1,374 shots that were cut from the German 1926 censored version and with this Blu-ray release features the most comprehensive, complete and accurate re-ordering, rendering and replacing of Potemkin’s groundbreaking stylized titles since its premiere in 1925.

The new Blu-ray release will also feature the performance of Edmund Meisel’s score (performed by the Deutsches Filmorchestra) which was meticulously researched and arranged by composer and conductor Helmut Imig.

“Battleship Potemkin” is based on a true story about the sailors of the Russian battleship Potemkin that rebelled against their own officers of the Tsarist regime. In the film, the sailors of the Potemkin are tired of being mistreated by their officers.  Things get worse when they are given bad meat with maggots on it.  When the sailors try to let their superiors know that the meat is bad, the ship’s doctor looks and sees the maggots but makes up a lie saying that what is on the meat are dead fly larvae that can be washed away with brine.  A lie to appease the officers on board.

But the sailors have had enough and in protest, they refuse to eat the meat.   Because the protest is seen as a form of rebellion, Chief Officer Ippolit Giliarovsky threatens his crew and tells his officers to bring out a tarp to cover those who refused to eat and they will be executed.

The men on board can’t believe what is happening and in an act of heroism, Bolshevik sailor Grigory Vakulinchuk asks for his brothers to fight against the officers and a fight breaks out on the Potemkin.  The officers are thrown overboard but in the process of fighting their oppressors, Vakulinchuk is shot dead by one of the officers.

With the sailors showing respect to their comrade, they take his body and put him in an area where the people can see him and pay his respect.  Also, to know how bad things are for the sailors who are also being oppressed by their officers.  Hundreds who have heard about Vakulinchuk’s death have come to pay their respect to him and also in unison, the people have had enough of their own oppression by the Tsarist regime.

As the people of Odessa show their support for the sailors of the Potemkin and protest in peace at the Odessa steps, the Imperial military have come and instead of ushering the crowd, they begin firing at anyone – men, women, children and babies.

With word of what happened in Odessa, this prompts the sailors of the Potemkin to take action, knowing full well that the imperial army will send battleships to fight them.

VIDEO:

“Battleship Potemkin” is presented in its original B&W (1:33:1) presentation.  There is color in one scene which the original films did have and that is the raising of the Potemkin flag which was red.  Picture quality for the Blu-ray release of Potemkin looks absolutely awesome.  For a film over 80-years-old, despite having its fair share of scratches and lines, the print is still in very good condition considering how much editing the film had undergone.  The restored sequences work seamlessly and to bring back the intertitles as close as they can to the original also looks very good (especially for the process in making it seem as it was part of the original negative).

But the cinematography for the film is wonderful.    From the people paying their respects to Vakulinchuk and then the massacre in Odessa is just amazing to watch.  And the fact that this generation is able to watch something that many people haven’t seen (since a variety of scenes featuring the massacre in Odessa and the fight on Potemkin was heavily edited) within the last 80+ years is quite impressive.  Blacks are nice and dark and the contrast for the film is very good.

Sure “Battleship Potemkin” on Blu-ray is not exactly pristine but silent films are rarely pristine to begin with.  If you can find a print that looks fantastic, then you literally found a goldmine and in this case, this restoration of “Battleship Potemkin” is fantastic (especially if you compared to previous video and public domain releases).

AUDIO & INTERTITLES:

“Battleship Potemkin features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack by the Deutsches Filmorchestra based on the 1926 Edmun Meisel score.  The music is absolutely awesome.  I love the orchestral music as it gave us a sense of emotion when it came to the soldiers, the battleships, the massacre in Odessa and more.   The music speaks volumes for Potemkin and the fact that they kept a score that remained true to what Eisenstein had envisioned is fantastic.

It is important to note that there are two versions of the film.  One featuring the newly-translated English intertitles and the other with the original Russian intertitles (and optional English subtitles).

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Battleship Potemkin” comes with the following special features:

  • Tracing the Battleship Potemkin – (42:20) A documentary on the making and restoration of “Battleship Potemkin”.  Anyone who wants to learn how the film has gone through major editing due to censorship and how the influential film would receive a major restoration in 2005 in which viewers would now see how “Battleship Potemkin” was meant to be seen and meant to be heard.

EXTRAS:

“Battleship Potemkin” comes with a cardboard slipcase.

“Battleship Potemkin” is a Blu-ray release that a cineaste must have in their collection.

Once again, KINO brings to us a silent film that looks absolutely gorgeous on Blu-ray and a musical score that sounds absolutely marvelous in HD.

The cinematography is absolutely fantastic.  From a scene overlooking the city as hundreds of people walk to see the corpse of a fallen sailor, to hundreds people running down from the steps of Odessa and seeing them in panic.  I often wonder how many takes it took to create those scenes.  Eisenstein was a master of utilizing the entire screen.

This film is quite important as many have viewed Eisenstein’s work as one of the kings of filmmaking who was able to transition from silent films to sound and continue to produce epic work.  He was truly a genius when it came to filmmaking and just by watching his masterpiece “Battleship Potemkin”, his grasp of meticulous editing and making sure each scene is not wasted and that each scene is deserving of an emotional response is what remains clear of Eisenstein’s oeuvre.

I wish I can describe to you (for those who haven’t seen the film) of what takes place during the Odessa scene but I’m not going to bother explaining it, this film has to be seen and you will be impressed by the images and how ambitious it was to create that amount of chaos.

I don’t think we will ever know how much work went on for the creation of this film, let alone how much went into creating each shot since this film was hacked and edited and only until 2005 would we get a true restoration that possibly Eisenstein would have been happy about.

We do know how much this film has changed each time it has exchanged hands under German censors and also in the US.  So, many people post 1926 who have wanted to see the original Eisenstein film have seen various versions through video and public domain releases but it’s that 2005 restoration that is the definitive version to see.  And that is what is featured on this Blu-ray release in gorgeous HD glory and if you have seen this on video or via public domain, the video quality of those films were absolutely muddy or lack of contrast compared to how it looks on Blu-ray.  This release is absolutely fantastic and the lossless musical soundtrack is equally remarkable.

Now, would I have liked more choices for music, sure.  Would I have wanted more special features included with this Blu-ray release?  Of course.  But considering how difficult it has been to get a true version of “Battleship Potemkin” out to the masses in the last 80-years, if this is all there is, then I am content.

“Battleship Potemkin” is a true masterpiece that deserves to be owned by the cineaste. It deserves to be seen on Blu-ray and it embodies the true essence of cinema.  A wonderful silent film that will continue to impress today’s generation and future generations to come and is highly recommended!






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