Watch Battleship Potemkin and Other Free Sergei Eisenstein Films

As a car­less cinephile, I’ve spent hours upon hours lis­ten­ing to film pod­casts while rid­ing my bike or the train. Bat­tle­ship Pre­ten­sion, host­ed by knowl­edge­able but still knowl­edge-hun­gry young crit­ics Tyler Smith and David Bax, has long held top pri­or­i­ty on these rides — and even if the title’s ref­er­ent doesn’t flood your mind with mem­o­ries of artis­tic awe, you prob­a­bly get the pun. But if you want to go deep­er and talk about how film edit­ing went from grunt work to art form, you have lit­tle choice but to talk about Bat­tle­ship Potemkin (1925) and its direc­tor, Sergei Eisen­stein. A Russ­ian dou­ble-threat of film­mak­er and film the­o­rist in the 1920s through the late 1940s, Eisen­stein pio­neered many now-essen­tial edit­ing tech­niques, fig­ur­ing out how images could be arranged to serve not just a film’s sto­ry but its rhythm, its tone, and even its themes.

Like cin­e­ma itself, Eisen­stein came from the the­ater. Unlike most of his con­tem­po­raries, he made great strides in drag­ging cin­e­ma out of the the­ater behind him, cast­ing off staid sto­ry­telling habits in favor of the vast pos­si­bil­i­ties of the then-new medi­um, most of which remain unchart­ed even today. Tasked by his gov­ern­ment with pro­duc­ing what came down to rev­o­lu­tion­ary pro­pa­gan­da, Eisen­stein couldn’t push the the­mat­ic enve­lope very far. Even so, today’s film­mak­ers look­ing for ways to advance their form, or today’s film­go­ers eager to learn more about how movies work, would do well to look at what Eisen­stein man­aged to do 85 years ago, and how aes­thet­i­cal­ly exhil­a­rat­ing it all remains.

This you can do from the com­fort of your com­put­er by brows­ing Open Culture’s col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online, where you’ll find links to Eisen­stein pic­tures view­able at the click of the mouse, includ­ing the sweep­ing Alexan­der Nevsky, the doomed ¡Que viva Méx­i­co!, and of course, the icon­ic Bat­tle­ship Potemkin (above). Watch a few, and you’ll see why Bat­tle­ship Pre­ten­sion’s lis­ten­ers vot­ed Eisen­stein into the top hun­dred direc­tors of all time. Smith and Bax called on yours tru­ly to write his blurb on the list, but don’t take my word for the filmmaker’s impor­tance; his movies, whether you catch them in a grand revival screen­ing or on your web brows­er right now, show you every­thing you need to know.

Com­plete list of free Eisen­stein films: Alexan­der Nevsky (alter­nate ver­sion), Bat­tle­ship Potemkin, Octo­ber: Ten Days that Shook the World, Old and New, ¡Que viva Méx­i­co!, Romance Sen­ti­men­tale, Strike.

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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