Free: Watch Battleship Potemkin and Other Films by Sergei Eisenstein, the Revolutionary Soviet Filmmaker

When it launched fif­teen years ago, the movie pod­cast Bat­tle­ship Pre­ten­sion took its name from two well-known sources: an atti­tude pop­u­lar­ly asso­ci­at­ed with cinephiles, and a 1925 motion pic­ture by Sergei Eisen­stein. To some, mere­ly ref­er­enc­ing a silent film made by a Sovi­et auteur in 1925 con­sti­tutes suf­fi­cient evi­dence of pre­ten­sion in and of itself. But most, even those who’ve nev­er seen a frame of Eisen­stein’s work, do rec­og­nize that Bat­tle­ship Potemkin has an impor­tant place in cin­e­ma his­to­ry — and if they actu­al­ly watch the movie, which is embed­ded just above, they’ll find that it looks and feels more famil­iar than they’d expect­ed.

Like any work of wide and deep influ­ence, Bat­tle­ship Potemkin has often been par­o­died over its near­ly 100 years of exis­tence. But none of its scenes has been paid as much homage, tongue in cheek or else­where, than the mas­sacre on the Odessa Steps, the sym­bol­ic entry­way to that city in what’s now Ukraine.

“Czarist troops march down a long flight of steps, fir­ing on the cit­i­zens who flee before them in a ter­ri­fied tide,” as Roger Ebert describes it. “Count­less inno­cents are killed, and the mas­sacre is summed up in the image of a woman shot dead try­ing to pro­tect her baby in a car­riage — which then bounces down the steps, out of con­trol.”

The con­tent of this sequence is as har­row­ing as its form is rev­o­lu­tion­ary. That’s true in the pro­pa­gan­dis­tic sense, but even more so in the artis­tic one: the Odessa Steps mas­sacre, like the whole of Bat­tle­ship Potemkin, func­tions as a proof-of-con­cept for Eisen­stein’s the­o­ries of mon­tage. Today we take for grant­ed — and in some cas­es have even come to resent — that movies so expert­ly jux­ta­pose their images so as to pro­voke the most intense emo­tion­al response pos­si­ble with­in us. That was­n’t so much the case a cen­tu­ry ago, when most exam­ples of the still-nov­el art form of cin­e­ma used their visu­als sim­ply to make their nar­ra­tives leg­i­ble.

Eisen­stein, how­ev­er, under­stood cin­e­ma’s true poten­tial. He explored it in a range of pic­tures that also includ­ed Ten Days That Shook the World, a drama­ti­za­tion of the 1917 Octo­ber Rev­o­lu­tion; Alexan­der Nevsky, on the repul­sion of invaders by the epony­mous thir­teenth-cen­tu­ry prince; and the epic his­tor­i­cal dra­ma Ivan the Ter­ri­ble, the sto­ry of the first tsar of all Rus­sia (and idol of Stal­in, who com­mis­sioned the project).

You can watch these films, as well as Eisen­stein’s unfin­ished trib­ute to the Mex­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion ¡Que viva Méx­i­co!, free on the Youtube chan­nel of Mos­film, the pre­em­i­nent stu­dio in the Sovi­et era. That Eisen­stein’s tech­niques have sur­vived not just him but the Sovi­et Union itself under­scores a truth he might have sus­pect­ed, but nev­er admit­ted: cin­e­ma is more pow­er­ful than pol­i­tics.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Sergei Eisenstein’s Ten Days That Shook the World (1928)

A Visu­al Intro­duc­tion to Sovi­et Mon­tage The­o­ry: A Rev­o­lu­tion in Film­mak­ing

Sergei Eisenstein’s Sem­i­nal Bat­tle­ship Potemkin Gets a Sound­track by Pet Shop Boys

Watch 70 Movies in HD from Famed Russ­ian Stu­dio Mos­film: Clas­sic Films, Beloved Come­dies, Tarkovsky, Kuro­sawa & More

James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake Gets Turned into an Inter­ac­tive Web Film, the Medi­um It Was Des­tined For

101 Free Silent Films: The Great Clas­sics

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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