Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Silent Movie Classics has a great piece on a restoration release of the classic 1926 Soviet silent film Battleship Potemkin directed by Sergei Eisenstein. What makes this analysis unique is that it points out the greatest influence of this movie is on directors such as auteur Michael Bay:

Anybody who thinks that Sergei Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" is an "art film" either hasn't seen the movie at all or had it ruined for them by some combination of a butchered print and a tedious film-history professor. As a remarkable new restoration of the 1925 Soviet silent classic makes clear, "Battleship Potemkin" is first and foremost an action drama, a work of straightforward emotion and pulse-quickening tension. This taut, 71-minute picture is stitched together from more than 1,300 shots, very few of them lasting more than three or four seconds. For better or worse, this film's true revolutionary legacy is not art cinema but Hollywood; it's got a lot more in common with Tony Scott's "Unstoppable" than it does with Andrei Tarkovsky.

I'm not being willful or contrarian or anything -- it's just true. Of course Eisenstein was a fervent supporter of the Bolshevik Revolution, who hoped his story about a fabled 1905 uprising by sailors in the Tsarist navy would inspire the oppressed of the earth to throw off their chains and hoist the red flag (hand-tinted in this version, as at the Moscow premiere). But that context was a lot less important than he assumed at the time, and "Potemkin's" immense cultural impact has almost nothing to do with its purported politics. (The young Joseph Goebbels, whose ideology ran in a different direction, praised the film extravagantly.)

Like other Marxist thinkers and artists of his time, Eisenstein believed that political revolution demanded a revolutionary aesthetics and a revolutionary cinema. He thought his radical innovations in camerawork, composition and (most of all) the quick-cut editing he called "montage" were part of a global shift in mass consciousness, and he was right about that part. Presumably he never imagined that his aesthetic revolution would conquer the world, divorced from the ideology that had inspired it, while the Soviet experiment in social reinvention would become a cruel and miserable failure.

According to film historian Bruce Bennett, "Battleship Potemkin" was personally imported to the United States by silent star Douglas Fairbanks and screened privately for film-industry luminaries on both coasts during the summer and fall of 1926, beginning with a bedsheet projection at Gloria Swanson's house in New York. "Nobody went Bolshevik," quipped a columnist for Photoplay magazine at the time, "but a lot of people left with some revolutionary ideas of filmmaking." It's safe to say this was one of those collisions that changed the course of cultural history. Has there been a year since the late '20s when Hollywood didn't produce multiple imitations of "Battleship Potemkin"?

How "Battleship Potemkin" reshaped Hollywood
Andrew O'Hehir
Tuesday, Jan 11, 2011

Meanwhile, has a great piece on A Trip to the Moon:

"A year before the Wright brothers launched the first airplane flight in 1903, Georges Méliès, a French filmmaker with already 400 films to his credit, directed a film that visualized a much bigger human ambition – landing a spacecraft on the moon. Loosely based on works by Jules Vernes (From the Earth to the Moon) and H. G. Wells (The First Men in the Moon), A Trip to the Moon (Le voyage dans la lune) invented one of our favorite cinematic genres – the science fiction film. Today, many film critics consider Méliès’ short film an enduring classic. The Village Voice ranked it #84 on its list of the 100 Best Films of the 20th Century, and you’ll almost certainly recognize the iconic shot at the 4:44 mark.

Méliès’s body of work, which goes well beyond this landmark film, has been recently collected into a new box set. Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913) puts 173 rare and rediscovered films onto 5 discs."

To see the film online, or even better, to download it:

A Trip to the Moon: Where Sci Fi Movies Began
January 19th, 2011
Dan Colman

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