A Reminder by good blogger friend Pretty Clever Film Gal tells us that today, January 23 is the birthday of Sergei Eisenstein, the champion of a style of filmmaking — in particular his editing schemes — that was decades ahead of its time and would not be widely used in mainstream American motion pictures until the late sixties (Bonnie and Clyde, and The Wild Bunch being the two films most frequently cited).
Eisenstein, something of a disciple of D. W. Griffith (and who also wrote what many consider the most cogent early essay on Griffith in Film Form, 1949), made his most famous work, Battleship Potemkin, in 1925, which commemorated the anniversary of the mutiny of sailors aboard the Czar’s flagship destroyer in 1905. The story of the revolt of the sailors against their brutal treatment at the hands of the ship’s officers serves as a historical precursor and symbol of the eventual uprising of the proletariat against the Czar in 1917.
Although the set-piece of “Potemkin” is the masterful “Odessa Steps” sequence, a taste of the violence mirrored by editing in that sequence can be found in miniature in the brief, but almost as famous, plate-smashing sequence that concludes “Part one” of the film.
The establishing shots of this sequence (each image that follows represents a single cut/edit) last about 35 seconds as the sailors clean up what are probably relatively few dirty plates and silverware — the sailors have refused to eat the borscht made with rotten, maggot-ridden meat. Tensions are above a simmer . . .
The hypocrisy of the message boils in the brain of the sailor who erupts in anger, shown in the next 10 cuts (numbered at the lower right of each frame) in a mere 3 seconds:
. . . and with a fade-out the scene is set for the drama of “Part two” and the sailors’ mutiny.