In this film, Eisenstein used the events of the 1905 rebellion against czarist troops in the port of Odessa as a metaphor for the Russian Revolution of 1917. Potemkin is made up of five major sequences: the rebellion of the crew of the Imperial Russian Navy battleship Potemkin over rotten food, their mutiny on the quarterdeck, the display of the body of the killed rebel leader on the quay in Odessa, the massacre of civilians by soldiers on the Odessa steps, and the crew’s triumphant sailing of the battleship to meet the fleet. All of them exhibit Eisenstein’s self-conscious manipulation of the medium of film. One of the most memorable shots, a part of the Odessa steps sequence, captures the horror of the massacre in a close-up of a screaming woman, wounded by the advancing soldiers. Eisenstein’s brilliantly percussive editing, detailed shots, repetitions, contrasts, compressions and expansions of time, and collisions of images ran counter to the trend toward a seamless illusion of reality in other national cinemas of the 1920s.
After the Russian Revolution, young film directors searched for a cinematic style that, by destroying tradition, would help to bring about a new, proletarian society. In films on revolutionary subjects, they abandoned conventional structure and experimented with novel techniques, including montage. With Potemkin, Soviet cinema took a central place on the world scene, in spite of the fact that the film was censored, even banned, in many countries for its powerful glorification of the Soviet ideal.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)