The historical mistreatment of Sergei Eisenstein's agit-prop classic Battleship Potemkin demonstrates how movies made for express political purposes can be buffeted by the winds of change. Upon its release in 1925, Potemkin was hailed as a masterpiece, as much for the way it dramatized the emotions behind the communist revolution as for its innovative use of montage. But Eisenstein told the story of a sailors' revolt maybe too well, with too much artistic detail. In a depressed pre-Nazi Germany, officials worried that the film would foment revolt among the military and police. In the Soviet Union, the powers that be gradually whittled away Eisenstein's original vision by mandating the inclusion of more patriotic music, and the exclusion of quotes by disgraced political leaders. And in the U.S., unadulterated prints were hard to come by, since American distributors could only deal with European companies that had made their own alterations.
So even those who think they've seen Battleship Potemkin should take a look at Kino's new DVD edition, which comes closer to reproducing Eisenstein's original vision than any version of the movie in more than 80 years. The title cards have been retranslated to maintain Eisenstein's precise rhythm, some shockingly bloody images have been reinserted, and the soundtrack has been expanded to fill out the abbreviated score Eisenstein commissioned for the film's Berlin première. While Potemkin's greatness has rarely been in dispute—even among those who disagree with the film's exaltation of the collective over the individual—in its current form, it better captures the relentless drive of revolution, from a shipboard dispute over maggoty meat to a mêlée in downtown Odessa. Potemkin was made a mere 20 years after the historical incident it's based on, and the mood of that day still feels immediate and raw, as Eisenstein hails the people whose actions were regarded as traitorous in 1905 and heroic in 1925, then re-examined with every subsequent regime change. Mainly, though, Battleship Potemkin remains remarkable for the way it builds over a brisk 69 minutes, setting the pace for nearly every action movie made since.
Key features: A fine 40-minute German documentary about the censorship and restoration.