|Battleship Potemkin: the Odessa steps sequence.|
Pauline Kael once referred to Battleship Potemkin (1925) as a “cartoon”; we can assume that she was referring not only to this great film’s rudimentary Marxist characterizations (virile, heroic proles vs. grotesque, corrupt figures of authority) but also to its kinetic visual energy. It’s a polemical film of cartoon heroes and villains cut together at breakneck speed, one in which action and motion are used as tools of cinematic as well as ideological rhetoric. For all its reputation as a classroom movie—a staple of Intro-to-Film-Studies courses around the world—Potemkin is compulsively watchable, lean and punchy, perhaps because it was designed as a piece of agit-prop made to engage mass audiences. Woodrow Wilson is alleged to have said that The Birth of a Nation was like “writing history with lightning,” a claim that could just as easily be applied to Potemkin, the violent shorthand rhythms of which resemble other forms of modern discourse: the clackings of the telegraph and the newspaper press, the screaming capital letters of a broadside, the jagged, stabbing repetitions of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
|The plate-smashing sequence: broken crockery and montage editing, a shower of fragments.|