Bronenosets Potyomkin (1925)

(Battleship Potemkin)



Director:  Sergei Eisenstein

Starring:  Aleksandr Antonov (Grigory Vakulinchuk, Bolshevik Sailor), Vladimir Barsky (Commander Golikov), Grigori Aleksandrov (Chief Officer Giliarovsky), Ivan Bobrov (young sailor, flogged while sleeping), Mikhail Gomorov (Militant Sailor), Aleksandr Levshin (Petty Officer), N. Poltavseva (Woman With Pince-nez), Konstantin Feldman (Student Agitator), Prokopenko (Mother Carrying Wounded Boy), A. Glauberman (Wounded Boy), Beatrice Vitoldi(Woman With Baby Carriage).

Russian silent film about the 1905 Russian rebellion and the mutiny of sailors on the Battleship Potemkin



The sailors aboard the battleship Potemkin have just about had it.  Bolshevik sailor Grigory Vakulinchuk tells the men to become more radical and to join the revolting workers in Odessa).  The latest insult to the men was their having to eat rotten meat complete with maggots.  The men take a stand and refuse to eat the beef soup.  Commander Golikov hears about this and becomes very angry, threatening his sailors with swinging from the yardarm.   The commander then decided to execute a small group of sailors to set an example for the rest.

But Vakulinchuk inspires the firing squad not to shoot their comrades.  The officers then start to beat some of the men of the firing squad and all hell breaks out. The film only one officer being beaten up and thrown overboard and only one death of a sailor: Vakulinchuk.  His comrades place Vakulinchuk's body on the dock where massive numbers of Odessa citizens come to view the displayed body. 

The Tsar's soldiers respond by descending on the citizens of Odessa from the steps of Odessa firing at will and very indiscriminately  -- men, women, the elderly, children and infants all are shot or trampled in the chaos.  This is where the cinematography becomes outstanding.  The horror of the massacre is shown through the faces of the victims; big, distorted faces that fill the entire film screen.  Eisenstein does a marvelous job of portraying the horror of the moment.  It makes the viewer very angry with the soldiers and the Tsar who ultimately sent them.

The sailors respond to the massacre by shelling the Odessa opera house.  

The next step of the military is to send the Russian fleet against the Potemkin.  Faced with battle with so many ships, the Potemkin sailors find themselves in a serious predicament to say the least. 

Interesting film and besides that a classic of early cinema.  Director Eisenstein was one of the famous early directors in film, studied in many film schools.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1855 -- Alexander II becomes Czar (-1881)

1856 --  peace recognizes integrity of Turkey

1861 -- the Russian serfs were not emancipated until this year; serfdom had become uneconomic. The commune took the place of the proprietor.

1867  --  Russia sells Alaska to U.S.

1868   --  Russia occupies Samarkand

1877   --  Russia proclaims war on Turkey, invades Rumania & Bulgaria

1878   --  peace.

1881 -- Alexander II killed by assassins; succeeded by Alexander III (-1894)

1894 -- Nicholas II (-1917), the last of the tsars

The failure to adjust willingly to the currents of the times and the attempt to preserve autocratic rule produced unparalleled discontent in Russia.

1897  --  Russia occupies Port Arthur.

1904-05 -- Russo-Japanese War.

1904 --  Japan seizes Port Arthur and occupies Seoul; Russians defeated at Lidoyang, China.

1904  -- commissioning of the Potemkin, a battleship of the Russian Black Sea fleet. 

1904 --  St. Petersburg demonstrations brutally crushed

1905 --  Russia looses war; Treaty of Portsmouth with Theodore Roosevelt's help.

1905 --  general strike. Russian Revolution of 1905. 

1905 (June14)  --  spontaneous sailors' mutiny on battleship Potemkin.  The actual reasons for the uprising are not known, but it is thought that it was sparked by the second in command of the battleship, who threatened reprisals against a number of the crew for refusing to eat rotten meat. It looked to the crew that the officer was going to execute a large number of them.  The sailors called on the firing squad not to shoot and rushed the marines.

The sailors killed Captain Evgeny Golikov, his second in command Ippolit Giliarovsky and the medical officer who had certified the meat fit to eat.  One sailor, Grigory Vakulenchuk, was fatally wounded.  The battleship came into Odessa, but the sailors did not join the general strike. 

1905 (June 16)  --  Vakulenchuk’s funeral turned into a political demonstration. Dismounted cavalry fired on the demonstrators crowded on the flight of steps leading from the port area to the centre of the city.  The Potemkin fired two shells at the headquarters of the Tsarist military. 

1905 (June 17)  --  two squadrons of the Black Sea Fleet were sent after the Potemkin.  They gathered at Tendra Island.  The Potemkin sailed right through the center of gathered fleet. The crews of the squadron ships refused to fire at the rebellious battleship (and battleship Georgiy Pobedonosets actually joined the Potemkin). The rebel warships headed for Odessa.

1905 (June 18)  --  the Potemkin sailed for Romania.  (The Georgiy Pobedonosets had surrendered to the authorities.) The Romanian authorities refused to give the Potemkin any supplies.

1905 (June 22)  --  the ship was denied supplies at the port of Theodosia. 

1905 (June 25)  --  the Potemkin returned to Romania and surrendered to the Romanian authorities. Some crewmen returned to Russia, but most only returned to Russia after the 1917 Russian Revolution. 

1905 -- in the October Manifesto, the Tsar issues a manifesto that promises full civil liberties at once, and a legislative assembly or duma to be elected by universal suffrage

1917 -- Russian Revolution.


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