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The Battleship Potemkin

The Battleship Potemkin (1925) is a silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein. It is a fictional story meant to glorify a real-life event that occurred in 1905, when the crew of a Russian battleship rebelled against their oppressive officers during the Tsarist regime. Potemkin has been called one of the most influential movies of all time, and during the 1950s it was named the greatest movie of all time by Britain's Sight and Sound cinema magazine.

Deliberately written as a Communist propaganda film, Eisenstein used this movie to test his theories of "montage." The revolutionary Russian filmmakers of the Kuleshov school of filmmaking were experimenting with the effect of movies on the audience, and Eisenstein edited the film in a way that would produce the greatest emotional response, so that the viewer would feel sympathy for the rebellious sailors of the battleship Potemkin and hatred for their cruel overlords. In the manner of most propaganda, the story was written in a very simplistic manner, so that the audience could clearly see who they could sympathize with.

Eisenstein's experiment was a success. Potemkin was a hit with Russian audiences, and it was released in limited venues around the world, where audiences responded positively. Even though the movie was made as propaganda, it was still a tremendously entertaining film that made Eisenstein's name as a great filmmaker.

The most famous scene from the movie is the massacre on the Odessa Steps (the sequence can be seen at ), where ruthless Tsarist soldiers march down an endless flight of stairs in a rhythmic, machine-like fashion, slaughtering a crowd of innocents as they attempt to flee down the stairs before the soldiers reach them. This scene has been endlessly imitated in many motion pictures, with one of the most famous homages occurring in Brian De Palma's version of The Untouchables. (It is also spoofed in Woody Allen's Bananas.) The Odessa Steps massacre is an entirely fictional creation; but even though it never occurred in real life, the film convinced many viewers that it did indeed happen, and many tourists and travellers to Odessa expressed a desire to see the Odessa Steps.

It was voted the greatest film of all time at the Brussels, Belgium, World's Fair in 1958. It also was voted as the greatest silent film of all time as well as the greatest foreign film of all time.

Independent filmmakers, restricted to limited exhibition outlets in a world of media conglomeration, can take heart from the fact that Battleship Potemkin, one of the most renowned films in the history of cinema and containing perhaps the best known sequence in the medium’s entire history, was initially seen only by small audiences of film society aficionados and trade unionists. In this sense, it represents one of the most successful instances of niche marketing the world has ever seen.

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