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Battleship Potemkin: German Propaganda

September 15, 2010

From the beginning of the film Battleship Potemkin, director Sergei Eisenstein wastes no time in establishing the cause-and-effect of the film’s plot. Eisenstein quickly and easily set the tone and mood of the film by inserting a quote at the very beginning from a revolutionary of the time, Vladimir Lenin, which begins with, “Revolution is war.” This helped create a negative association with the Tsarist regime of the time depicted in the film.

The film’s plot begins with Vakulinchuk, a sailor of the Potemkin fleet who rallies the other sailors after one of them is struck by a commanding officer while asleep, and also after the sailors are expected to eat rotten meat given to them by their commanding officers. I felt proud of Vakulinchuk for defending the basic of human rights. It is obvious that Vakulinchuk possesses the capability of uniting the sailors against their oppressors.

As soon as Vakulinchuk dies at the end of Part II, we begin to realize the main character is not so much Vakulinchuk as it is the fleet of soldiers collectively, and soon thereafter, the people of Odessa. The sailors and people are the ones who we truly empathize with and confront the antagonists of the film. Vakulinchuk’s character acts more like a catalyst being influential in both life and death. We connect with the soldiers and the crowds through Vakulinchuk. He is idolized and this is evident as sailors are shown jumping into the water and swimming quickly to him after he falls overboard from having been shot. Vakulinchuk’s death also becomes essential for the uprising that ensues by the people on the stairs of Odessa.

The people, as a whole, represent one of the main characters of the film. Initially, the people of Odessa are portrayed as being loyal to the sailors and we quickly come to this determination as the crowds show support and remorse after reading the note that the sailors send along with Vakulinchuk’s body, which at this point, is on the shores of Odessa for the crowds to view.

As the fleet and the people bond through Vakulinchuk’s death, an uprising begins among the people in Odessa followed by Tsarist soldiers shooting at and slaughtering civilians to include mother and children. The oppression the people of Odessa endure can be felt through the film’s cinematography as images of the Tsarist soldiers firing into the crowds are shot from a low camera angle creating an effect of the soldiers approaching from above as if being in control.

Battleship Potemkin was used as propaganda and is a good example of how a government attempts to manipulate its people through cinema. This is especially true if what the last known survivor of the Potemkin, Ivan Beshoff, said in a 1987 interview about the massacre on the steps of Odessa as shown in the film never occurring. (Farinella, La Sicilia, 1987).

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