Pure cinematic excellence, a stylistic shock wave, a masterful collage of images—Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin stands alone as the greatest single achievement in film editing.
Murnau is important—absolutely- what he did with the camera and work in front of the frame – so important. He and Eisenstein and the yin and yang so to speak of approaches/schools—but the lineage of style through editing goes from Griffith to Eisenstein here- and this is three years before another landmark in editing- Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc
Part one- men and maggots- the men in hammocks are arranged in the frame so perfectly—every inch of the box- gorgeous—I hate stealing from others but this is just perfectly stated by Jeffrey Anderson of Combustible Celluloid- one of my favorite critics “Any film student could explain that Eisenstein’s energetic montage injects the film with its dynamic, pumping rhythms. Another look at the film, however, reveals that cinematographer Eduard Tisse deserves half the credit. Each individual shot, regardless of what comes before or after it, makes a striking photograph in itself.”
the short duration- the low average shot length is absolutely a tool of Eisenstein
part 2 – the drama on the quarterdeck, clean rows of men, symmetrical frames capturing order and the structure of the boat
a standout shot of the superimposed figures hanging from the masts
Eisenstein uses shortcuts in casting as good as anyone during the silent era- he wasn’t building individual characters but a collective– so he needed to quickly have the audience identify sympathies because we aren’t really learning many names or habits—his bad guys look like bad guys—haha. He shoots them from distorted angles too for effect
Not subtle in the least- they are “butchers” and “vampires”—firing at own soldiers, women, babies—the preacher with the cross, the sadistic officers— during the sequence here in part 2 there are 8-10 characters and we’re quickly identified and aligned and it is coherent. He’s the first master action film director along with Griffith’s parallel editing for time and space exercises.
Vakulinchuk character hanging over the water—great imagery
Iris in in a few spots- but not crazy high usage
A great shot from inside the tent with dead body (of Vakulinchuk) looking out of the tent, frame within a frame, ships passing. A solemn and beautiful quiet sequence in an otherwise loud, jarring, violent film
Part 3 is the appeal for the dead at 33 minutes in. It is really a repeat of sequence one, they are rallying, protesting, getting worked up. It’s amazing how Eisenstein is just bouncing around the port as ships are coming in. If you shot it flatly without his trademark montage its nothing. This is all style.
Set pieces, in part 2 it is the cannon, in part 4, really a repetition of part 2 (the violence by the oppressors after the protests of sections 1 and 3) the set piece is the Odessa steps
Hundreds of extras—sailboats— this is a film of editing, and it is short in running time- (69 minutes) but it is big in scope
At 45 minutes we get part 4—the Odessa Steps- one of the greatest 5-7 minutes in cinema. It is a repeat of the narrative of part 2. It starts with the sailors and the townspeople bonding. At 50 minutes the steps sequence starts—the camera isn’t static—Eisenstein is moving it down the stairs, or blocking the frame with a stature as a line of soldiers shoot
A line of soldiers with shadow on top of the woman holding her son
The baby carriage at 55 minutes— a dance really with the images, repeating some, using editing to draw out and manipulate time.
Part 5 is the meeting the squadron sequence at 57 minutes
Great silhouette shot of the soldiers on the deck
The montage (it is all montage though) of the pistons of the ship, steam pouring out on the skyline and guns moving into position and finally the flag going up
The content is propaganda, the message unsubtle—but the style is daring, athletic, avant-garde. It’s a little ironic that by making the character the collective from a narrative standpoint, it made Eisenstein an absolute rock star and solo artist. I mean he’s a damn genius.
Dogmatic, mechanical, theoretical and systematic. I’m floored again and again by this film and the dedication to the aesthetic. It isn’t like there’s a 5 minute montage in a normal film. It is 70 minutes of this- unreal- a colossal achievement.
It’s a collage, an orchestration of balancing images, bouncing off one to another, doubling back to the same one at times
Incalculably influential- and I’m not just talking about the other editing landmarks like The Untouchables (where De Palma, a hell of a technician himself, just lifts the Odessa steps sequence), or Dreyer’s masterwork— but how about Oliver Stone, JFK, Paul Greengrass, the shootout in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly—but every single film from the shot juxtaposition in Hitchcock’s Rear Window to how to arrange action in The Wild Bunch, the ending of Bonnie and Clyde– the montages in Rocky films and the modern day action film.
A singular achievement in the history of film editing? Absolutely, and without question. The singular achievement in the history of film editing? I may offer you a little pushback on that one. In historical significance it is #1 for all time. As artistic achievement I think it has been equaled and even (rarely) surpassed.
@Matt Harris — please- push back- the floor is yours. What surpasses it? Enlighten me.
Well it’s not as if I’m going to suggest something that never occurred to you. If I state that Raging Bull, The Godfather, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Dunkirk, and Breathless are the five greatest achievements in the history of editing (not saying that’s my definite 5, those just came instantly to mind) I’m certain you’ll agree that they’re all in or near the top 10 but restate that Potemkin is better. I’m not sure, short of a competitive video essay showdown breaking the films down side by side, how “enlightenment” in this scenario is possible.
@Matt Harris– I just thought you may just have a case for one of these 5 or a half dozen others (Intolerance, Apocalypse Now, JFK, Moulin Rouge!, Joan of Arc, Psycho are 6 more I’d add to your list and there are more that belong in the discussion) that I wasn’t thinking of at the time I was writing this- so enamored with Potemkin. I think all may have sequences on par with Potemkin — I’m just not sure any is as sustained in it’s magnificence as Potemkin. On top of being brilliantly edited– it is very edited– if that makes sense. haha.
You make an interesting distinction between the sequence and the sustained brilliance. I will admit I’ve seen the Odessa Steps sequence… maybe 50 times and the entire film start to finish only I believe twice and not in the past 5 years. So it is really only the legendary sequence that lives vibrantly in my mind.
Beginning at the level of sequence, the Odessa Steps is the most historically significant example of film editing ever… I don’t think that is even really debatable. However, if I were to stack it up against the Christening in The Godfather, the final showdown in The Good, the Bad and The Ugly or the final fight with Sugar Ray Robinson in Raging Bull, I think I’m taking those 3 scenes. In fact I think the Raging Bull scene may be the single greatest overall scene of all time… but that’s probably a conversation for another time.
In terms of sustained editing brilliance, I would have to revisit Potemkin to solidify this, but I would look at Dunkirk or Moulin Rouge and suggest that they sustain a level of editing virtuosity that is virtually without peer.
Then something like Breathless (or even, again, Hiroshima mon Amour) employs editing so differently, but unquestionably brilliantly.
Anyway, my original point was not to diminish the achievements of Potemkin but merely to push back slightly on the notion that nothing has equaled it in the subsequent 95 years.
@Matt Harris– yeah we’re on the same page here– or very very close. Great examples. Take like the shower scene in Psycho– wow– brilliantly edited sequence. This has been on my mind for a day now and every time I think of an auteur or film (Ozu’s pillow shots Truffaut’s freezes) I’m leaving out. I just think from start to finish it feels like nothing is quite on Potemkin’s level.
Uh, according to this list there are 12 movies better edited than this one.
What do you think of this list?
@Aldo— great list- thanks for sharing. These are some of the best edited films of all-time for sure. It seems a little English/US focused– which may account for Potemkin being out of the top 10 (that’s just incorrect). Breathless behind like Jaws is wrong, too. But it’s a great list– best to just appreciate the list and study them– not to split hairs.
Speaking of editing, i was thinking about cutting the bone with the spaceship in 2001
Any other example? I can only think of Lawrence of Arabia
@Aldo– I’m sure others will mention some more but how about the drain matching with the eye of Janet Leigh in Psycho?
Odd… I attempted to link to a video there. Does this comment section not allow that?
Alright, @aldo, you seemed to be asking about match cuts. Scroll down to the video on this page, it’s got some pretty strong examples.
This article was very helpful, thanks @Matt Harris
There are also numerous examples from Hiroshima mon Amour, where the triggering of an eruption of memory will be accompanied by a graphic match, often of hands.
Correct me if I am wrong, but there are many ways to match a cut right? It can be visually, auditoraly, movement etc I think. As far as I know these are the 3 main ones. Again, I am self taught so I’m not sure. I would appreciate it of someone knowledgeable would correct me if I am wrong.
Match cuts usually imply a deep connection between 2 scenes (metaphorically sometimes). I will try to explain the significance of each match cut(some examples)
For visual: Raiders opens with a good match cut from mountain to mountain. (Nice opening transition. Sets the location) Citizen Kane obviously opening. (Invents new ways of transitioning between scenes) Schindlers list candle to train smoke opening. (The color is gone. The movie is now dull and B and W)
Cinema Paradiso. Midway through the movies when Alfedo puts his hand on Toto and he grows up several years(transitions between several years. Like 2001 and the bone)
Amazing match cuts at the beginning and ending of titanic changing the ruined ship into the lifelike ship.( creates a dreamlike state. The horror of the sinking is gone. We are in Rose’s dreams now)
City of God carrots house match cuts. The use of dissolves is brilliant in this scene(progress the narrative. Shows how Carrots hideout is doing and what he does there)
Even when Lil Z goes on his killing rampage.(showing how he grows up with rage)
City of God reflective shot onto the mirror a bit after the opening.(pretty much all of City of God is flawless-especially the editing). (Showing how you can always’reflect’ and change your life)
Apocalyspe Now opening. The fan sound matched with the sound of helicopters.( shows that soldiers bring home memories of war and even the sound of a fan can trigger PTSD).
The car passing in front of the boys while they are walking to reveal a new location(in city of God).(reveals how quick the boys change location and how ‘on-the-go’ their life is. They’re always on the run).
Schindler list. When the Jews walk from black and white into colour towards the end.(symbolizes The dullness and some positivity in their lives through color)
These are some of my favorite match cuts. I hope that I could help you. Again, I’m self taught and a beginner in cinema so any feedback/(constructive) criticism from anyone on the blog would be greatly appreciated.
I believe you’re drawing your examples from this video @Azman ? I considered sharing it until it turned into an ad at the end lol
Some more not from the video would be (speaking of Spielberg)
and the few father-son match cuts in The last Crusade and the Matt Damon / Tom Hanks green eye cut at the beginning and ending of Saving Private Ryan.
Also, Tom Hanks in Forest Gump(many examples of those).
How’s that? Are these good examples? What are some more of your favorite match cuts Matt?
Yup. Haha. But I had only included examples of movies I had seen (I would have included City of God for sure since I seen it so recently).
You can’t ignore the 4-5 new examples I added: the opening of raiders,
the schindlers list movement one(not the candle shot). I gave a new example of a match cut from City of God (the Lil Z rampage kill match cut).
Citizen Kane(I could give many examples of match cut transitions from this film alone),
Cinema Paradiso(Life is Beautiful has a similar ‘coming of age’ match cut with Joshua)
and the movement match cut from the end of Schindlers list which wasn’t in the video.
Also the ending of Titanic example i used. Furthermore, I even analysed a lot of the match cuts which wasn’t done in the video.
You’re right tho. I did copy 3 of the examples from the video-haha. I’ll be honest, I did notice those match cuts even while I was watching these movies. (I was extremely impressed by City of God so I had to research more about its editing style and watch the movie again)
This video reminded me of it. I did analyse it in my own way tho. I was also gonna mention the psycho match cut but Drake mentioned that before me.
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