best film: Battleship Potemkin from Eisenstein
- 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
- 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 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
most underrated: The Big Parade. King Vidor’s works haven’t aged as well with critics but I’m still surprised The Big Parade can’t find a spot in the TSPDT consensus top 1000 somewhere (it is at #1360). I have it at #362 which is nearly 1000 spots lower. The Merry Widow from von Stroheim should fare better than TSPDT’s ranking (#1991). I’d also go with Strike here. I have it at #255 and the consensus has it at #696.
most overrated: I’m not picking anything- it’s tempting to point at The Gold Rush at #76 of all-time and call it overrated but that’s such a great film and I’m not THAT far behind that ranking in the larger scheme of things. There are four films from 1925 in the TSPDT top 1000- Potemkin, The Gold Rush, Strike, and Seven Chances none of the four are overrated.
gem I want to spotlight: Strike from Eisenstein. 1925 is all about Eisenstein as my gem to single out here is his stunning debut: Strike (it came out just months before Potemkin. There are other great films from the era but nothing that looks like the work he was doing- films like The Gold Rush and The Big Parade look a little stale by comparison (though of course fantastic films in a more classical way).
trends and notables: You still have your epics (The Big Parade, Sally of the Sawdust, Ben-Hur) and comedies (Go West, Seven Chances, The Gold Rush, The Freshman) but you start to see some genre films like Wallace Beery in the adventure film Lost World and the first Tod Browning horror film. Most notably though 1925 is all about Eisenstein with not only the promising announcement of his debut film, but his best film, and an entirely new way to make cinema art. The great von Stroheim continues his streak- this is his fifth archiveable film in the last seven years.
best performance male: I may decry and complain about Chaplin the director from time to time but there’s not debating his abilities as a performer so my performance of the year here is his work in The Gold Rush. Jannings is again superb in Variety as is Keaton in Seven Chances- both worthy of a mention here- but there is no debate the best performance of the year.
best performance female: Sadly this is a common story with the women getting squeezed out—throughout much of cinema history. The comedies are led by men and Eisenstein’s montage approach and process doesn’t really leave room for much “acting” (not that he cast many women anyways).
- Battleship Potemkin
- The Gold Rush
- The Big Parade
- Seven Chances
- The Phantom of the Opera
- The Merry Widow
- Go West
- Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|Battleship Potemkin– Eisenstein||MP|
|Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ- Niblo||HR|
|Go West– Keaton||HR|
|Sally of the Sawdust- Griffith||R|
|Seven Chances– Keaton||HR/MS|
|The Big Parade- Vidor||MS|
|The Freshman- Newmeyer||R|
|The Gold Rush- Chaplin||MP|
|The Lost World- Hoyt||R|
|The Merry Widow- von Stroheim||HR|
|The Phantom of the Opera – Julian||HR|
|The Unholy Three- Browning||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives