When the sailors of Russian battleship The Potemkin are given rotten meat by the ship's quartermaster, it's the final straw for the abused crew. Mutiny follows and before long St. Peterburg is in full-scale revolt.
Denied a certificate by the British censors in 1926 and so frowned upon by the government that a distributor who tried to secure the film was "visited" by Scotland Yard, Battleship Potemkin has been seen almost exclusively in this country at film societies and workers' clubs. This is, essentially, the first time it has gone on general release here. Eisenstein's masterpiece is a film that many like to discuss knowledgeably, but surprisingly few have seen.
Don't be put off by the fact that it's an old silent movie or by the highbrow pronouncements that will undoubtedly herald its re-issue. Simply remember that without it the shower scene in Psycho would have been messy but not masterly and Kevin Costner would never have chased a pram down a staircase in The Untouchables.
Potemkin was originally planned as a brief aside in a multi-episode history of the 1905 Russian Revolution. However, bad weather prevented Eisenstein from shooting any other scenes and while on location in Odessa, he became obsessed with the story of the mutiny on board the battleship and the brutal assault on the citizens who came to welcome it into port. From this distance, it's hard to appreciate the effect Potemkin had on contemporary viewers. The complexity was impressive enough, but Potemkin's greatness lay in the fact it proved that symbolic imagery could have the same emotional and intellectual impact on an audience as narrative logic. Cliche perhaps, but cinema never would be the same again. The plate smashing, the fog scene, the Odessa steps massacre and the roaring lion are among the most famous images ever committed to celluloid. If you only ever see one silent, this is the one it should be.
If you only ever see one silent film, this is the one it should be. A masterpiece.