Category Archives: Theatrical release

Battleship Potemkin: review

Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Dir. Sergei Eisenstein, USSR, 1925, 71 minutes, cert PG

As the Black Sea foams and crashes into the shore, an intertitle describes the waves of revolutionary feeling sweeping Russia in 1905, and the 55-piece orchestra swells into action. Sergei Eisenstein opens his classic film Battleship Potemkin (1925) with an adroit combination of image, word and music – which we can now experience here in Britain for the first time.

So much is fresh to UK audiences about this 86-year-old film resident on countless Greatest Ever lists and pored over by generations of film students. First, there’s the original orchestral score written by Edmund Meisel and a handful of reinstated shots, some of which were excised from the unforgettably tense Odessa Steps sequence. Not only this, but the film has been beautifully restored, and the title cards recreated according to the director’s wishes. The language is stronger and more socialist than before. It’s bolshier.

Eisenstein’s second feature film is all about solidarity, as it tells the story of a mutiny aboard the eponymous battleship. A group of sailors refuse to eat soup made with rotten meat, and face a firing squad of their peers, but the spirit of comradeship intervenes as the crew rise up against the senior officers – and proudly hoist a bold red flag as they sail into Odessa harbour. On shore, the locals also support the sailors, with terrible consequences. The question is, will the rest of the fleet welcome the revolutionaries home, or follow the command to fire?

Because Battleship Potemkin is an appeal to fellow-feeling and collective action, it is only right that the restoration work creates a more immersive film, one that places no barriers between a 21st-century audience and its monumentally powerful imagery.

In this print, the maggots in the sailors’ dinner squirm in all their greasy glory and the splatters of blood on the Odessa Steps glisten, wetter than before and more gruesome. But it’s not all about horror. The sunlight glints sharply off the calm waters, or is diffused gently through the early morning mists. The scenes of small boats with white sails bringing supplies to the Potemkin are particularly gorgeous. That red flag is vividly, almost luridly hand-tinted red – as aggressively bright as the senior officers’ white trousers, in cruel contrast to the lower orders’ dingy uniforms.

The gloomy scenes below deck are free of murk, too, and we can pick out individuals in the massive crowd scenes. It’s perfect for tracing each extra’s individual path down those infamous steps, some trampling on bodies, and some stumbling over them as they fall.

Then there’s the score. Motoring through the film’s brisk 71-minute running time with a booming bass drum, the music is at its best mostly when it is bombastic. I liked the sustained woodwind sound before that first, fatal thrown plate, and the crashing percussion that announced the arrival of the cossacks. I wasn’t so convinced by the cracking sounds that synchronised with the gunshots, but soon these musical sound effects won me over. Occasionally the score tends towards jaunty, when perhaps it could have been tense, such as when the sailors dive off the Potemkin in an attempt to rescue a fallen comrade. But my qualms were swept away by the film’s final sequence: the music pulses faster and faster as the ship gains speed and prepares for battle, ratcheting up the tension superbly.

Battleship Potemkin, restored by the Deutsche Kinemathek, is on theatrical release from 29 April, screening in London at the BFI Southbank and the Curzon Renoir among other venues.

Battleship Potemkin and Metropolis cinema listings

 

Battleship Potemkin
Battleship Potemkin

Battleship Potemkin is coming to a cinema near you. Not just any old Battleship Potemkin, but a crisp restored print of this astounding film, with the original orchestral score, which will boom out of the walls of the cinema – in synch with the film. Wild, I know. As I have said elsewhere, Potemkin is released on 29 April. There will be several chances to see it at the BFI Southbank on the bank holiday weekend and all through May, and no doubt it will pop up in a few of London’s coolest, artiest, independent cinemas too. Much like The Complete Metropolis has done, and continues to do (it’s on at the Riverside Studios tonight).

Metropolis
Metropolis

Now, it’s in the interests of everyone’s sanity that I don’t write a blogpost every time either one of these films is showing – I’ll update the listings calendar as soon as I hear about any shows, but you don’t need me to keep telling you that both of these films are amazing, essential viewing for film fans (not just silent film fans) and ruddy exciting as well. This blog will concentrate on reporting and celebrating the one-off screenings with live music that are becomingly increasingly common in London.

That said, I can’t sign off without telling you a little about two very groovy screenings of Metropolis that are coming up soon. First, the Ritzy in Brixton continues to mark its 100th anniversary in fine style with an Alphabet of Cinema strand. It starts on 10 April with A is for Androids and they’re showing Alphaville, Westworld and  … Metropolis. They’re carrying on through to Z is for Zombies over the course of the year. I’m crossing my fingers for an F is for Flappers triple-bill. But maybe that’s just me.

And on 15 May, the Prince Charles Cinema in the West End is showing Metropolis as part of its vintage films strand. Again, it’s great to see cinemas continuing to support Metropolis – and audiences enjoying it. The Prince Charles Cinema seems to be increasingly enthusiastic about putting on silent films, which is definitely a Good Thing All Round.

Battleship Potemkin watch: April 2011

Don’t get me wrong, I’m as excited as the next silent film fan about the theatrical release of the the newly restored Battleship Potemkin (1925) with Edmund Meisel’s orchestral score. I circled the date in my diary, I even wrote a blog about it. But when I heard that the government had called a bank holiday, purely to celebrate its UK release, well, I felt like my own efforts were a little inadequate. Wow, David Cameron sure likes Sergei Eisenstein a lot more than you would expect.

So, while the rest of you are distracted by the preparations for your Battleship Potemkin street parties (the bunting must be red, of course, but let’s not put maggots in the bread eh?), I will make it my mission to keep you updated with where and when you can catch this masterpiece on the big screen. This is quite an endeavour for a woman who still, still, can’t watch that pram bump down the Odessa Steps without squirming.

Our first port of call (see what I did there?) is the BFI Southbank, who will be screening Battleship Potemkin on 29 and 30 April and all through May. The April dates have been announced and they are as follows:

  • 29 April 2011: 4.20pm, 6pm, 8.45pm
  • 30 April 2011: 3.30pm, 6.10pm, 8.30pm

Tickets as usual cost £9.50, or less for concessions and members. Of those screenings, I would recommend 6pm on Friday 29 April or 3.30pm on Saturday 30 April, as those are the NFT1 shows. You really want to see this on a big screen if you can. Grab your tickets here, on the BFI website.

The Great White Silence at the BFI and nationwide in 2011

• This post was updated on 9 May 2011

An eerie filmed record of Captain Scott’s tragic journey to the South Pole, The Great White Silence (Herbert Ponting, 1924) was rightly acclaimed as a highlight of last year’s London Film Festival. The print had been restored to great effect: allowing us to see the vivid tints of the original film, and the Archive Gala screening featured a performance of Simon Fisher Turner’s intriguing minimalist score, which incorporated the Elysian Quartet, “found sounds”, and a haunting vocal from Alexander L’Estrange.

His part-improvised score includes some pre-recorded elements and Simon Fisher Turner has gone to great lengths to include relevant ‘found sounds’. The first was a gift from a friend, Chris Watson, who made a recording of the ambient silence in Scott’s cabin in the Antarctic. Fisher Turner has also recorded the striking of the Terra Nova ship’s bell at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. He has even managed to track down the expedition’s original gramophone to play some of the records which were played by members of the expedition.

If you have satellite TV, you may have recently caught the documentary on the small screen, but if you missed it, never fear, you have plenty of chances to catch it on the big screen in May and June.

First off, there will a special screening of The Great White Silence, with a recorded version of the score, at BFI Southbank on 18 May 2011, followed by a panel discussion led by Francine Stock, which will take the scoring of silent films as its subject – participants include Fisher Turner, sound recordist Chris Watson, plus Bryony Dixon and Kieron Webb from the BFI. The following weekend, there will be screenings nationwide of the film.

You want more? The Great White Silence will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on 20 June.

The Great White Silence screens at NFT1 on 18 May at 6.20pm. The panel discussion will follow at 8.30pm. Tickets cost £13, or £9.75 for concessions and £1.50 less for members. They will be available from the BFI website.

The Great White Silence screens in the Studio at BFI Southbank several times throughout May and June 2011. The film will also screen at the Curzon Mayfair, Curzon Richmond and HMV Curzon Wimbledon, and at cinemas across the country including Broadway Nottingham, Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, Phoenix Oxford and Chapter Cardiff.

On Friday 20 May at 11am Bryony Dixon, BFI silent film curator, will give a talk entitled Films of the Heroic Age of Polar Exploration – The Restoration of The Great White Silence in NFT3. Tickets are free for over-60s, and usual matinee prices for everyone else.

At the Curzon Mayfair on Saturday 21 May at 4pm, and Curzon Richmond on Sunday 22 May at 3.30pm, Ian Haydn Smith will host an illustrated talk called The Great White Silence and Cinema’s Exploration of the World. Tickets are £12.50 or £9.50 for members at the Mayfair cinema and £11.50 or £9.50 for members at the Richmond branch. You can buy tickets here, on the Curzon website.

Battleship Potemkin in UK cinemas from 29 April 2011

 

Battleship Potemkin
Battleship Potemkin

It’s official. According to the BFI website, the newly restored version of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1926) with the original score by Edmund Meisel, will get its UK theatrical release on 29 April. Watch this space!

When Eisenstein heard the score that had been such an incendiary success in Germany, he worried that Meisel’s powerful music overshadowed the film. But Potemkin was already proving inspirational and few images remain as potent as a pram careering down a staircase, still widely referenced today, at the climax of the massacre of Odessa’s civilians. Potemkin’s perennial freshness owes much to Eisenstein’s improvisation when he realised the potential of those steps, and of the battleship itself, as a cockpit for the stirring of revolutionary emotion, and with Meisel’s music it’s as powerful as ever. – Ian Christie