Film History part II
written by J.A.Bohr
continued from Page One
Eisenstein broke Battleship Potemkin into five parts "deliberately mirroring the five-act structure of classical drama, (and) form(ing) a taut structural whole: from the unity the sailors build on the ship, to the unity between ship and shore, to the unity of the entire fleet."5 Part One, The Men & The Maggots, tells us why the men need to mutiny. Part Two, Drama on the Quarterdeck, is the confrontation between the sailors and the Captain and his officers. Part Three, An Appeal From the Dead, is about the reactions of the people of Odessa to the death of one of the sailors. Part Four, The Odessa Steps, deals with the attack of the tsarist troops on the people of Odessa, who befriend the sailors. And Part Five, The Meeting with The Squadron, is the final confrontation of the ship and its fleet.
The first part deals with the sailors on the battleship Potemkin and the improper treatment they receive from their Captain and his Officers. After a sailor is beaten for no obvious reason, it is Vakulinchuk who tells the men "the rest of Russia has risen", which sets the tone for the confrontation between sailor and officer over rotten meat. Eisenstein does not show us too many sailors using close-ups, nor does he let us know any of them yet, except Vakulinchuk. But we do see where the sailors sleep in carefully sculptured shots of hammocks hanging at angles, forming the first geometric view of people. We also watch as a sailor, who has been needlessly hit by an officer, turns onto his stomach and weeps softly.
The rotten meat controversy is the fuel which leads the actions and motivations of the men for the next two parts. It begins with an Officer investigating a commotion occurring around beef carcasses on the deck. The sailors yell that the meat is rotten, full of worms. The ship's doctor is called to examine the meat. He states the meat is not wormy, just maggoty, and that it should be boiled in brine. The meat is prepared into soup even though the men disapprove.
While the soup is cooking, sailors prepare the dining room for dinner. Here we see one of the most common styles of camera/editing montage that is used throughout this film, circular patterns. To simply demonstrate sailors dropping tables, Eisenstein uses three angles and five edits (it is hard to say for certain, but it seems like Eisenstein shoots from an elongated 90 degree triangle set-up in many of his circular edited scenes). The scene is shot completely from each angle, so that actions in each shot can overlap, and although it is difficult to tell if that happens here, it becomes more obvious in later sequences. He works the shots into a pattern, moving between views from 1-2-3-1-3. This creates an odd circular flow around the action, making something as insignificant as lowering tables highly dramatic.
As we move outside onto the deck we are dragged into three "jump cuts" into a sailor talking to other crew members. Because all three shots were filmed at different angles, we slowly drift into the talker instead of falling into him. Once outside we see the men as they prepare their own food rations of lutefish and bread.
Inside we watch an odd clash between Officer and sailors through another circular sequence of montage edits. The shots that make up the sequence are 1) approximately 30 degrees right bottom of stairs at eye level, 2) parallel with the stair on the left side but further back than the first shot, 3) close-up of a sailor's face as he stands next to the stairwell, 4) close-up of the Officer - from angle of the first shot, 5) close-up of a second soldier. The scene is about an Officer entering the dining area from a center stairwell as sailors below watch him descend and then turn and walk away. This scene is made highly dramatic by rotating through the different angles, 1-2-3-1-3-4-5-3-5-4-2, where the last four shots show everyone walk away, actions overlapping.
A circular feeling scene is created with simple "static" shots also. As the Officer, who descended the stairs in the previous scene, scans the dining room it is possible to see the odd swing of the tables as they hang. Upon closer examination it is possible to see that the two-second glances are made from many small edits, keeping the sway of the room in a defined pattern.
The ship's store sequence is another great example of the style of editing used by Eisenstein. Four angles are shot from to show the scene. 1) is about 45 degrees to the right of the sailors buying goods from a porthole on the wall, 2) is the close view looking out of the portal at the purchasers, 3) is a close-up of the portal from the outside, 4) is a closer angle shot from the first but similar. Eisenstein first shows us each shot, 1-2-3-4, but jumbles the order as an Officer approaches to 3,4,1,2, and ending the scene with the end of shots 1,4, and 2. This all happens in less than one minute. The movie watcher can feel almost bumped around because of the strength of the editing.
continued on Page Two