Classic Movie Review: Battleship Potemkin (1925)


Title: Battleship Potemkin
Release Date: December 21, 1925
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Production Company: Mosfilm
Summary/Review:

This classic Soviet propaganda film dramatizes events of the Russian uprising of 1905, which the filmmaker Eisenstein saw as a prelude to the successful October Revolution of 1917.  The film depicts sailors aboard the Potemkin returning after the Russo-Japanese War and the mistreatment they suffer at the hands of the officers.

When some of the sailors refuse to eat maggot-infested meat, the tyrannical captain sentences them to death for insubordination.  But a revolutionary sailor inspires the firing squad to lower their rifles, and the sailors stage a mutiny instead.  Grigory Vakulinchuk, the Bolshevik sailor, dies in the uprising and when his body is brought to Odessa, thousands of civilians pay their respects. The people join in the revolution, but it is quickly repressed by a detachment of Cossacks who massacre them on the city’s giant stairway.  The sailors escape on the Potemkin as Tsarist ships refuse to fire on them.

The movie impresses with its innovative film-making techniques, most notably editing between long and close-up shots, and creating connections among a sequence of shots.  The most famous sequence is when the Cossacks fire upon the people on the Odessa Steps, which depicts brutal violence and cuts between the precision of the soldiers and the faces of their victims on a seemingly endless set of steps.

This is definitely a movie worth watching for its technical brilliance and its role in film history.  That being said, it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience, not just due to the violence but the almost complete lack of characterization of the people depicted.  They are merely cogs in a propaganda machine with no opportunity to empathize with them as individuals.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Iron Man (2008)


TitleIron Man
Release Date: May 2, 2008
Director: Jon Favreau
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

This origin story of Iron Man begins with weapons manufacturing heir, billionaire, genius, libertine, and all-around a-hole Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) traveling to Afghanistan to demonstrate his latest weapon for the US military.  His convoy is attacked and Stark is wounded and captured by an organization of international warlords called The Ten Rings. They force Stark to build them a weapon, but instead he builds a prototype of the Iron Man suit which he uses to escape.  Stark returns to the United States and announces that his company will no longer be producing weapons, and instead he dedicates his life to building…. a powerful weapon: a new Iron Man suit.

This movie is heavy on jingoism, militarism, and boosting the repellent, but popular, myth that the world will be saved by “wealthy geniuses” (see also: Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Bloomberg, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, et al).  This movie was made in 2008, a time when many Americans were aware of the lies and corruption behind the Bush Administration’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  But Tony Stark never objects that the US military is using his weapons against innocents, or the US government has directed the military into unjust wars.  Iraq isn’t even mentioned. There is one evil white American character – Stark’s business partner Obadiah Stane (a comically bad one-note performance by Jeff Bridges) – who is shown personally selling weapons to The Ten Rings, but otherwise the good and pure characters and the evil villain characters are purely drawn along ethnic lines.

The movie is well-produced, with clean and entertaining action sequences, and good performances from Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Shaun Toub.  But it makes it all the more repellent that “liberal Hollywood” put their best effort and resources behind a right-wing propaganda film. Even worse, it’s the cornerstone on which the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe was built.

Rating: *