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Foreign Film Friday: ‘Battleship Potemkin’ (1925) & ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ (1929)

Today Foreign Film Friday is a bit different. I will discuss two Eastern European silent films. The first is a 1925 movie called “Battleship Potemkin” and the other is a documentary from 1929 called “Man with a Movie Camera.”

These were the first silent films I’ve watched in a while. I last watched a silent movie called “The Kid,” which I caught on an AMC Charlie Chaplin marathon back in my high school days. It’s tough for me because dialogue is one of the things I most adore about cinema. However, the ability to get a message across without the use of words is something truly remarkable.

The early Soviet era film, “Battleship Potemkin,” details a Russian Navy crew’s rebellion against the ship’s leaders in Germany 1905. Its biggest claim to fame is its use of montage editing, which is still considered a crowning achievement of director Sergei Eisenstein’s career.

The film is cut into five parts. The first few are pretty compelling, and with the help of an orchestra in the background, it was pretty intense. Eisenstein features some really incredible shots, especially considering the time. It even includes one of the most famous scenes in cinema history, the Odessa steps scene.

Odessa Steps scene. Most famous part begins at 3:35.

I’m definitely going to have to give this one another watch, because I had a tough time deciding what kind of rating to give it. Ultimately I gave it a four out of five stars, mainly for its influence on cinema and its capturing of iconic shots. Perhaps it’s the leftist/socialist messaging that made me enjoy it even more; regardless, it is cinematic history that any film enthusiast needs to give a watch.

This brings me to the next film, Dziga Vertov’s, “Man with a Movie Camera.” This was also a film I had a tough time rating. So tough, in fact, that I decided to leave it without a rating. This film, even more than “Battleship Potemkin,” lacked criteria for a rating basis. “Man with a Movie Camera” is considered the first documentary. The movie documented life on the streets of several different cities across Europe. It was obviously a silent film, so the documentation is quite literally just video footage of the citizens.

These films become infinitely more valuable when you consider the time period, their influence and their contribution to cinema history. Also, both films are short runtimes (“Battleship Potemkin” clocks in at 75 minutes and “Man with a Movie Camera” comes in seven minutes shy of that, at 68 minutes), so this makes them quick and historically necessary watches for movie lovers.

“Man with a Movie Camera” 2014 restoration trailer from the BFI.