Battleship Potemkin at the time it came out was the standard for films to live up to because of it’s innovative editing and unique uncompromising mise-en-scene. The editing techniques pioneered in the movie were at the time raw and even risky but have proved to be ahead of their time. The Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin is a great example of the rhythm and momentum within a film. Through an elaborate montage of juxtaposed shots Sergi Eisenstein succeeds in taking the focus off of the story and into the visual rhythm of the film.
The massacre and overall chaos that takes place on the Odessa Steps is the high point in the movie and an epic in itself. The effect starts early on with foreshadowing of the scene through a herd of people running chaotically throughout the city. Just before the Odessa steps people of the city herd through a succession of arches in all directions throughout the city. The misdirection of people running in every direction and abundance of people combine to create insanity and confusion on the screen that would rival an M.C. Escher painting.

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Juxtaposed with the anarchy of the crowd is the extreme unison and symmetry of the solders. Even more so, the two opposing sides never seem to have any similarities. As the soldiers run downhill the people run up. The soldiers themselves are complete opposites from the crowd who are mostly older, homely, poor women dressed in black. All of the juxtaposition along with the symbolism creates a very powerful image. Probably most effective symbolism is the solders firing down on the civilians without a second thought or sign of grief is sickening.
Eisenstein seemed to put a great deal of focus into the sequence of a mother losing her child to the chaos. The what seems to be never-ending decent of the stroller down the stairs lasts for what seems like 10 minutes passing a good portion of the crowd and eventually ends when the stroller regurgitates the baby leaving the mother in terror. Eisenstein focuses on the mother’s grief by showing shot after shot of the mother gasping and shrieking so loud you could almost hear it. The close shots of the child laying on the floor being run over by several people and the quick cuts to the mothers face are especially jarring. It is the rapid alternation of shots between the mother and her son, which connects the two together and makes the effect of the mother’s grief all that much greater.
Once again Eisenstein makes great use of juxtaposition to add effect. To begin with, the soldiers and mother were already in contrast through appearance. However, the opposition seems to go further with the baby as sort of a separating agent. The crowd seems to be a model for the emotions going through the mother’s head, as she shrieks the crowd seems to hurry into a panic, and she cries the crowd seems horrified and in disarray. At one point during their decent down the stairs the camera seems to follow the crowd, almost putting the audience running right along next to them. And from the crowd shot we are cut back to the conflict over the child. The two sides, the soldiers and the mother, strike at each other vigorously similar to an intense tennis match. The close ups on the face of the mother and the medium shot of the soldiers from the waste down end up an inescapable juxtaposition and even pave the way for more contrast to be observed.
Finally, the contrast gets to its most extreme and powerful method through editing. Editing allows the filmmakers to not only contrast the frame and image on screen but editing actually allows a filmmaker to manipulate time. With editing a filmmaker is able to stretch a 10 seconds all the way out to two minutes. Even while showing extreme contrast and juxtaposition the story retains its continuity is still easy to follow. The method of repeating an action adds emphasis and in a way underlines that sequence for importance. At one point during the Odessa Steps it seems like the shots alternate from quick editing to longer duration of shots. The short shots seem to be focused on the army and the longer on the citizens. This may be for the fact that the filmmaker wants the audience to sympathize with the mother and therefore the longer takes are perfect for showing her misery and terror. The soldiers get the shorter derange shots so the only contact the audience has is that of a violent hand coming down on an innocent elderly woman. Of course this is an exaggeration but how much of an exaggeration is definitely debatable. So not only is the film creating chaos with characters but not with editing too. The editing itself is creating the action and what’s on the screen doesn’t carry with it the same significance as it once did. The editing took over the Odessa Steps sequence and the editing along with the characters is as a result is nothing short of a fluid and even poetic.
All in all, the Odessa Steps sequence is as innovative now as it was in its first year of existence. The editing techniques are extremely effective and the juxtaposition creates the meaning in the minds of the audience instead of on the screen. The editing techniques have inspired filmmakers ever since and will continue to set a precedent that filmmakers must live up to. —————————————————————————–
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