Battleship Potemkin, and a few more movies

#189  [archive]

Battleship Potemkin

"Brothers! Who are you shooting at?"

If you give a damn about old movies, you've probably seen this, and if you haven't you should.

Battleship Potemkin is the first epic movie, and it's huge. The scene at the Odessa Steps is perhaps the most iconic in all of cinema, or certainly a nominee, and the motion picture built around it remains remarkable. It's silent, sure, so for cripe's sake turn off your damned phone and dim the lights. Give it your undivided attention, and you won't regret it.

Pre-revolutionary fervor swirls among the sailors on the battleship Potemkin. They've been generally mistreated and fed borscht made with rotten, maggot-infested beef, and there's mutiny brewing.

You might think a Russian Fletcher Christian will rise up, lead the revolt and be the star of the movie, and indeed a hero does emerge — but he's killed quickly in the uprising. His body is left on the pier at Odessa, with the epitaph, "For a spoonful of borscht."

There lies Fletcher.

Outrage spreads across the city and eventually all of Tsarist Russia, with many people taking up the battle cry, but if you're still looking for the movie's hero, give up already. It's one of Potemkin's great accomplishments, rarely seen again in cinema: the entire drama is staged without any single protagonist. 

Having one hero in the story would champion that individual, but this is a commie movie — the hero is everyone who's rioting and fighting back.

Of course, it's propaganda for the early Soviet Union, but wow it works. I'm not even a pinko, but Potemkin gets me every time. All weekend I'll be whistling "The Internationale."

Verdict: BIG YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Good Night Nurse (1918)

It's not a silent film festival today, just a coincidence that another pre-talkie came up.

Fatty Arbuckle was a silent-era star whose career was ruined in the loudest Hollywood scandal of his era. People still argue about the unspeakable things he might or might not have done in a San Francisco hotel, and I have an opinion too, but that's a different article for a different day.

Having never seen an Arbuckle flick, today I wondered whether Fatty was funny, or only fat. This one's considered among his best, so let's take a look.

"After one more than one too many," says the opening intertitle, there's a long (fake, of course) downpour as Fatty stands at a corner. You'll smile, perhaps, at the physical comedy as the waters rise and roar down the street, carrying flotsam and jetsam and people.

Next, we're reminded that Fatty's a drunk, and to be cured of the bottle he goes to the "No Hope Sanitarium," where Buster Keaton is the doctor in charge of his recovery. When Keaton stars a movie's amazing, but when he's only in a movie it's not enough.

Zany antics are staged, and sometimes it's a genuine spectacle, but it's only sporadically funny by my modern standards.

Fatty himself isn't that big, by the way — he's moderately obese with Babe Ruth build. He must've been a very big star, though — this is An Arbuckle-Paramount Picture.

He's a moon-faced tubby guy who's often unkind to others on screen — he kicks a woman, tosses a man onto the top of a mailbox, etc. It's comedic like a so-so cartoon, with all the action sped up to 1½ real time. 

Be warned, there's a literally silent version of this movie in circulation, which is stupid. There were never movies without sound — so-called silents were always presented with musical accompaniment.

The version I watched has a fine piano score composed and performed by Antonio Coppola, who apparently scores silent flicks for a living here and now.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦

Malicious (1995) 

A college baseball player gets 'no' for an answer from his girlfriend, so while she's out of town he finds a willing redhead and boinks her in center field at the otherwise-empty ball park.

She wants more than a mere boinking, though, and becomes his deranged stalker.

The redhead is Molly Ringwald, and she's the reason I watched this cheap rip-off of Basic Instinct. Rumors said Ms Ringwald did a nude scene here, and the rumors are true.

Ringwald is spectacular, but everyone else in the cast looks and acts like they're in a WB soap opera. It's low-level enjoyable watching the barely bewhiskered leading man have his life ruined, but other than about a minute that didn't disappoint, there's nothing to recommend this yawner. 

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Wisconsin Death Trip (1999)

This documentary is famous, based on the cult or underground book by Micheal Lesy, which I haven't read.

It's a collection of newspaper clippings from small-town 19th-century Wisconsin, reporting on murders, suicides, asylum commitments, disease, general mayhem, a woman who travels the state smashing windows, etc.

The film is morbidly witty, with sepia-toned reenactments, lots of old photos, and a narrator who reads the news clippings. Sometimes there's whispering, which gets annoying.

The sound is badly mixed, at least for my monaural desktop setup — instead of a film narrated over classical music and opera in the background, it's frequently classical music and opera with narration in the background.

With better sound, this could've been an interesting short, but at feature length (even just an hour and 16 minutes) my interest faltered.

It's all billed as a true tales of a crazy time, taking the newspaper accounts as fact. In the 1890s, though, newspapers were often not reliable sources, and writers invented 'news' as filler when needed. Much of the movie's wackier stuff probably shouldn't be taken as fact.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

• Coming attractions •

China 9, Liberty 37 (1978) 

The Cook (1918)

Doctor Who (second season, 2006)

The Scarecrow (1920)

Scarecrow (1973) 

Stalker (1979) 

Street Trash (1987)

The YouTube Effect (2022) 

... plus occasional schlock and surprises 

    • And then •

A Better Tomorrow (1996)

A Night in Casablanca (1946) 

Atomic Cafe (1982) 

The Bat People (1974) 

The Beatles: Get Back (2021) 

Berkeley in the Sixties (1990)

Brainwaves (1983) 

The Card Counter (2021) 

Cellular (2004)  

The Celluloid Closet (1996)

The Day My Parents Became Cool (2009) 

The Decline of Western Civilization (1980) 

Downsizing (2017) 

The Exterminating Angel (1964)

Fog Over Frisco (1934) 

Frankenhooker (1990) 

The General (1926) 

The Green Girl (2014) 

God Bless America (2011) 

Hiroshima (1953)

Hobo (1992) 

Invader (1991) 

Jesus of Montreal (1989)

John Wick (2014)

The Killing of America (1981)  

Lady in the Van (2015)

The Last Case of August T Harrison (2015) 

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)  

Line of Duty (debut episode; 2012)

Love Happy (1950)

The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1941)

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

The Man with Nine Lives (1940)

The Manhattan Project (1996) 

Motel (1989)

The Naked City (1948)

The Night Strangler (1973)

Nightmare Alley (1947)

9 to 5 (1980) 

Not Wanted (1949)

Nothing But a Man (1964) 

Phone Booth (2002)

Poison (1990)

Popeye (1980)

Reflections of Evil (2002)

Ride in the Whirlwind (1966) 

Risky Business (1983)

The Rockford Files (debut episode; 1974)

Romper Stomper (1992)

Room Service (1938) 

Same Kind of Different as Me (2017) 

Saved! (2004) 

The Scarecrow (1920) 

Scarecrow (1973)

Scared to Death (1947) 

Secret Weapons (1985) 

Smothered (2002)

The Soloist (2009) 

Sons of the Desert (1933)

Special Bulletin (1983) 

Squirm (1976) 

Stephen Fry in America (2008)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

The Man Who Thought Life (1969)

The Train (1964)

Truck Turner (1974)

The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time (1981)

Tank Girl (1995)

Taoism Drunkard (1981) 

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009) 

Who Farted? (2019) 

Who's That Girl? (1987) 

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) 

You Can't Take It With You (1938)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

 Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. My favorite Eisenstein flick is Alexander Nevsky, primarily for the battle on the ice scenes, just awe inspiring.


    Have you seen Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera? I thought you reviewed it, but I searched the blog and found nothing...


  2. "Just awe inspiring?" That's Molly Ringwald in Malicious.

    My exposure to the classics has always been less than it should be, so I'm looking for Alexander Nevsky now. As you know, catching the subtitles makes it tricky as a hickey.

    Seeking Man with a Camera...

    1. Nah, skip subs - The writing is propaganda, the acting is both wooden and theatrical, but the story tells itself in pictures. It's a beautifully edited and choreographed spectacle, and influenced every subsequent armed battle scene, from Kurosawa and Kubrick to dimwit Peter Jackson.

    2. Well, I guess it's bad luck that I've had good luck, and the copy of Alexander Nevsky downloaded twenty minutes ago came complete with legible English captioning. :)


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