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è perché son certo che con te la vita è

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March 14, 2007 | 03:19pm
Mood: italian.
Music: Massive Attack - Inertia Creeps

I wrote my Russian & Soviet Film paper in just under three hours (8:30-11:20) last night. It's 5.5 pages long. Why, yes, I am amazing, thank you for noticing.

I'm including the paper behind a cut, just because it's such an obscure topic that I doubt anyone'll be "borrowing" it. Plus, who knows? Maybe someone out there's curious enough to read it.

Within the film Battleship Potemkin (1926), director Sergei Eisenstein managed to balance both intricate filming techniques and complex story themes to create an impressive film—one that can, ultimately, be called a masterpiece. The film revolves around a mutiny on the Russian battleship Potemkin. This mutiny provokes a demonstration in Odessa, Ukraine, which results in a bloody massacre—and the passion to continue to pursue political equality in the form of Communism. Eisenstein used many technical aspects of film, including the arrangement of people, lighting, and shots and camera angles to evoke the need to escape the oppressing tsarist regime and to seek freedom in the newly burgeoning Communism.

One of the most common motifs used throughout the movie involved the arrangement of actors and actresses in crowded scenes. These arrangements were often geometrical or symmetrical, depending on the scene in question, and usually devolve from even lines and peace into riots and chaos. Every person in these scenes has an equivalent on the opposite side of the set, with a sole exception: one man in the center of the set, generally raised above the rest, occasionally located on a platform of some sort. He has much more power than everyone else, hence his placement and elaborate attire. One interpretation of this lone man is that he is a tsarist figure, controlling the masses from his pedestal, out of touch with the common folk. When the crowds obey him, they are perfectly geometrical, but as they begin to think for themselves and fight for equality, they devolve into chaos, a common equality for everyone.

The first the viewer sees of this is in the opening scene of the film, in which the sailors on the ship are asleep in hammocks located in the cabin. The hammocks are positioned randomly throughout the room, slung unevenly from different positions and different heights. The sailors are asleep, resting peacefully, until a man wearing insignia that identifies him as being higher in the hierarchy on the ship passes through: he violently hits one of the sailors on the shoulder, awakening him—which causes the other soldiers to wake as well, clamoring around in confusion and anger. In this scene, the man is the tsar, while the sailors are all working class: as they lay in their hammocks, he is towering above them, senselessly beating the sailor, and thereby provoking the ensuing chaos.

Another example of the impressive use of the positioning of people is when the mutiny on the ship occurs. The sailors are in even lines on opposite sides of the deck; the gunmen are neatly lined up in the center; and the officers are positioned in a long line, with the captain (the tsarist figure for this scene) standing in the center of the deck, raised above everybody else. Every person has a counterpart to fulfill this perfect symmetry except for the captain. As the mutiny occurs, the symmetry is gradually broken; first the lines of soldiers begin to sever, then the gunmen are moved to shoot the sailors who weren’t in line, and then everything begins to devolve into chaos—the captain yells for the death of the sailors, while the sailors begin to fight back. In this scene, the captain (the “tsar”) fights back with brute force, while the sailors don’t do anything—they can’t do anything—until they begin to speak. They use reason and intelligence, appealing to the sensibilities of their fellow man, and strike back against the captain’s brute force, finally united against a single, prominent enemy.

Later, as the Odessa steps sequence occurs, the viewer sees the most striking use of symmetry (and the disruption of said pattern) in the positioning of people within the film. The crowd is, at first, docile; they are walking neatly down the steps in lines. Then the Kossocks begin their brutal massacre and the people begin to flee, running every which way—the symmetry is then broken and chaos reigns. However, the symmetry is continued by the Kossocks: they are in a straight line, stepping down the steps, shooting and killing at the same exact time. Their location on the steps is generally several steps above the people; when a woman tries to reach their level to reason with them, they murder her. The sheer violence of this scene is almost painful to watch, and the arrangement of people helps to bring this to new heights; the Kossocks are under tsarist rule, all perfectly symmetrical, and they are the direct cause for the chaos and lack of symmetry in the citizens of Odessa. The Kossocks help to show the viewer why change is so desperately needed in (what soon becomes) the Soviet Union. As evident from the aforementioned examples, the arrangement and positioning of people is a very important method used to show the themes of the film, including the gradual death of the tsarist regime and the rise of communism.

Throughout the film, Eisenstein used lighting to great effect; every shot is carefully arranged, the lighting perfectly matching the action occurring in any given scene. In the opening scene, in which the sailors are asleep in hammocks, there is low key lighting; the viewer sees little more than the fact that there are men in hammocks. Covered in shadows, the features of the individual men are very nearly indiscernible; the men are shown in close-up shots of their faces, backs, sleeping bodies, etc. The lighting is low to show that it is most likely night, that the men are asleep or resting. When the camera focuses upon specific men, they are in the middle of the action, awake or waking from sleep—and there is slightly more light. The lighting is used to further effect later on the ship; the patterns the light makes as it passes through slats of iron on the ship are particularly noticeable. We see this several times; the first shows a group of men eating bread on the deck, seated upon the ironwork—the following shot looks beneath them, showing the shadows of the men and the ironwork on the floor below. This is later repeated with ironwork on a wall, the light passing through the ironwork in the foreground and showing the pattern of the ironwork on a sailor’s face and upper-torso.

There were three notable occurrences of backlighting within the film; the first was of the priest on the ship. He pops out from the bowels of the ship, wielding a gilded cross and a demonic look upon his face. Fog pours out from behind him, and they viewer can see the fog glow due to the backlighting. This effect is used to give the viewer an impression of the otherworldliness in which the priest partakes. He is so consumed by religion (which thereby gives him his “otherworldliness”) that he is out of touch with the common man—he fights against the sailors, instead of with them, and uses religion as a tool to hurt as opposed to help. The backlighting is particularly noticeable again, later in the film, in the first of the scenes at the harbor in Odessa. The camera faces the harbor, showing boats and ships sail by; however, all the viewer can see of the ships are black silhouettes, as the light from the sky overwhelms the specific details of the ships. The backlighting is notable here because it was so extreme—it was obvious to all viewers, even those who were unaware of what techniques were being used.

What is quite possibly the most important example of backlighting was in the Odessa steps sequence. People are fleeing for their lives, dead bodies litter the steps, and the Kossocks are continuing their progression down the steps. Then, a child is brutally murdered, shot to death by the Kossocks; his mother sees and goes for him, picking him up from the ground, and goes to face the Kossocks. As she faces them, the viewer can see the effect of the backlighting, as the long shadows of the Kossocks overwhelm the woman. The shadows are long and stretch far past the woman and her child, and as the Kossocks kill the woman, the viewer understands that the shadows symbolize the chaos of the moment, the absolute lack of care that the tsar had for the average person. The shadows overwhelm the woman, as the tsarist government overwhelmed the citizens of Russia. The only reasonable response to such a terror is to flee, and for the moment, the citizens do just that. As these examples show, lighting was used to a great extent throughout the film to help expand upon the theme of the need for a new political ideal.

A very important element of the film was the shots and the camera angles used by Eisenstein. These varied significantly, depending on the scene and the action occurring within said scene. Close-up shots were used more than once, often to indicate a theme or motif within the film. An early example of this occurred on the ship, with a shot of maggots in the meat. This was a very important shot; it is this meat that sparks the mutiny on the ship, and tangentially, the demonstration and the massacre on the Odessa steps. The maggot-filled meat can also be used as a symbol for multiple situations within the film (including, but not limited to, the cruel ship officers and the decaying, useless tsarist government). Another close-up occurred during the mutiny; as one of the officers is killed and thrown overboard, the camera focuses on a pair of glasses dangling over the water. Glasses and eyes were subjects of many close-ups throughout the film; the eyes of the woman with the young, murdered child were focused upon, as well as the eyes of the woman with the baby carriage. Before the scene of the glasses dangling over the water, there is a close-up of glasses on an officer (possibly the owner of those dangling glasses). Close-ups of objects make the film more personal to the viewer, and close-ups of eyes are especially important, as they show the individuality of each person: there are, in fact, individuals in the crowd—parts to the whole.

The film also contained many shots looking up or down at an extreme angle, often at a distance from the action. The viewer sees this several times on the ship, such as during the mutiny on the deck: the sailors and officers fight among themselves, mixing and merging, the crowd writhing like a giant creature below, on the deck. This shot of the crowd is taken from high up and a distance away, with close-up shots of individual people and the action interspersed within. At the beginning of the mutiny, there is a high angle shot looking straight down at two different levels of the ship: on one level, men are running one way, whereas on the other level, they are running the opposite way. Later, another occurrence of a high angle shot is when the crowd lines up to mourn the death of Vakulinchuk. As the camera tilts up to focus on the crowd, the viewer sees that the line is enormous as it weaves off into the distance. These distant, high-angle shots are generally used to show crowds, or to give a broad example of the action. Closer shots of specific people or actions are interspersed with these shots. The large variation in the types of camera angles and shots used within the film are used to the maximum extent possible, crystallizing the fact that, above all, what the citizens of Russia needed at the time was freedom from the tsarist regime.

The techniques used within the film were impressive for the age in which it was filmed. Eisenstein managed to combine his eye for perfect camera angles, lighting, and people and prop arrangement with the important theme of the gradual vanquishing of the tsar and his regime. Using everything from close-ups and backlighting to high angles and geometrical patterns, Eisenstein succeeded on every count.

This is going to sound kind of ridiculous, but I had a lot of fun writing that paper. I know, I bitched and moaned about it for weeks, but it was really enjoyable. I think I actually missed analyzing books/movies. (For the uninitiated, I was a total English-whore in high school. I took the AP classes & exams, was always a teacher's pet, and received an award or two for my writing. I started college as an English major and changed majors within a week. Why? I hated the pretentious BS I had to read/write, and analyzing medieval Scottish poetry just wasn't any fun. So. Now you know.) But yeah, maybe grad school for Russian literature/film is an option?

I have various French papers I have yet to edit/write/rewrite, but that's okay. I have a Math test tomorrow that I kind of want to do well on. I have summer course registration this evening, followed by class and then a study group for Russian.

All I've eaten this week has been pop-tarts and peanut butter. I think I might've had ramen once or twice, too, but I'm not certain. I'm just not hungry or in the mood to eat anything elaborate.

The weather has been amazing this week. It's been in the 70s for the last few days. No need for sweatshirts or jeans! Very pleasant. It'll be going back into the 40s tomorrow, but apparently it'll get better this weekend? We'll see.

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