Sergei Eisenstein successfully uses new filming techniques, particularly montage editing, to convince his audience that the Tsarist government is evil in his 1925 film, Battleship Potemkin. Several elements of the film stood out as making the film effective propaganda.
First, the editing techniques stirred the audience’s emotions in a way that typical 1925 films would not. Eisenstein was influenced by the work of Lev Kuleshov and was aware of the psychological conclusions of the Kuleshov Effect. Eisenstein uses these conclusions by cutting particular images together to elicit a greater emotional response than any of the images could bring out alone. The Odessa steps sequence is the prime example of this, but another example stood out to me. As the battleship came into Odessa and Vakulinchuk’s body was put on display, at first the crowd mourns. Then, Eisenstein cuts in images of the crowd beginning to clench their fists by using close-up shots of open hands clenching down into fists. This showed the transition from sadness to anger and then to uprising.
The key to propaganda is making the audience sympathize with the desired party. By showing the mistreatment of the sailors, Eisenstein causes the audience to sympathize with them and to despise the Tsarist officers. Another scene that is particularly interesting is the vilification of the Orthodox priest. He raises his cross and waves it around, threatening the sailors with excommunication, while telling them that they are fighting God. Considering that Eisenstein was commissioned by the Soviet government to make this film, the logical conclusion is that Eisenstein is asking that people place their loyalty with the Soviet government rather than with the church.
Another element of Battleship Potemkin that makes it successful propaganda is the use of amateur actors. It is easier for the Russian audience to relate and be swayed by the film when the actors look like typical Russians. The purpose of most modern films is entertainment, so most of these films feature beautiful actors. People are entertained by watching beautiful people. Eisenstein had a different purpose. He was trying to elicit a particular emotion and a particular loyalty. The most effective way to do this was to show his audience people who looked like them, so that they might better relate. One scene strikes me as a particularly good example of this: the woman carrying her trampled son up the Odessa steps looks like a man. In this way, the scene is not about what you see, but about what you feel. You are not supposed to be thinking about a beautiful woman, but instead about the brutality toward her child and the emotion that she is feeling. Battleship Potemkin is famous as a propaganda film, and rightly so. The filming techniques are excellent and Eisenstein successfully causes his audience to sympathize with the sailors and the Soviet government.