I began writing this out on the Last Movie Watched thread but decided to make it its own thread.
I recently watched Battleship Potemkin (1925) for the first time!
If you go to film school you'll learn about Sergei Eisenstein and Kuleshov, Soviet montage theory, "Kuleshov Effect", all that good stuff. Until recently, I had only seen clips of their films. Last month I watched Kuleshov's By the Law ('26) which I loved, and way, way, way prefer over Potemkin. By the Law opened in the Soviet Union almost the exact same day as Potemkin was opening in the US (where the former was never formally released)..... the Kuleshov only has 700 votes on IMDb (what the hell?), the Eiseinstein has 46,000. And I was thinking: you could probably draw a line from the smaller and psychologically complex By the Law to Bergman, Polanski, etc; alternatively you can take Potemkin to the "prestige" picture, the blockbuster, all the way to bumptious Dunkirk.....
To me Potemkin has one phenomenal, gutting sequence (and popularly parroted): the Odessa steps. It's incredibly shot and shocking to this day. But before and after that sequence.....eh! It's really just extravagant agitprop, big and simplistic, empty. You can almost picture Eisenstein behind the camera, madly nodding, yelling "yes! yes!"
I don't mean to knock the film too much, it's one of the better Silent dramas I've seen. But, especially in terms of my own personal taste, it's not even close how much I prefer the Kuleshov - which is on Youtube btw!
OK, so there's my coffee-prompted post! Thoughts on these two and their inequitable rate of esteem and influence on cinema? Feel free to mention any other lesser-known Silents that you feel deserve more credit !!
Eisenstein's definitely one of the most important figures in silent cinema, and while I think Battleship Potemkin is an indisputable masterwork of direction and vision, it is far from his only important work. Strike and, in particular, October: Ten Days That Shook the World are game-changers in the medium. Eisenstein also he successfully managed to maintain relevance in the transition to the sound era; Ivan the Terrible and Alexander Nevsky are masterpieces both.
Kuleshov was much more intimate (from what I've seen of him), whereas Eisenstein always tried to go big and broad. If anything, I think Kuleshov was closer in style and presentation to the great Yevgeni Bauer, who I consider the first great Russian master of cinema. Bauer was the most essential filmmaker of the 1910s, and his untimely death really did cost the world of cinema a great visionary who, in my opinion, did more to change the game than even D.W. Griffith.
It's a very long time ago since I saw those films but I can remember in a college class I had they were both sort of snickered at by my professor - who loved Alexander Dovzhenko's Earth almost at the expense of any other films we saw. I guess the thinking was that was the one the influenced Tarkovsky and Tarkovsky was the pinnacle.......for that class anyway.
I remember that Eisenstein seemed to have the whole picture in his mind when you watched his work - how to get from point A to B and how to have connective tissue. Kuleshov had smaller moments but some were quite striking and that cutting thing where something would happen and then the character would react and then you pieced it together from that.
I've seen and loved both, but my tastes tend to skew either to films very personal to me or films that are creative through-and-through. For me, Battleship Potemkin gets the edge because it falls into the latter category for me. Yes, the "Odessa Steps" sequence is a highly-lauded scene, but I was surprised by how the whole film took on that same sense of urgency and atmosphere. And while the plot is almost non-existent, the camera feels like the narrator and guiding us visually through this story of panic, tragedy, and ultimately resistance - a very timely film for Russia as well.
By the Law does a lot of the same techniques, but through the eyes of a small trifecta of characters and to a much smaller extent. But why it works less for me (still one of the best of the decade for me, so no dig at it whatsoever) is because it takes fewer risks creatively that sets Potemkin apart from a lot of films that decade.
Either way, the Eisenstein vs. Kuleshov argument could be made until the end of time, but I think both are equally essential in what they did for cinema for decades to come.