Sergei Eisenstein

Battleship Potemkin Odessa

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs are using the 2012 Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the best movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they try to understand why Sergei Eisenstein‘s Battleship Potemkin has slipped in popularity. Is it because it’s hard for Western audiences to get behind? Is it because countless homages have reduced it to its Odessa Steps sequence? Or does Peter Berg’s latest blockbusting disappointment have something to do with it? Probably not that last one, huh?

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Legendary Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein is one of the most influential creative minds in the history of the medium. A philosopher of cinema, Eisenstein did not invent montage, but certainly explored the vast parameters of its possibilities without precedent. Thus, a high definition release of one of his central works is understandably something of an event, and the good people at Kino have packaged a pristine new reissue of Eisenstein’s debut feature film Strike (1925) from its restoration by Cinematheque de Toulouse. Strike is essential viewing for anybody who is seriously invested in the evolution, history and potential aesthetic and political power of cinema, and this new DVD and Blu-ray version is likely the best viewing experience available.

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Criterion Files

Andrei Tarkovsky was openly dissatisfied with his Solaris (1972), even though it has endured as perhaps the master’s best-known work, because he felt he didn’t successfully “transcend” the science-fiction genre as he later claimed he would seven years later with Stalker, a film that truly has few directly identifiable ties with the genre it purportedly emerged from. But knowing Tarkovsky, “transcending the genre” here doesn’t mean new interpretations of a familiar formula, but rather implies that Tarkovsky didn’t felt he accomplished what he sought to do in each of his works: make cinema a high art form comparable with the other arts. I respectfully disagree with Tarkovsky’s assessment of his own work. In fact, it is the clearly identifiable ties that Solaris has with its genre that helps the film achieve a specifically Tarkovskyan transcendence. While the filmmaker has a gesamtkunstwerk-approach to elevating cinema as an art form by integrating other great works of art into this work of art (an aspect especially apparent here in the film’s library scene), in Solaris Tarkovsky palpably struggles with the legacy of the genre he’s working in, and in doing so, copes with cinema’s own artistic language while putting forth a unique aesthetic that can singularly be experienced in cinema: the controlled experience of time.

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Culture Warrior

Today is the day of the midterm elections, a day which will mark the stark transition from functionaries on the center who can’t accomplish anything holding office to functionaries on the right who are too busy yelling in every direction to accomplish anything holding office. Under that grand political tradition whose unwavering slogan is “Losing = Tyranny,” much has been made from candidates on the far right (who will become mainstream right if elected or exponentially grating windbags if not) about staging an armed revolution if, y’know, that whole democracy thing doesn’t work out for them. Well, before the pasty and overweight turn off the Fox News echo chamber and actually embody the daunting degree at which human action can precede human thought by taking arms against an administration that has done nothing to challenge their 2nd Amendment rights, I’d like to use the history of cinema to illustrate what true revolt against actual political oppression looks like.

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Is Iron Man 2 an escapist, crowd-pleasing piece of big-budget popcorn entertainment, or a two-hour ad for neo-capitalism? Can it be both?

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oldasspotemkin

It may be the case that the movie is influential only because it was one of the early ones to the party, but more than that, it’s influential because a talented creative mind had the foresight to see what could be done with moving pictures and to did it.

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