Battleship Potemkin and the Tools of Propaganda

This is a presentation of screenshots for my English 212W class as part of Emory University's Domain of One's Own initiative. I am relating my contemporary issue of Emory's speech codes to the propaganda used by Eisenstein to promote communism in the film.


  1. I tried to imagine my film as a vehicle for melodramatic rhetoric. Elizabeth Anker describes melodrama as "a mode of popular culture narrative that employs emotionality to provide an unambiguous distinction between good and evil through clear designations of victimization, heroism, and villainy" (Anker, 23). In this case, I would use "emotionality" to prove that the Emory administration is evil in restricting the rights of their students and the students are good in fighting for their free speech rights. I would not acknowledge the other side of the argument, that speech codes protect against damaging hate speech that would not be protected by the First Amendment or that speech that does not contribute to real debate. I seek to "create(s) a moral obligation" for students in university's with speech codes to take action against them (26).
  2. Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.01.13 PM
    Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.01.13 PM
  3. If I were to create a propaganda film opposing Emory speech codes, I could definitely use Eisenstein's technique of medium close-ups to show a student's emotions at having his or her speech censored by the Emory administration. These close-ups allow the director to emphasize the character's emotional response to the injustice, and can be used to create viewer empathy, a powerful tool of melodramatic cinema.
  4. Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.02.04 PM
    Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.02.04 PM
  5. I could use extreme long shots such as this one to show the opposing sides of the campus conflict. Lining the sides of the quad could be hundreds of students dressed in white, while a few administrators intent on squashing the "rebellion" stand confronting the "rebels" in black. The students must be shown to outnumber the administrators, just as the proletariat sailors outnumber the naval officers and melodramatic heroes often have to face impossible odds to succeed.
  6. Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.07.50 PM
    Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.07.50 PM
  7. Here the officer is clearly being portrayed as the stereotypical melodramatic villain. Aristocratic and powerful, the evil member of the economic elite twirls his black mustache. In my film, the villain would not be a military officer of the tsarist regime, but rather an administrator or group of administrators. Their crime would not be abusing their soldiers but controlling the freedom of speech of their students based on vague speech codes and their arbitrary judgments about what is and what isn't worthwhile speech.
  8. Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.31.23 PM
    Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.31.23 PM
  9. Here the red flag is being flown over the ship to signify the sailor's victory. In my film, the student activists would gain their first victory in their fight for free speech; perhaps the administration has allowed them to have a protest or maybe publish an article in the school newspaper. Regardless, this low angle shot makes the communist victory look all the more impressive, and I could emphasize the civil liberties victory with the same camera technique and melodramatic emphasis. The flag billowing in the wind could be the free speech campus movement picking up followers as it gained popularity through social media.
  10. Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.16.55 PM
    Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.16.55 PM
  11. Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.19.17 PM
    Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.19.17 PM
  12. In this scene, one of the sailors is killed "for a plate of soup," or for refusing to eat the soup the chef made with the rotten meat. In my movie, the martyr would be a student who says something that is taken out of context and who is charged with violating the speech code. He would suddenly find himself subject to harassment policies and a speech code he did not know existed. He would be disciplined harshly and perhaps even expelled for his "hate speech" violation. As in every melodrama, there has to be a victim and a hero. Sadly, in this one, the victim never becomes the hero, just a martyr.
  13. Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.36.47 PM
    Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.36.47 PM
  14. In this scene, the happy afternoon spent at the dock has become a terrible nightmare, as soldiers storm down the Odessa Steps slaughtering civilians in its wake. Eisenstein heightens the intensity of the scene through the use of montage (film technique based on editing different quick shots together in order to create associational meaning). I could do the same with a campus protest or a pro-speech meeting being shut down.
  15. By reusing the same shots and making normal sequences non-contiguous, Eisenstein creates a truly remarkable montage on the Odessa Steps. The shot of the citizens running down the steps is replayed multiple times throughout this scene, and I could show students fleeing campus security in the same fashion. Quick editing would be essential to heighten the drama.
  16. Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.37.49 PM
    Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.37.49 PM
  17. In this shot, Eisenstein shows an extreme close up of the woman's face as she watches her injured child getting trampled to death. You can see the fear in her eyes as the ruthless tsarists march onwards and the fleeing civilians continue their hopeless escape. She is the ultimate victim, the loving mother forced to watch as the Russian aristocrats murder her child. Although my topic is slightly less dramatic, I could still use extreme close-ups to create pathos and successfully portray the emotions of my characters, specifically the students being academically punished for their speech/protest.
  18. Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.37.51 PM
    Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.37.51 PM
  19. Again, Eisenstein uses montage to cut from one shot of the woman's reaction to another shot of the same woman's reaction. The editing is disjointed, as if the intensity of the scene prevents a smooth series of shots to take place. Just as the woman cannot comprehend what is happening to her child, so the camera can not completely digest the horror occurring around it. Again, I could utilize the same technique, emphasizing the emotions of my characters by shooting them at different phases of their reaction to the repressive actions of the administration and then editing them together.
  20. Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.53.23 PM
    Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.53.23 PM
  21. During this scene, Eisenstein uses long shots to create tensions as the two warships near confrontation. By cutting from long shot to close up of the gears running, he heightens the drama as the film reaches its melodramatic climax. In my film, the evil administrators and pro-speech students would be approaching their final confrontation, perhaps in front of a public hearing or board of administrators, and I could use quick cutting from different distances to create the same kind of apprehension for the viewer.
  22. Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.57.07 PM
    Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 5.57.07 PM
  23. In this scene, the sailors celebrate that the other tsarist warship has put down its arms in order to join the communist movement. In my movie, some professors in support of a freer university environment could stand up to the administration and make a convincing case for removing/amending the speech code. The film could be resolved in the same manner, as the majority proletariat (students) defeat the aristocratic elite (administrators).