Tag Archives: Potemkin

Between the Meat Hides the Carcasses of Flies

Battleship Potemkin, a silent movie created by Sergei Eistentein back in 1925, became a critically acclaimed giant piece of propaganda that depicts a fight between two opposing classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariats. A distinct rift between the two classes is felt as the movie continues, one that relies on various symbolic references and events in order to provide such a feeling. Although there is an initial disunity amongst the proletariats an eventual rise of solidarity brings what can be deemed as the “lower class” together against the officers or bourgeoisie. This solidarity though extends farther than just those amongst the ship, but even to those at the bay and at the end even to those who are at the onset opposing the rising mutiny on the Potemkin. Overall the silent movie through the use of symbolic food is able to help audiences empathize with the proletariats thus making Battleship Potemkin such amazing propaganda.

The silent movie is split into multiple “sections”, of which the first is titled “The Men and the Maggots.” A title that foreshadows the plot sequence, the men of the Potemkin find maggots in their meat. The disgusting sight disgruntles the sailors of the ship who then complain to their officers, the bourgeoisie. A doctor is eventually consulted who tells the sailors that the meat is not rotten and that the maggots can just be washed out with brine. The maggots themselves are symbolic of the sailors in the sense that their complains and needs are easily washed away by the authority of the high ranking officials on board like how the maggots can be washed out by the brine. The joint struggle in trying to obtain better food brings solidarity to the group.

Another scene of solidarity is when the sailors are washing dishes and find a plate inscribed with the words “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”. A religious reference, the verse reminds the sailors of their dilemma, one that preoccupied their minds. In a struggle the sailor who had found the dish slams it down, shattering the dish reflecting how the fragmentation of the ship’s members. The audience witnesses said fragmentation in the scene where the officers try to have marines execute those who refused to eat the soup made with the rotten meat. The lower class rise up and toss the officers into the sea, coming full circle in the sense that the officers instead of the sailors were washed away with the brine.

The scenes of food bring together yet divide the ship’s members at the same time. The scenes push the proletariats, the sailors, against the bourgeoisie, the officers, in a battle over authority and justice. The movie uses these two groups as propaganda in order to have the working class unite under one flag. As one sailor puts it in the beginning, “We the sailors of the Potemkin must support our brothers the workers,” fulfilling the need of solidarity amongst the lower class.

The maggots that are easily washed away reflect not only the wants of the proletariat by the fall of the bourgeoisie.

“Give us this day our daily bread” a saying that sparks outrage amongst the sailors.

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The Battleship Potemkin: Food as a Metaphor and Justification for Revolution

The Battleship Potemkin, a 1925 Russian silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein, dramatizes the story of the 1905 mutiny of the sailors onboard the Russian battleship Potemkin. The film follows the story of the soldiers who rise up against their tsarist navy leaders, the murder of the revolters’ leader, Vakulinchuk, and the sailors’ subsequent attempts to get the citizens of the town of Odessa involved in the fight.
Regardless of the actual reason for revolting in the 1905 event, the 1925 film shows the Potemkin sailors’ main complaint as being with the food on board the ship. The sailors protest at having to eat rotten meat and the ship’s doctor, Smirnov, is called over to inspect the meat. Upon inspection, the audience is shown that the meat is indeed crawling with maggots. Although the doctor dismisses it since maggots are not as invasive as worms are, the sailors are incredibly upset with their treatment, claiming that Russian soldiers captured by Japanese as prisoners of war are fed better than they are. The close up on the maggots serves to show the audience that there is something seriously wrong with the meat and with the way the soldiers are being treated in general. It is important that the sailors’ grievances are with the food because food is one of the basic necessities of life, and if that is compromised, so is one’s life. Depriving one of food is just as effective of a weapon in the murder of a human life as a gun or a cannon.

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The camera focuses on the maggots crawling over the meat to emphasize the mistreatment of the sailors

While later talking to Smirnov and the other tsarist leaders of the ship, the sailors stand next to the meat, with it almost taking on the characteristics of a protesting sailor. The camera angle is positioned so that the meat appears as approximately the same height as the men on the ship. If one was to only look quickly, one might think the meat was a sailor itself. The men stand in solidarity around the meat, effectively becoming like the meat, riddled with an infection of maggots (the totalitarian government officials). Even though there are more men than leaders (just as there is more meat than maggots), the leaders have complete control over the men and aggressive measures must be taken in order to rid of them. In other words, to get rid of the maggots, the men must revolt.

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The men stand in solidarity around the meat, which appears in a similar fashion to the men themselves during this camera shot

Lastly, the music playing during the maggot scene is melancholy and desperate and gets progressively louder and angrier. This acts to mimic the audience’s feelings of despair for the men, for without food, they cannot live, and their feelings of enmity for the sailors’ leaders. The fact that the tsarist leaders are depriving the men of even the most basic necessities shows how atrocious their practices must be.

In conclusion, the sailors on the Potemkin in Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin are likened to maggot-infested meat in order to justify their revolution against their leaders. Food also serves to manipulate the audience into feeling that the sailors are living particularly unjust lives onboard their ship since they do not even have access to something necessary to continue living.

Using Propaganda to Sway a Nation

A good propaganda film is one that can sway its audience in a powerful way, ultimately persuading them to take some form of action against the enemy. This is exactly what Sergei Eisenstein does in his film Battleship Potemkin, a movie set in 1905 that dramatizes the events of crew’s rebellion aboard the Russian ship Potemkin. Eisenstein controls the audience’s emotions with powerful scenes of corrupt leadership, insanitary crew treatment, and even slaughter of innocent people. He is able to use these types of scenes to make the viewer feel empathetic for crew and townspeople while also creating contempt for their Tsarist leadership.

The movie starts on the Potemkin where the crew is told they will be served meat that is infested with maggots. This first scene does a good job of creating initial dislike for the leaders of the ship. There is even a line thrown in by a crew member that makes note of the how prisoners of war are fed better quality food. This rancid meat represents the mistreatment by Russian authorities. These men are part of the Russian army but they are still considered lower class and are subject to unjust living conditions because of it. The crewmates decide to then boycott the meat being served due in one part to its disgusting condition and another part to send a message to their commanding officers.

Maggots being found on inspection of the meat

However, the officers do not agree with the crew’s protest and they end up separating out a group of men who protested the meat and order them to be killed at gunpoint. At this critical moment, Eisenstein produces a powerful effect on the audience; the yells and pleadings of the crew towards the gunmen pull at the viewer’s heart. As the gunmen falter at the thought of killing their own brethren, the ship descends into mutiny as the soldiers take charge and attack the officers for trying to kill their shipmates. The point of this tension and release is to instill a sense of pride in the audience for the rebellious soldiers. In one quick procession of scenes, Eisenstein has persuaded the viewer to hate the oppressive leaders and then instantly to support the shipmates.

Just as the success of the shipmates settles in, the movie crushes this victory with a heart gripping scene depicting the slaughter of an innocent town. The Potemkin docks at the town Odessa where they mourn a dear crewmate who was killed during the mutiny. This event arouses the town’s suspicion, leading them to realize that the Russian regime that rules over them is corrupt and not fit to treat them this way.

The mass murder of the townsfolk on the Odessa steps

However, the Russian army hears of the Potemkin landing and suspects the town of aiding the crew of the Potemkin.What follows is arguably the most emotional scene in the film; the Russian army invades the town and murders everyone in sight down a large flight of steps. The confusion and panic of the crowd is intended to pull at the heartstrings of the crowd, and to solidify the contempt felt for the Russian regime.

These scenes among many others where very effective in twisting emotions as well as create the feel for rebellion. Eisenstein was successful in creating a film that uses a historical event to gain the support of a nation.

Battleship Potemkin: A Unification and Solidarity Through Food

Sergei Eisenstein’s silent film, Battleship Potemkin, is a dramatized flashback of the mutiny that took place in the early 1900’s. Eisenstein utilizes the Russian crewmen’s rebellion against the officers of the Tsarist regime to encourage a proletariat revolution against the communist Soviet Union. Throughout the film, Eisenstein uses food as a mechanism to bring together the proletariat and to establish a sense of collectivity and solidarity.

Smimov inspects the maggot-infested meat.

At the opening of the film, the audience discovers the sailors’ frustration towards the superiors as Vakulinkchuk delivers a manifesto that unites the workers to rebel against authority. The crewmen’s frustration from being fed maggot-infested meat provides a commonality between them and thus ignites their unification. While the dissatisfaction of food establishes solidarity, the film also visually depicts the workers as a collective group. In this first screenshot, to correspond to the worker’s heightened anger the orchestral music becomes more dramatic as the superior examines the mass of maggots feeding on the meat. Here, the maggots are clustered together, which parallels the workingmen who are viewed as a uniform group, unlike the distinct superiors in black uniforms.

The crewmen gather on the ship deck. They are seen as a collective mass dressed in all white.

These two screenshots visually depict the similarity between the men and maggots as they are both viewed as a collective: the men aredressed in the same clothing and are hardly distinguishable just as the maggots are viewed as a clustered group rather than individually. As these maggots infest the meat, Eisenstein provides a parallelism to the crewmen’s deepening desire to “infest” the superiors and execute their rebellion. In both shots, the camera angle looks down on the mass of maggots as well as the workingmen. This downward angle illustrates the inferiority the men feel to their superiors and their longing for more equality.

The bubbling and boiling hot soup representing the crewmen's brewing anger.

As an act of defiance the sailors refuse to eat their soup. This screen shot depicts the parallelism between the boiling hot soup and the men’s intensified anger due to the unfair treatment they receive. Eisenstein zooms in on the bubbling and steaming soup with the purpose of visually portraying the men’s discontent. Here, food is utilized to correspond to the men’s brewing emotions as well as their solidarity.

The uneaten and untouched bowls of soup.

Once again, there is a parallel between the soup and the crewmen as the pots in this screenshot are positioned in a group-like, uniform manner. The untouched soup illuminates the sailors’ unity and overall group effort to rebel. These isolated and indistinguishable dishes represent the absent workers who are executing their first act of mutiny. The scene’s emphasis of the pots swinging back and forth relates to a ticking grandfather clock, which demonstrates that it is only a matter of time until the workers execute their greater plan of rebellion.

Intertitle that demonstrates the proletariat unity.

After the crewmen take over the Potemkin, the working class of Odessa supports their rebellion and is inspired to rebel against the upper class. As a variety of people join together to display their reverence to the sailors, this idea of collectivity is present yet again. The people of Odessa unify and bring fresh food to the crewmen as a symbol of their support. Once again, food is utilized to bring together individuals. Although unfamiliar with one another, food unifies the workers on the Potemkin and the people of Odessa into one working class group. Their desire for equal rights and the abandonment of upper-class oppression ignites their unification. The intertile, “Mothers, sisters brothers! Let nothing divide us!” additionally displays and solidifies the proletariat group unity. Similarly, as the screenshot of the rhythmic passing along of food resembles an assembly line, it highlights their joint efforts and overall solidarity.

Working together to bring food on the ship.

Clearly then, Eisenstein’s use of food emphasizes the unity of the working class. Throughout the film, he demonstrates how food creates an unbreakable cohesion between others. This relationship between food and unity illustrates how a powerful bond can ignite a group to revolt and bring about change.

Battleship Potemkin: A Significant Onboard Food Quality Battle

Battleship Potemkin, a silent film by Russian filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein serves as a propaganda ploy; promoting equality for all men serving in the military. The right to fight for equitable treatment by the sailors to receive adequate food provisions, comparable to the food provisions given to the onboard officers is reasonable and understandable. The theme of the uprising and revolt of the onboard sailors was over the horrific lack of the quality of the food that they were being served-up to eat.

     This clearly shows that if provoked beyond one’s tolerance level, sailors expressed their dissatisfaction, to gain attention to their plight. Their plight was to correct the substandard and spoiled food being served to the sailors. The onboard senior officers have never been subjected to having to consume spoiled and maggot infested food.

     When squirming maggots are visibly present upon the hanging slabs of meat that are being prepared for the nightly dinner of the onboard sailors, the onboard sailors collectively and in force, refused to accept this food as being consumable. A subsequent scene shows the sailors pushing the hanging slabs of meat around from side-to-side; showing how utterly unacceptably maggot-infested this meat is, and incomprehensible for human daily food consumption. The film unequivocally portrays food as a necessary requirement for the sustenance of life. Without an adequate food supply, survival is impossible.

     Although the ship’s doctor examined the meat and dismisses the maggot filth as being able to be washed away with brine, the sailors thus conclude that the doctor is forced to side with the officers onboard. The sailors are now intolerable of continually being served rotten meat. A revolutionary sentiment engulfs all sailors and their revolution has officially begun. One sailor states about the food, that “its not fit for pigs”! Another states that “the meat could crawl overboard on its own” and another sailor states that “Russian POWs in Japan are fed better” than we are. The scene depicting the empty bowls of soup are illustrative of their protest.

Typical Onboard Sailor Food

     The sailors are infuriated by their daily inedible food supply. From the maggot infested meat to the grimily thickened, germ infested soup, their physical well-beings and personal self-esteem is sinking metaphorically, to the depths of the sea on which they sail. They will no longer be tolerable of substandard provisions. The sailors have a dismal outlook on their futures especially after the ship’s captain threatens to hang the sailors who refused to eat their soup.

      One evening the sailors, who are not individually identifiable because they are all dressed in white uniforms and wearing similar white hats, are washing their dinner plates. One sailor stops and observes the writing on the plate. The writing around the perimeter of the plate states “give us this day our daily bread”. The climax of the film is about food and the inadequacy of the food they have been receiving. The demonstrative breaking of that plate signifies the severity of their situation and their uphill battle against it.

What Is Our Daily Bread?

Food and Power in Battleship Potemkin

Battleship Potemkin demonstrates the importance of food to society and the power it gives to individuals.  The sailors on this ship are given rotten meat as the staple of their diet despite their complaints that maggots are living in it.  Because nothing changes, the sailors become angry and rebel against their superiors.  The uprising causes a shift in the hierarchy on the boat that sends the soldiers into a spiral of power.  Food is important because it gives whoever controls it power over others.

The sailors surround their officers symbolizing a shift in power.

The sailors surround their officers symbolizing a shift in power.

The officers of the Battleship Potemkin control the sailors’ food and therefore control the sailors themselves.  Because food gives strength, and essentially life, the soldiers are in the authority of the officers.  The food that is being given to the sailors has maggots living in it; maggots are used to demonstrate how spoiled the meat is.  When the sailors complain, the doctor tells them to simply wash it with brine; the fact that the doctor lies about the state of the meat shows that the officers control him as well.  However, once the sailors decide not to accept the rotten food they are given, they are released from the strings that control them and take control of their own lives.  Without food one cannot live, but without soldiers, the officers don’t have anyone to sustain the ship.  The soldiers refusing to eat the meat given to them poses a threat to the officers power and when the sailors surround their officers, they are indicating who is now control.  After the takeover, the sailors take to the city of Odessa in the first show of their newfound power.

A live chicken to provide the sailors with sustenance.

The Oddessians react to the martyr by giving food to the soldiers, which gives them nutrition and strength to grasp even more authority. The food the Oddessians give to the sailors is actually alive, which is a sharp contrast to the decayed food they were eating before. Even though the city is attacked by the military because of the uprising, the sailors are able to use their new strength and power to deflect the attack by the incoming ships.  There is suspense when the oncoming boats raise their guns to the rebellious sailors, but when the sailors simply wave to them, the guns lower and the audience gets a sense of how much authority the sailors now have.  Without the people of Odessa’s food, the sailors would still be without control or healthy food, but because they stand up for themselves and find a new food source, they are able to not only take control of the ship, but also assert their authority with the other military ships.

Food is important to the human race because it is a human’s means of living, but because it is a necessity, certain people have a lot of power.  Those who have control of the food control the people that the food feeds.   Battleship Potemkintells the story of sailors who become free from the control of their officers by refusing to accept the food they are being given and finding their own source of food.

Some reasons you should care about a silent Soviet film from 1925

Battleship Potemkin is a landmark film for a number of reasons. Brian de Palma stole from it (in homage, of course), Scorsese obsessively watched it, and in film history terms, it crystallized a narrative for how to tell a story about popular revolution and the rise of class consciousness. Like the mutiny you will read about in “The Factory Ship,” this one ends in failure…but the mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin is a dry run for eventual success–the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

The narrative basically follows the throughline of Marx and Engels’ 1848 treatise, the Communist Manifesto. If you have not read this in the course of your liberal arts education, this may be a good time to do so. It is a rousing rhetorical text, whether in English, Japanese, Flemish or Esperanto (true story!). Here is a link to the Japanese version, the 共産宣言. Kobayashi Takiji’s novella also draws some key scenes, metaphors and ideas from the CM. Keep an eye out for maggots, montage, crowd scenes and class conflict. Kobayashi himself came to a sobering end. He was tortured to death by the police for his writing and political stance in Tsukiji, the section of Tokyo that we know now as the biggest fish market in the world. While the CM‘s authors may be cold in the ground, and the Cold War over and gone, labor as a fact of life has, if anything, become more central to more people’s lives…The informal resemblances between the CM and, say, Occupy Wall Street are intriguing, for instance…

Class revolution, and its emergence from the middle class/bourgeoisie, is the template for proletarian cinema and the proletarian novel. In Japan, prole lit underwent a surprising revival in 2008, when “The Factory Ship” again–unexpectedly–became a best-seller. What was especially new is that many of the aficianados of the novella were young–from the so-called “freeter” class (free + arbeiter, or “work” in German. People who work part-time, hourly jobs, probably in the service industry, now some 25% of the population.)

Even more improbably, the person who brought this novel into the popular eye was a gothic Lolita named AMAMIYA Karin (you’ll need to be logged in to a UCLA account to access this essay). Now, goth Lolis are a subculture not always known for their partisan politics.

Amamiya leads a May Day march of "precariat" workers (source: Global Voices)

Who knew?

Norma Field gives a brief account of the new popularity of “The Factory Ship” in this on-line piece from Japan Focus. Here is a brief excerpt that situates the “boom” in the platforms of mass journalism and marketing:

Here, a brief chronology of the boom might be useful. Two newspaper articles served as major catalysts.  First, a conversation between Amamiya and established novelist Takahashi Genichiro in the nationally circulated daily Mainichi (January 9, 2008) in which Amamiya observed that reading Cannery Ship, she was struck by how the conditions depicted mirrored the current desperate situation of young workers. (Why was Amamiya reading this work? She was preparing for a discussion on literature and labor to be published on the pages of Minshu Bungaku (Democratic Literature), a formally independent journal with close ties to the Japan Communist Party. Amamiya, in her early 30s, seems to effortlessly cross the boundaries between old and new left and new new left, liberal, socialist, and communist publications. (For her presence in the Save Article 9 movement and other activities, see this website.) Amamiya’s comment was quoted widely and found its way into the second influential article, in the major liberal daily Asahi on February 16.

More on this context, the new kinds of solidarities Amamiya is aiming for, next week.