FF150 - Battleship Potemkin

Intro by Ben Harrison

Ever since the end of World War II Russia has been Big Bad for the United States, the end-boss of the 16-bit side-scrolling thermonuclear clown-fight that has been our time as a world power. We have been locked in a clash to determine which of our dumb civilizations will call the shots on a global basis, I guess after the other one is gone? The conflict has ebbed and flowed as the contours of the Cold War evolved. There were times when it even seemed like it might be behind us.

The commentary laughed at Mitt Romney in his 2012 campaign for president when he suggested that Russia was our biggest geopolitical adversary, but that seems like a quaint and distant time now. Just recently Alabama elected a senator who has been quoted bragging about how his dad fought communism in World War II. Somehow in his mind, the USSR seems to have replaced Nazi Germany as the bad guys we went to fight in the 1940s.

It seems strange that a country as far away and as culturally and economically distinct as Russia would be such a persistent counterpoint to the United States on the world stage. There is a theory dating back to Sallust, the Roman historian, that empires need adversaries. If that is true of the United States, then when the Nazis fell, the USSR rushed in to fill the vacuum. The nature of our adversary has changed in those years as we have seen them reform their government from Stalinist communism to Putinist kleptocracy with a brief stopover in Yeltsinist quasi-capitalism, but what made them our adversary in the first place is the conceptual threat the Russian Revolution posed to American capital.

The ownership-class looked on the idea of a popular uprising, putting a socialist economy in place, as an intolerable hazard to their position of privilege. That is one of the many reasons today's film is so interesting. It is nearly 100 years old and tells the story of the first Russian revolution coming to a single vessel in the Russian navy. The microcosm of the ship and then Odessa is a nice bite-sized way of experiencing the arguments for and against the revolution and the violence used to try and advance and suppress the revolution.

While the film is silent, it is able to explore the personal motivations of some of the revolution’s adherence, which is a perspective we just never get to see in popular American media. This film is one of the most important works of early cinema, and we are lucky we get to talk about it on the show because unlike ”People go to Work in a French factory” or ”Train Comes Towards Screen” this is a war film. We are also lucky it survived the clash of our civilization against our end-boss and lucky we live in a country that allows its populous to experience the media of its end-boss. The same was not true of Russia for a long time! ”We have had enough rotten meat! Even a dog wouldn't eat this! It could crawl overboard on its own!” Today on Friendly Fire: Battleship Potemkin.

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