Sunday, September 30, 2018

Battleship Potemkin Movie Review

Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 production of Battleship Potemkin dramatizes the events of the 1905 Russian Revolution through the eyes of both the valiant crew of the aforementioned ship and the intended Soviet public. This film was a study in art technique while delivering a message and story that was uniquely geared to communism. 

One of the difficulties in reviewing a film of this age was the images and ideas that were cutting edge in 1925 have been used by other directors to the point of rendering them ineffective and cliché. Clichés are poor storytelling because they embody a valid idea in a framework of shorthand, either through poor writing skills or a poorly executed desire for brevity. To review this film requires a suspension of one’s experiences with modern storytelling while looking at this work as a singular project of film artistry. Eisenstein’s purpose was to retell a topical, well-known story using innovative techniques that were artistically pleasing, thought provoking and even a little shocking. While the movie was clearly in the model of the five part play, Eisenstein sets aside any preconceived notions that the production was a film of a standard play. From the opening scene, he used imagery to set the tone of this film and complex angles of real life to frame this retelling of the 1905 Russian Revolution. 

Battleship Potemkin’s plot was delivered in 5 parts. The first act introduces the characters; the fine and mighty Officers and the lowly, commoner crew, which immediately sets in motion the conflict of the story. The second act exposed the possibility that the fine Officers of the ship are not so fine which was immediately obvious to the common class crew. While the crew acts as a unit, they are spurred on by a brave man named Vakulinchuk. In this second act, the Officers too have a spiritual leader in the form a Russian Orthodox priest. The character completely lacks the rebel Vakulinchuk’s heroism and quality of character. Act three places Vakulinchuk in repose. His death was not the end, as the crew was unified and their purpose was not at an end. Historic Odessa was the scene of the final conflict, although Eisenstein skillfully prolongs the resolution of the action to the final act, where the Potemkin meets its fate at the hands of the loyal and powerful Russian navy. Unity was the message and the resolution to the film as the Potemkin was joined in revolt by the crews of the other ships and not obliterated by the massive fleet.

A classic review or historical work generally relies on the author or reviewer to evaluate accuracy, sources and quality of information in the piece. For Battleship Potemkin, this was simply not possible. The film inaccurately portrays historical events because it was a retelling a story with an ending that was known to the Soviet audience. The film’s goal was not to inform but to resonate. Eisenstein took the limitations of the day, the lack of voice, the lack of color and the possibility of an uneven soundtrack to create an emotive story. As much as other reviewers highlight Eisenstein’s gift for editing, montage, and the delivery of masterful propaganda, the director created a work that resonates with the viewer. Eisenstein was working in the uncertain European and Soviet film industry of the 1920s. He could count on nothing that modern filmgoers would expect, no marketing, no commercials, certainly no critical reviews, plus it was possible that the insecure venue system in the nascent Soviet Union was a limiting factor in presentation to the masses. While he was telling the ultimate story of the rise of the 1905 Revolution, the 1920s were a period of great social and economic upheaval in the Union. Collectivization of the masses in the Soviet Union could have created a backlash against even pro-Soviet messages by an artistic, avant-garde director. Non-conformity would have been an dangerous attribute to possess. 

Imperfection of execution and delivery was amplification of the message. This could have been the part of the rationale of the editing and montage sequences. Acts would have been placed on different reels, which was a natural pause in the story. Outside of our dreams, the real time, analog nature of our being prevents the direction of our point of view to be rendered as disjointed series images and themes. Battleship Potemkin turns this experience on its head. It was the display of nonlinear ideas and the limiting the viewers information builds to evoke a feeling. While Eisenstein was profoundly good at this method of storytelling, the effect was not done for the sake of using an certain technique. Eisenstein was an effective communicator and use of effects were held to a minimum to keep the message intact. 
The message itself was a rejection of traditional Russian mores and their replacement with new, worker-centric planning. Eisenstein does not dodge the ugliness of the situation. On the steps of Odessa, a woman was gunned down within a crowd. The pram with her baby crashed down the stairs while an onlooker had their eyes put out with a sword. Defiance of tradition is often brutal. Eisenstein does not place the totality of criminality on the military, he shows sailors on one side of the issue and infantry on the other. While the Potemkin destroys the source of the infantry and the focus of control, the story does not entirely suggest that these men are irredeemable. The story hinted that there was a right way to be and a wrong way. The second act briefly touches on the idea of change, with the infantry refusing to fire on the crew of the battleship, but the film was not an exploration of introspection and adjustment. 

The mother with her child was an embodiment of the message. When struck by gunfire, the camera lingers on the mother’s belt buckle, a beautiful swan covered in blood. Her child took a terrifying spill down the stairs. The swan was clearly the Soviet people, as was the baby in the carriage. The swan was covered with something unclean and horrifying, yet was still beautiful underneath. The baby in the pram was also the people as they travel into an uncertain future, perhaps one that was not as the audience would wish. 

Battleship Potemkin is an unusual exercise in propaganda. It has left a lasting impression on viewers for almost a century. While the techniques of film did not hold up over the passage of time, it is a film of “first”. Quality “firsts”. Every student should take the time to explore this film as it delivers so much creativity, expression of ideals and wonderful storytelling with relatively limited resources. The story and lessons of Battleship Potemkin have stood the test of time. 

Battleship Potemkin. USSR: N.l., 1925. Accessed January 19, 2017.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TgWoSHUn8c


Review of Duane Schultz’s Month of the Freezing Moon

Schultz, Duane. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864. New
York: Published by St. Martin’s Press. 1990. Print.

Duane Schultz meant to tell war stories. Month of the Freezing Moon was Duane Schultz’s first failure. The work was published in 1990, 20 years after it was written and was preceded by two novels and five historical titles (“Home”). Duane Schultz is a courtesy professor of psychology at the University of South Florida (“Home”) and his love of history and psychology shines in Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre.

The psychologist comes through in the first 2 pages of the narrative. The book contains no preface, introduction, or thesis. It starts with a map and the word “Testimony”. In a call and answer style, Professor Schultz uses the words provided by history to lay out his premise:

QUESTION: Were there any acts of barbarity perpetrated there that came under your own observation?
ANSWER: Yes, sir. I saw the bodies of those lying there all cut to pieces, worse mutilated than any I ever saw before—the women all cut to pieces (Schultz, p. 2).

Was there a betrayal perpetrated at Sand Creek? Were these native Americans under the assumption that they had the protection of the American Flag? Were there horrible consequences for this attack? The answer is “yes” to all of these questions.

Professor Schultz launches right into his narrative of the Sand Creek Massacre then rolls back to prior events to explain its context and the ramifications of the attack. Sand Creek was a horrific betrayal of those who were protected by the United State’s flag. How the Cheyenne came to have that flag and the aftermath of the barbaric attack led to the obvious counter attack at Greasy Grass, otherwise known as The Little Big Horn.

Schultz does more than describe the Massacre itself, he explains the milieu in which it occurred. While endless detail could be provided, Schultz’s coverage of Chivington’s life from childhood to his time in Colorado and beyond is apt enough.

As a child John Chivington was well cared for, educated and trusted by his loved ones. After the passing of his father, he stepped into the family lumber business. He found that he had a talent for marketing over woodcraft and shifted his role in the company to take advantage of his persuasiveness. Chivington continued to evolve and he found two passions, religion and abolitionism. This was followed by a firmity, a certainty of logic in these two principles.

In Missouri, during the guerrilla warfare that boiled over the border with Kansas, he gave a particularly harsh sermon against the institution of slavery. Chivington was threatened with tarring and feathering if he spoke from the pulpit again (Schulz, p. 49). The following Sunday, he entered the church to find several men with hot tar waiting for him. His answer was simple and clear. He opened his robe and pulled out two guns and placed them on either side of the bible. He announced, “By the grace of God and these two revolvers… I am going to preach here today” (Schulz, p. 49). Chivington handled everything thing he perceived as evil in the same forthright fashion. He entered the Civil War as a part of the Colorado Militia and conducted himself in the same fashion. Laws, regulations and orders were subjected to his own internal logic, which happened to be good for conducting warfare. Professor Schultz tells a good war story.

While Chivington was righteous, powerful and even very quotable, it becomes obvious how such attitudes can be less than noble and reasonable. If Chivington has journeyed east instead of west, if had not found a place in the Militia, or become interested in a “stable Colorado” (pg. 63), he would have been remembered as a different sort of man. Grandios, brave, heroic. But with his mind set on a Colorado as he desired it, this was not to be.

Very often, nations have desires as men do. And America under President Andrew Johnson had a very different idea of how Colorado and the treatment of native Americans should be conducted (Schulz, p. 163). It isn’t fair to say that Johnson’s administration has more enlightened ideas about native Americans, but the Office of the President was enlightened enough to know that it should be the sole power on this stage. Men like Chivington stirred the pot, gave Americans and natives alike pause for thought.

The Johnson administration made sure that Chivington and his allies were done. However, this was hardly the solution the country needed. Chivington and the other perpetrators, even men who refused to participate were thoroughly investigated. Not once, but three times (Schulz, p. 166). Chivington had his opportunity to address his accusers, Captain Soule in particular, who refused to attack. This led to further public disasters (Schulz, p. 167). Soule was assassinated after his testimony, which sobered many Chivington supporters (Schulz, p. 171).

As a backdrop to all of this, the actual aggrieved party, the native Americans, who were not considered Americans at this time by the Johnson administration were working to strike back. Throughout the narrative, Schulz touches on the Black Kettle and other leaders of the Sioux and Cherokee. Many of these were not footnoted and may be astute conjecture on Professor Schulz’s part. But they ring true. The last third of Schultz’s work becomes a who’s who of American history, Custer, Kit Carson, Sherman and may others come into play, attempting finish what Chivington started. And Custer is the last soldier mentioned by Schultz. He launched two important attacks on the array of native tribes and just as Chivington had flaw, so did Custer. During the Civil War he engaged an enemy without scouting first (Schulz, p. 205). Schultz describes how this flaw followed him to the end, and his luck ran out on the third time he struck without scouting.

Schultz book was an excellent delivery of both historical fact and reasonable conjecture. Where the record was accessible, he often quoted it directly with no interpretation. When describing the chiefs such as Black Kettle, Schultz did not have a written account to work from and instead filled in the blanks to stitch their history and lore into the fabric of his work. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, was a fast paced, informative work on a great tragedy in American history.


Citations:

Schultz, Duane. "Home." Duane Schultz. Accessed February 20, 2017. http://duaneschultz.com/.

Schultz, Duane. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864. New
York: Published by St. Martin’s Press. 1990. Print.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

New Rule Set: Tanks and Yanks

Title: Tanks & Yanks
Author: Philip J. Viverito Publisher: LMW
Rule Set: Tabletop Wargame Rules (Unique)
Year: 2018
Pages: 104
Number of players: 2+
Price: $15.00
Rating: Not yet rated

Tanks & Yanks is the latest offering from LMW. The game covers World War I tank combat. While the title hints that the rules are based on American WWI armor, it includes infantry, armored cars, aircraft and artillery from Germany, the US, France, Britain and Italy.

I was excited to find that the rule set includes dozens of color images and tips for either acquiring models or scratch building models. Personally, I was looking for an excuse to scratch build some tanks.

The rules are heavy, 104 pages with tons of interior art, maps and photos. It looks fascinating and I cannot wait to give this game a play so I can update the rating above.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Be Careful What You Wish For...

My first offering on DriveThruRPG is Zero to Hero. In the past 5 days of sales, there have been 80+ downloads. Thank you so much for your support, but do you know what I really need? Reviews.


I am in the process of coming up with a second title by October. The reviews would certainly help me craft a quality product for you.

Again, thank you for downloading. But please let me know what you think.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Books to Swear On...

This semester, I am taking two English classes and a Social Studies Education class. Looking at my style guides and manuals, I realized everything I had was out of date.

Over on Amazon.com, I got a great deal on Kate L. Turabian's, A Manual for Writers. The link below is a paid ad and will take you to Amazon.com.




Older editions helped me through countless term papers and research assignments. I figured for less than $20 I should invest in a newer edition. Any edition is helpful, but my old one was stained up, dog eared and in generally loved, but poor condition.

What now?

Last week, I launched Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners. Everything looks great! I have been very happy with

So, what's next? The Place We Will Stay. This will be a series of maps, places where commoners will be found. I've been roughing out some maps, exterior and interior art for many medieval and fantasy homes for our heroes to find NPCs, commoners and other background characters.


The Places We Will Stay will be in digital format, pay what you want and be between 25-50 pages. Coming soon in early October, 2018.

Again, thank you to everyone who took the time to download Zero to Hero.