When the Russian army massacred the citizens of Odessa
The most beautiful city on the Black Sea is about to be invaded by Russian forces. They are already there in the cinema classic “Panzerkreuzer Potemkin” from 1925. The topicality is even more disturbing with the 17-year-old soundtrack by a famous pop duo.
Vom the Duc de Richelieu above the harbor steps, only the bronze head can still be seen. Concerned citizens of Odessa protect their war hero with sandbags. Before the Duc, an emigrant from France, was appointed governor of the Black Sea city in 1803, he had fought for the tsarina in the Russian army. Now people in Odessa are afraid of the Russians. If the “gate to Ukraine” falls, it would be strategically, economically, humanly and culturally devastating for the whole country.
Hardly any staircase in the world is as famous as the “Potemkinsche” with its 192 steps from the harbor pier up to the statue of the Duc de Richelieu and into the city. The Odessa Staircase plays a major role in Sergei Eisenstein’s classic silent film “Battleship Potemkin”. On it, civilians celebrate the sailors of a warship for their mutiny against the officers. The tsarist army intervenes and clears the stairs. Eisenstein shows soldiers shooting at the insurgents and the citizens. A nurse dies, her pram rolling down the empty steps in the mercenaries’ barrage. A scene that has been quoted in many other films.
Aesthetics is greater than agitation
The cinema classic celebrated its premiere in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater in 1925, 20 years after the first Russian Revolution of 1905, as a propaganda film. Like the sailors’ uprising, the revolution had also failed – but Lenin was right: without trained cadres, without a superstructure, there was no proper coup like in Julian October 1917.
Eisenstein has his proletarians rebel against the nobility because the soup is bad. There is an involuntary hero in the nameless crowd of sailors, Vakulinchuk, who sacrifices himself and is laid out as a martyr at the port. Then the tragedy on the stairs takes its course. The film became a classic thanks to its means of expression, the revolutionary cuts and the rhythm. The aesthetic outshines his agitation.
This also includes the music: the director ordered those who were born later to set his “Potemkin” to music again and again in their own, up-to-date way. For the premiere, Eisenstein set it to Tchaikovsky, and Edmund Meisel composed the first soundtrack in 1926. The music for the restored version from 2005 was written by the Pet Shop Boys, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, for a re-performance on a high-rise roof in Dresden to remind humanity of it that the war is not an old film from the last century and not black and white like a newsreel.
When the sailors land in Odessa, Neil Tennant even starts singing. About bleeding hearts for freedom, about tears and death. He lends his voice to the Russian soldiers: “Why did we go to war?/ Why did we go to war?/ Where people become memories/ When we mourn, it’s already too late/ Time is running out/ We everyone will die,” says the Pet Shop Boys in “After All (The Odessa Staircase)” on Sergej Eisenstein’s eternal masterpiece.