Sd. ver. 1930: M, choir, M dir: Edmund Meisel; dial. coord., sd. dir., sd. eff: Alois Johannes Lippl; voices: players from the Piscator Ensemble, Friedrich Gnass; sd. system: Organon (Nadelton); rec. apparatus: Deutsche Grammophon; orig. l: 1353 m (DE 1930; sd.); première: 12.8.1930, Berlin (Marmorhaus); DCP (2K, from 35 mm), 49' (24 fps), sd.; titles, dial: GER; print source: Österreichisches Filmmuseum, Wien.
Digitally reconstructed by Universität der Künste Berlin; in collaboration with Österreichisches Filmmuseum & Technisches Museum Wien mit Österreichischer Mediathek. Reconstruction funded by Kulturstiftung des Bundes.
With e-subtitles in English and Italian, at Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), Pordenone, 10 Oct 2014
Thomas Tode (GCM Catalogue and website): "With Sergei Eisenstein’s Bronenosets Potemkin (Battleship Potemkin) Soviet cinema carved its place in film history. The original musical score composed for the film’s German premiere by Viennese-born Edmund Meisel (1894-1930) was for many years considered lost. Fragments of the orchestral parts were rediscovered in 1970 and the existence of the complete piano reduction became known in 1983. However, modern reconstructions and re-arrangements for largescale orchestra bear little resemblance to Meisel’s original, which was praised by Adorno and Eisler for its “non-commercial” character. Only now – thanks to the rediscovery of the original soundtrack discs for the 1930 German sound re-release version – can modern audiences hear Meisel’s own arrangement of his highly aggressive soundtrack. In addition, the 1930 sound-on-disc (“Nadelton”) version of Battleship Potemkin represents one of the first instances of “dubbing” in German cinema: the Russian sailors now speak German; from the screen, they call out to us, “Brüder!” (Brothers!)."
"By his own account, Meisel had only 12 days and nights to write his score before the film’s German premiere in Berlin on 29 April 1926. Eisenstein, then on a brief visit to Berlin, was only present for the scoring of the film’s final, climactic scene. As he recalled in his 1939 essay, “The Structure of the Film”: “He [Meisel] agreed at once to forego the purely illustrative function common to musical
accompaniments at that time (and not only at that time!) and stress certain ‘effects’, particularly in the ‘music of machines’ in the last reel. This was my only categorical demand: not only to reject customary melodiousness for this sequence of ‘Meeting the Squadron’, relying entirely on a rhythmic beating of percussion, but also to give substance to this demand by establishing in the music as well as in the film at the decisive place a ‘throwing over’ into a ‘new quality’ in the sound structure.”"
"Eisenstein attested that Meisel’s composition surpassed the usual illustrative film scores, producing a “unity of fused musical and visual images”. In his opinion, both the film’s finale as well as the iconic “Odessa Steps” sequence owed their initial “crushing” power to Meisel’s music. For Meisel it became clear from their collaboration that he and Eisenstein shared the same views on the function of film music. “The film score should vigorously focus the listener’s attention on the film. Therefore, it must constantly – and repeatedly – bring out the meaning and highlight the main arguments. It must be able to excite and stir up the audience so that it feels moved to active participation.”"
"The press reviews following the Berlin premiere affirm Eisenstein and Meisel’s statements. The Licht-Bild-Bühne noted how Meisel’s thrilling, discordant musical score had the same “nerve-wracking” effect as the film’s “savage” images. “Both, however, lacked harmonic resolution and, as a result, one can describe this idiosyncratic music, in which percussion plays a leading role, as fitting.” A review in the Vossische Zeitung, meanwhile, highlighted the merits of the film’s finale. In particular, it praised Meisel for producing a musical composition that did justice to the grandeur of the images and gave life to the rhythm of the montage, born from “the droning of machines, the firing of pistons and the raging of cannons.”"
"At the dawn of the sound era, the silent Battleship Potemkin was selected by its German distributor, Prometheus-Film-Verleih und -Vertriebs-GmbH, for re-release as a sound film. As the Film-Kurier announced, on 23 June 1930, “Right now it’s ‘rush hour’ at Prometheus. Sound – to be more precise, the original musical score by Edmund Meisel – is being added to the film Battleship Potemkin. The composer is conducting the orchestra personally, heading a large group of musicians. Singing and chanting punctuate the crowd scenes.” The earliest announcements already mentioned that Meisel was expanding his original composition to include additional aural elements such as chanting, sound effects, and dialogue. The intertitles were systematically removed with the exception of the opening titles, and their texts were reworked into dialogue passages, spoken by members of Erwin Piscator’s theatre group, among others. For example, the actor Friedrich Gnaß, who had starred in the Prometheus production Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück (1929), can be clearly seen in photos taken during the recording at the studio of the Berliner Liedertafel (Berlin choral society)."
"The attempt to turn a silent film into a “talkie” in which more than 50% of the scenes include dialogue was highly unusual. “The main characteristic of A. J. Lippl’s Potemkin dialogue lies in its deviation from the conversational. The swift, rapidly changing transitions demand short and precise words, often producing a montage of speech, similar to the montage of images. To match the tremendous pace of the images, a strong rhythm, and thus a disentanglement from everyday speech, was necessary.” (Film-Kurier, 4 July 1930) The highly stylised delivery of the dialogue in a clipped, litany-like mode of speaking takes a modern audience some getting used to, but it conforms to the artistic and political notions of its time, such as the “agitprop” theatre of Piscator and Bertholt Brecht."
"Meisel experimented with sound effects in a similar manner: “The tools of the ‘noise ensemble’ are manifold, from the coffee grinder and the peas falling on sheet-metal, the stones in sieves and the thunder sheets, the empty bottles, which – when hit – sound like colliding iron, to the rattles which can imitate anything from individual gun shots to entire fusillades. … For the most part only two microphones are used. One for the music, the other for the sound effects and dialogue.” (Film-Kurier, 18 July 1930) For performances by Piscator’s theatre group, Meisel had already developed a “noise machine” and even released commercial records consisting of sound effects, sometimes produced with the aid of the orchestra. The novelty of Meisel’s recorded soundtrack for Battleship Potemkin is its consistent dramaturgical application of the sound effects to create tension. For some sequences, pre-recorded sound effects were added to the music later, and the two were mixed together using a duplication device."
"The sound version of Battleship Potemkin played for the first time to a packed house at the Marmorhaus cinema in Berlin on 12 August 1930. “The crowd rejoices. Ahead of this new version of the film lies a triumphant sweep through the cinemas. … Music creates a bridge. It achieves its greatest effect in the funeral march of the Russian revolutionaries and the now classic ‘music of machines’, inseparable from the images, and equal to them in terms of their conception.” (Film-Kurier, 13 August 1930) The Berliner Börsen-Courier (14 August 1930), in contrast, criticized the addition of dialogue: “Now the sailors talk. Voices, which don’t fit to the faces, fire out slogans. Everything shifts. Everything twists. If the editing was once expressive, now it is ruined in favour of real speech. A film document of historic value has been destroyed in favour of a spurious momentary sensation.” The Rote Fahne, the official newspaper of the German Communist party, saw its previous misgivings concerning the film alleviated by the new version: “The addition of a soundtrack can only be welcomed. Through it, Eisenstein’s wonderful, revolutionary ‘film symphony’ gains new life. Despite its shortcomings, the acoustic element enhances the impact of the ‘silent’ Potemkin film. One experiences the film as if for the first time. It will penetrate the masses – as original, elementary, new. Through the soundtrack. Through the interest shown in sound films as sound films.”" – Thomas Tode (Translated by Oliver Hanley)
AA: An exciting discovery of a vintage sonorized "talkie" version of Battleship Potemkin with Edmund Meisel himself as a conductor of his original score.
While this will not be the definitive Potemkin experience for me, it was fascinating to observe how well it works without intertitles and with post-synchronized dialogue. There is a lot of text and speech auf deutsch synchronisiert.
As a record of Edmund Meisel's own arrangement of his music this version is invaluable. There is machine music, there is elegiac oceanic music, there is rousing action music, there is music that borders on sound effects. Замучен тяжелой неволей (обр. Л. Шульгина - Г. Мачтет, 1876) / Sait kärsiä puolesta aatteen / Slavery and Suffering, the funeral march of Vakulinchuk, is here heard in a singing version.
While watching the familiar film in an unfamiliar version I was reminiscing about the music versions of Potemkin. The first one for me was the Nikolai Kryukov version from 1950; it was the standard one when I first saw Potemkin, and his is still the music that I hear as a reflex when I think Potemkin. Then in 1976 was released the first Dmitri Shostakovich compilation score. Naum Kleiman finds Shostakovich anti-Eisensteinian, but the different Shostakovich compilation arranged by Frank Strobel is better than the 1976 version. In April 1984 I heard for the first time the Edmund Meisel score at Arsenal in West Berlin where a 16 mm MoMA print at sound speed was screened; I think it was a vintage recording. It was the Meisel revelation for me. In the late 1980s I also heard a Meisel reinterpretation in a film concert at London Film Festival. The 2005 reconstruction with another Meisel reinterpretation I saw live in Bologna. In 2011 in Sodankylä there was an intrepid trio called Silva Sound Creators led by Günter Buchwald, also playing a Meisel arrangement. And now this. The trouble with all these Meisel scores being of course that the music was originally composed to a censored version of Potemkin. And the trouble with all the reinterpretations being, as Thomas Tode states above, that no complete original written score remains, and they are based on the fragments of orchestral parts and a piano reduction. This Viennese 2014 revelation for me confirms my original 1984 Berlin / MoMA revelation 30 years ago.
Every time the associations are different while watching Potemkin. This year: Ukraine and Odessa, topical in the headlines. And: Peter von Bagh, his first choice of programming at the school film society in the 1950s, to protests and objections, rejected by many. But Peter always defended the film that had just been named the greatest film of all times at the Brussels World's Fair. The Midnight Sun Film Festival was founded in 1986, during glasnost, and Potemkin was the film the Eastern European guests most loved to hate. For them, it was the symbol of tyranny and oppression. Yet it always was a film of rebellion and liberation.
An impressive restoration. At times there was no deep black in the projection.
|Photos: Austrian Film Museum. Click to enlarge.|