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PANZERKREUZER POTEMKIN in Austria
     
 
  1. Overview on BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN’s censorship examinations in Austria 1926-1930
  2. Main issues of the case in Austria
  3. Austrian press commentaries on BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN
 
     
 

1. Overview on BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN’s censorship examinations in Austria 1926-1930

SILENT VERSION
The silent version of BRONENOSEZ „POTEMKIN“ was examined in May-July 1926 in Austria. Apart from one document of the Viennese censorship authority, we have only informations by press articles to the version of 1926.

Following facts could be noticed:

Length of the film: 6 acts, 1600m
Production company: Goskino
Distribution company: Philipp & Co

In Vienna the film was interdicted to young people.
In Vorarlberg the film was banned because of „subversive tendencies“

Sources:
Filmvorführungsstelle, Magistrats-Abteilung 52, Wien, 5th June 1926 (censorship authority, municipality, Vienna) [document]
Paimann´s Filmlisten (film press), 4th June1926 [press article]
Arbeiter-Zeitung (daily newspaper, socialist press), 1st September 1926 [press article]

SOUND VERSION
The sound version of BRONENOSEZ „POTEMKIN“was examined in September 1930 in Austria. One document about the examination in Vienna exists.

Following facts could be noticed:

Length of the film: 5 acts, 1353m
Production company: Sowkino Moskau (according to municipality of Vienna)
Goskino-Organon (according to Paimann´s Filmlisten)
Distribution company: Ifuk

Regarding the sound version of 1930 we have no information about any kind of restriction. The echo in the press 1930 was also much smaller than in 1926.

Sources:
Filmvorführungsstelle, Magistrats-Abteilung 52, Wien, 12th September 1930 (censorship authority, municipality, Vienna) [document]
Paimann´s Filmlisten (film press), 5th September 1930 [press article]

2. Main issues of the case in Austria

Ban of BATLLESHIP POTEMKIN in Vorarlberg
BATLLESHIP POTEMKIN has been already two times screened in Bregenz (federal capital of Vorarlberg) when the federal government of Vorarlberg decided to prohibit further showings of POTEMKIN because of „subversive tendencies“. At the two screenings didn’t happen any kind of troubles.
This decision of the federal government was unconstitutional, because since 30th October 1918 any kind of censorship in Austria was abolished. This decision was also included in the Austrian federal constitution of 1920.
(see Arbeiter-Zeitung, 1st September 1926).

Protests and disturbances by national socialists
When the film BATLLESHIP POTEMKIN was screened in Vienna in June 1926, there happened in several cinemas interfering actions by interjections and stink bombs mostly initialised by national socialists.

On 28th June 1926 there was some tumult at the screening of the film in the cinema „Burg-Kino“. At the beginning of the film about 40-50 national socialist made some sneering remarks. Other cinemagoers told them to shout up. When the revolution scenes started and the „Marseillais“, played the national socialist, started to cry „pooh“ and sang „Deutschland, Deutschland über alles...!“. One of them tried to deliver a speech, but was stopped by a policeman. The moviegoers started to abuse each other.
The police stopped the quarrel and arrested about 12 national socialists.
(see Neues Wiener Tagblatt, 29th June 1926 and Arbeiter-Zeitung, 29th June 1926).

The national socialist newspaper „Deutsch-österreichische Tageszeitung“ reported that the national socialist have been provoked by some Jews, who applauded at the end of the film. Thereupon the national socialists started to sing „Deutschland, Deutschland über alles“. Then the police indiscriminate arrested some people, but they had to set them free again. The Nazi paper said that the film „Potemkin“ glorifies revolution, but revolution nowadays in Austria can only be against the „Jewish Marxists“ (Judäa-Marxisten). The „Deutsch-österreichische Tageszeitung“refers to the policeman and asked them „Whom you are arresting?“ and gave the answer: „Your own German brothers“. The paper also reproachful asked „Why somebody is arrested in Austria, because he is singing the German national anthem?” and made a plea for „the national revolution“ (see Deutsch-österreichische Tageszeitung, 29.6.1926). The same newspaper reported about the prohibition of „Panzerkreuzer“ in Germany in July 1926 and called for banning the film also in Austria because of „endangering the public safety“.

On 29th June 1926 again happened some disturbances at the screening of Potemkin in the cinemas „Burg-Kino“, „Tabor-Kino“, „Zirkus Busch-Kino“, „Prater“, „Löwenkino“.
After the film presentation some stink bombs have been thrown and some stinking fluid have been emptied. The offenders stayed unknown. The cinema´s staff was instructed to keep an eye on the cinemagoers (see Neue Freie Presse, 30.6.1926).

3. Austrian press commentaries on BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN

In Austria the film BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN was promoted by the distribution company „Philipp & Co“ with a large-scaled campaign. In the years before rarely a movie was announced by advertising in such vast extend. Slogans pronounced BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN as the „greatest film, the world has ever seen“ (Kino-Journal, 29.5.1926 and Der Filmbote, 29.5.1926) and the film reviewers gave commentaries of the same tenor. BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN was referred to as „the greatest and most impressive feature film of awesome effect“ (Der Filmbote, 29.5.1926). The journalists especially praised the „virtuoso direction of the mass in this monumental work of art“. (Paimann´s Filmlisten 4.6.1926 and Der Filmbote, 5.6.1926).

The paper „Die Arbeiter-Zeitung“ was convinced, that the film will outlast decades, because it was said to be „real, original art“ and to be a „revolutionary act“ (Arbeiter-Zeitung, 4.6.1926). The film and theatre journal „Die Bühne“ actually forecasted „This film will revolutionise the occidental film“. (Die Bühne, 17.6.1926).

Only seldom the film was criticised because of its aesthetic composition and even than the critic was addressed to some single elements. Just „Paimann´s Filmlisten“ (4.6.1926) objected to a too large number of crossheadings in the silent version, and rated the dubbing of the version of 1930 not very positively (Paimann´s Filmlisten 5.9.1930).

Other negative commentaries on BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN were apparently politically motivated. So the papers "Das Neue Wiener Tagblatt" (2.7.1926) and the national-socialist "Deutsch-österreichische Tageszeitung" (29.6.1926) accused the film-makers to appeal deliberately to the „most primitive human instincts“. At least the national socialist paper didn’t deny the artistic quality of the film.

Another aspect, which the Austrian film reviewers focused on, was the lifelike composition of the whole film. Especially the performers made an important contribution to the authentical presentation of the film. That’s because Eisenstein didn’t employ actors, but real dock workers and sailors. The press appreciative noted, that in this movie nobody is „playing“, that here the audience is not constrained to see „excessive gesture and mimic“ as it is known by other films. Generally the direction didn’t work with „cheap methods“, like „movable stereoscopic pictures, but with authentic dock settings“ (Die Bühne, 17.6.1926 and Der Filmbote, 5.6.1926).

As well the film was stated to have documentary meaning (Der Filmbote, 29.5.1926). The press emphasised that the incidents shown in BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN are documentary proved. The film was told to have an accurate historic plot and to present „the whole documentary truth“ (Paimann´s Filmlisten 4.6.1926 and Die Bühne, 17.6.1926 and Der Filmbote, 5.6.1926).

Completly different interpreted the paper „Reichspost“, which was associated with the Austrian Christian-Social party, the „alleged real background“. The bourgeois organ tried to make the film ridiculous. The whole plot should be presented as exaggerating and absolutely unreal by criticising single scenes. So the author disbelieved that there was ever seen wormy meat on the ship „Potemkin“, because all fleets always paid attention to good victuals for the crew. Moreover in the author´s memory especially the Russian sailors looked at all times „particularly well fed“. Also it seems to him „very implausible – even by the Russians – that people are provoked to hang their supervisors, only because of one single complaint (maggoty meat)“. Additionally the author noted that „sailors lying in their hammock are always very peaceful and would never ever have the idea to threat with their fists while such a relaxation“ (Reichspost, 18.6.1926). This article does obviously only concentrate on single, negligible aspects, but does not at all take any notice of the social and political background of the film. However, the journalists were very conscious about the political components of the film.

Even though some of them asked if a political discussion about the film would be appropriate. Was BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN a propaganda film at all? The film journal „Paimann´s Filmlisten“ denied this question. According to it the film shows only how in people, suffering under repression and violence, occurs resistance. So the topic of the film is „an absolutely native human reaction on oppression and enslaving – the revolt“. Therefore it’s entirely wrong to interpret BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN as a political statement. (Paimann´s Filmlisten, 4.6.1926).
The commentary of Dr. Otto Friedländer (Das Neue Wiener Tagblatt, 2.7.1926) was completely different. For him BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN was such a kind of propagandistic war movie, that otherwise art critics and intellectuals snidely term as „political concoction“. Friedländer noticed with surprise, that „there are really serious (intelligent) people, who think this film is not a propaganda film, but just a work of art“. „Even though the Russians themselves always point out, that they solely appreciate tendentious art, because for them any other kind of art, without propagandistic purpose, is blimpish and bourgeois.

A much more definite comment gave the journal „Die Bühne“: „BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN is the much unheard propaganda film anyone can imagine. All the more it´s an evidence of incapacity for the occident, that here nobody so far has recognised, to what extend the film may serve for propagandistic purposes. (Die Bühne, 17.6.1926).
BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN was such an explosive issue that a harsh political dispute was expected. So the federal governor of Vorarlberg (Western Austria), Dr. Otto Ender, banned the film in his federal state. Thereupon the socialist paper „Arbeiter-Zeitung“ (1.9.1926) attacked Otto Ender in their reporting: „This action shows once again in which cavalier way the Christian-Socialists deal with the law. It is Mr. Ender´s practice to disregard the law, when it does not go along with his intention.“ The „Arbeiter-Zeitung “also asked to appeal the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, because since October 1918 any kind of censorship in Austria was abolished.

The bourgeois press, in contrast, reflected in its evaluation the line of argument of Vorarlberg´s federal government. The newspapers „Die Reichspost“ (18.6.1926) and the „Das Neue Wiener Tagblatt" (2.7.1926) denounced in a hard way the „glorification of mutiny“ and the „demonstration of Russian methods, which evoke in every civilised European disgust and antipathy“.

For the left press on the other hand, the mutiny on the ship „Potemkin“ was „the starting point for the release of the Russian people“ (Der Filmbote, 29.5.1926). In their opinion the film tells „the story of all revolutions“ and shows „an elemental war of revenge led by the sailors against their tantalisers“. (Arbeiter-Zeitung, 4.6.1926). The socialist press even tried to use the mutiny on the ship „Potemkin“for its own political movement and declared the mutiny of 1905 as an „episode of the struggle for freedom of the Russian social democracy“. And also the national socialist paper knew how to reinterpret „the revolution on the ship Potemkin“ in their sense. The organ presaged „the true revolution“, which will come true, when „Austria is going to take sides with Germany“ (Deutsch-österreichische Tageszeitung, 29.6.1926).

The political dispute also takes place in the cinemas: while one part of the audience jubilated, applauded and was deeply moved, the other part interfered the film by whistles, interjections, national socialist songs and stink bombs. Dr. Otto Friedländer wrote in the „Neues Wiener Tagblatt“ that the film initiated a kind of „psychosis“. He asked „how else can that be explained, that mentally hale people applauded, when an outnumbered group lynches a minor number of barely armed people“. „How is it possible, that the audience cheers, when a chaplain, confronting the sailors with a crucifix in order to avoid anymore bloodletting, is beaten down“. ("Das Neue Wiener Tagblatt" (2.7.1926).

However the audience finally reacted to the film - BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN was a smash hit. The screenings were sold out for many days and the film was even shown in cinemas, where mostly bourgeois audience was expected. The question is: Why this film was so successful? Everybody had another explanation: The film reviewers referred to the authentic presentation of the documentary provable incidents. The socialists interpreted the film as a demonstration of the revolutionary class struggle of the socialistic working class. And the national socialists supposed POTEMKIN, to be a metaphor for Austria and its capital Vienna (Deutsch-österreichische Tageszeitung, 29.6.1926). Vienna was called „Potemkinsches Dorf“. That is to say that outwards, Vienna shows pompous facades and pretends prosperity, but behind it, is hidden terrible poverty and direful misery. Therefore, the paper said, in Austria „the true German revolution will break out and result in an annexation to the Third Reich“. As history has shown, this last prophecy came true 12 years later.

by Karin Moser

 
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Source Edition urrogat Production Introduction Censorship Regulations Battleship Potemkin Horror Films Conclusion Bibliography Local vs. central film assessment Potemkin abroad Russian films