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Comparative analysis of the censorship case BRONENOSEZ „POTEMKIN“ ( PANZERKREUZER POTEMKIN / KRIŽNÍK POTEMKIN) in Austria, Czechoslovak Republic and in Germany

In the COLLATE-database, currently (July 2003) 255 pieces of text and picture material about the film BRONENOSEZ „POTEMKIN“ (USSR 1925, director: Sergej M. Eisenstein) are stored. Eisenstein´s film about the mutiny on the Tsar’s warship „Potemkin“ near the harbour of Odessa on 16th June 1905 was, from the artistic point of view, highly praised in all three countries. However, the revolutionary and Bolshevik-propagandistic character of the film was estimated to be extremely dangerous, and initiated intensive disputes and discussions about permitting or interdicting the film.

Compared to the situation in Germany and in Czechoslovakia, BATLLESHIP POTEMKIN caused less sensation in Austria. Although in Vienna the film was banned for young people, it was otherwise permitted without any further restrictions. It should be mentioned that since 30th October 1918, any kind of censorship in Austria was abolished. In spite of this general abolition of censorship it was always in some way possible to circumvent this regulation. Some lobbies knew how to put pressure on the executive power, the legislature and the judiciary, as well as on public opinion and thus prevent the screening of a film. So there existed a „legal“ way to phase out a disagreeable film: If there occurred disturbances, interjections or violent dust-ups during the film screening, the responsible police headquarters were authorized to enact a ban on the film. Obviously such interfering actions were systematically arranged and mostly politically motivated. When the film BATLLESHIP POTEMKIN was screened in Vienna in June 1926, in several cinemas interfering actions by interjections and stink bombs happened, mostly initialised by national socialists. But there is no information about a ban of the film.

Different from Vienna was the situation in Vorarlberg, where the film was, because of alleged „subversive tendencies“, completely banned. This kind of argumentation was also used in the censorship decisions on BATLLESHIP POTEMKIN in Germany and the Republic of Czechoslovakia.
In Germany a legal instruction existed, saying that a film could not be banned only because of its political tendency. Therefore other reasons had to be found in order to achieve an interdiction of a film according to public law. At the end of March 1926 one such reason was found to ban BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN – the film was prohibited because it was regarded „eligible for endangering public order and safety“.

Between March and October 1926 BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN was censored six times in Germany. The film was banned outright twice. In cases of permission the censors imposed several cuts and age restrictions on the film. The Reichskommissariat für Überwachung der öffentlichen Ordnung (Commissioner's Office for Security and Order) and the Reichswehrministerium (Ministry of Armed Forces) regarded the film a systematically deployed instrument of the communist party and of the communist international movement in order to preparing the world-wide revolution. The releases of the film by the Film-Oberprüfstelle Berlin (Censorship Headquarters) provoked protests by the regional governments of Württemberg, Bavaria, Hessen and Thuringia, which repeatedly applied for a reversal of verdict.

The regional authorities in Germany had no responsibility regarding film censorship. That is why they looked for other ways to prevent the screening BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in their area of influence. Thus the police was often instructed to prevent the screening of the “Bolshevist film” – if necessary they should temporarily close the movie theatres. Cinema holders, who wanted to take up POTEMKIN in their programme, were informed about the possible consequences and in this way obviously put under pressure. An ultimate ban on the film in Germany was pronounced after the takeover of the national socialists in 1933.

In the Republic of Czechoslovakia at the beginning of August 1926 a reviewer council advised on BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN. Opposition against the film was pronounced first of all by the ministers of justice, of defence and of the interior, who viewed the film as „glorifying mutiny“ and „ a danger for public order and army discipline“. Although the minister of education emphasized the excellent artistic quality of the film and the realistic presentation of social circumstances in Russia, the committee did not find a common line. An enlarged reviewer council was called in to pass a final verdict. Before the council convened, the reviewers wanted to be informed by the Czechoslovak embassies in Vienna and Berlin about the censorship decisions on BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in Austria and Germany. The enlarged reviewer council decided to shorten the film by 86 metres. This concerned several subtitles and especially some very „bloody scenes on the harbour stairs of Odessa“. In Slovakia the film was banned. In Bohemia and Moravia only the shortened version was permitted to be screened, but the film was banned for young people.

Similarities and differences of the censorship case BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia

If we compare the cases in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, we notice a lot of similarities but also differences in how BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN was dealt with.

The original length of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN had been 1740 m. In Austria no information is left about a shortage of the film. Compared to Germany and Czechoslovakia, in Austria the longest version of the film (1600 m) was screened, while in the other two countries the screened version was between 1200 and 1480 m long. In Germany and Czechoslovakia the authorities objected to the same scenes: shots on the stairs of Odessa and the mutiny of the sailors.

Furthermore in all three countries there was a difference of censorship practice in the central district and the local regions. In the centre the film was permitted for screening (in Germany and Czechoslovakia with cuts), but only interdicted to young people, whereas the local authorities strived for banning the film. In the case of Germany and Austria, the local governments had to find ways around the legal regulations – which made film censorship a competence of the central government – in order to achieve their goal.

The argumentation for censoring and prohibiting the film were quite similar. In all three countries the censors referred to „subversive tendencies“of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN. In Germany and Czechoslovakia the authorities were also concerned about the possibility that a public screening of the film could „endanger public order and security“. This kind of argumentation was supported by disturbances taking place during the screening in the three countries. But in Austria and Germany these disturbances were not evidence of civil commotion. In fact, they were organized by national socialists in order to offer a pretext for a ban.

At last, after the takeover of the national socialists in Germany (1933), Austria (1938) and Czechoslovakia (1939), the screening of BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN was completely interdicted.

by Karin Moser


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