Battleship Potemkin Dance Edit (120 BPM) by Michael Bell-Smith is a twelve-and-a-half minute video in which the artist condenses the shots of Battleship Potemkin, a 1925 silent film directed by Sergei Eisenstein, to one half of one second each (one hundred twenty cuts per minute).
He, then, under-lays this “sped up” footage with a stripped-down 120 BPM dance music beat which matches the cuts of the image in perfect synchronization.
At first glance, it creates a strobe effect.
However, after a few moments, the flow of the narrative becomes follow-able due to both the original film’s heavy-handed graphic symbolism (silent films, of course, relied largely on pointed imagery to advance narrative) and the contemporary mind’s training for such rapid-fire editing techniques at the hands of MTV, Web surfing and whatnot.
One views, then, in a Cliffs Notes version, the famous montage elements and the revolutionary propaganda techniques for which the original film, Battleship Potemkin, is deservedly famous.
On the one hand, that’s great—the viewer gets to check out a film with aesthetic, intellectual and historical importance and is able to do so without the “boringness” of sitting there “forever” watching a really old movie.
(“History written with lightning” as Woodrow Wilson put in regard to another landmark silent film–Birth of a Nation.)
But, on the other hand, an anxiety arises:
Can one say that they have actually viewed Battleship Potemkin?
That is to say, even though the narrative sequence of the film is more or less legible, is there some missing “purity” to the film which is lost in the sped-up translation?
The goal of the film was to awaken in the viewer a sense of class consciousness through montage editing (shot A + shot B = Synthesis C; the aesthetic answer to the dialectical method of history explored in Marxist theory).
Is this effect, or the ability to even appreciate this effect, lost?
Perhaps what one can say they see in Bell-Smith’s version of the film is this, a new type of synthesis:
The mesmerizing, almost sinister mechanical regularity of one image colliding into another image resulting in an intellectual synthesis of images again and again and again and again without ever achieving “pure” synthesis (like an endless, un-changing dance beat).