About Sergei M. Eisenstein's "Bronenosets Potyomkin" (1926)
Silent Guest Stars: Herr Rich Wagner und Herr Neil Midkiff
Herr Rich Wagner wrote: "Perhaps another reason why the 'restored' version "can be appreciated even more today," is that they've tweaked the running speed up at least 5%. I had seen the earlier film twice before and while it was very watchable, I wasn't very excited by it. When watching the restoration (when it was shown on TCM), I was surprised that this time, I found the film exciting; so much so that I rented the original film from Netflix, to attempt to see what what was different about this film. Surely, seeing the flag in the red color couldn't be all that was different. I studied every scene and the films are both exactly the same. Except for the faster running speed and livelier music, the only difference in this restoration was that carefully tinted red flag seen in the film.
Maybe someone should try speeding up Able Gance's "J Accuse."
Und Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien replied: "As a German curiosity, this Herr Von has in his silent film collection, the perfect "Bronenosets Potyomkin" version for an aristocrat; this "version" has a running time of 118 minutes!!!... can you imagine??... Revolution never comes!!!".
Then, Herr Rich Wagner strikes back: " Apparently, your's is "the perfect "Bronenosets Potyomkn," since my 'restored' copy from TCM a few years ago was just 108 minutes from beginning to end. The older DVD copy that I rented again from Netflix (to see what was different), was 114 minutes and it contained the exact same film footage (I know because I watched them scene by scene, at the same time using two players). Yes, I can become obsessed when something puzzles me as this did. That's also how I discovered the different overall film speed. Some scenes were identical speed, while others were increased in the version I have from TCM. 108 vs. 114 minutes; that's where my 5% came from. It would seem that the European version is superior to mine. Does it also contain the 'Red' flag in this all B&W film? It hard to forget seeing that since it's the only color in the film.
This reminds me of the recent restoration of John Ford's "The Iron Horse" maybe three years ago now. I should have said 'restorations' because there were actually three, and the one released in Europe was different from the one that was released here.
Always nice hearing from you, Herr Graf. Your film reviews are always a joy to read".
Suddenly, Herr Neil Midkiff appeared: "Before the recent restoration of the film from vintage nitrate material, nearly all the video or film copies of Potemkin available were based on the same source: a step-printed Soviet release of the early 1960s if I remember the date correctly.
At that time, variable-speed projectors for proper projection of silent film were almost impossible to find, so in order to roughly approximate the original pace when using a sound-speed projector, every other frame of the negative was printed twice in succession on the print. So using a 24 fps projector, the effective film speed was 16 fps on the basis of the original negative.
I only saw this once projected from a 16mm film copy, and it was not only obviously too slow for natural movement, but also looked slightly jerky because of the repeated odd frames. The jerkiness was only magnified when this type of print was transferred to 30 fps NTSC video, with the required repetition of one frame out of every four in going from 24 to 30 fps. I've seen at least three different video copies based on this old material and have found the film to be disappointing in its impact, partly because the combination of the two types of frame rate adjustments made the action so jerky that it was difficult for the eye and brain to translate the succession of images into smooth motion. At least to my eye, it didn't seem "real" in the way film usually does, even early hand-cranked cinematography which doesn't bother my eye at all.
The TCM broadcast and the Kino DVD derive from pre-1960, non-step-printed film elements, and with modern digital transfer techniques it is possible to get 30 fps video from film running at any speed you like, whether 18.2 or 19.64 or 21.1 frames per second or whatever. I don't know what speed the restored film was transferred at, but it clearly looks far more natural at something faster than 16 fps, and it is much smoother in motion without the step-printing.
On top of that, the older film sources were a lot closer to the original negative in terms of how many generations of copying had been done, so the restored print is much less grainy and has a smoother, less-contrasty gray scale.
The visual impact of the restored film, even on video, is incredibly greater than I had found any earlier version of the film to be. I hope someday to have a chance to see the film restoration projected on a variable-speed projector at the proper rate -- that should be even more stunning".
Finally, Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien said: "Mein lieber Herr Midkiff: Your comments about the recent restoration of Herr Eisenstein's "Bronenosets Potyomkin" have been very appreciated and also very enlightened for this German count, don't forgetting Herr Wagner's particular obsessions when the honor and the truth of a silent restoration is at stake.
Published in "alt.movies.silent"