During the reign of Czarina Catherine the Great, her royal favorite, Prince Potemkin, arranged that she should be spared the site of rural poverty during her travels through Russia by causing false-front villages to be erected along her route. From her carriage window, Catherine did not see the degradation of her subjects, hidden away behind the princely theatrical productions.
So, should we be surprised that the most famous sequence in Battleship Potemkin (1925), indeed, one of the most famous sequences in the history of cinema, did not actually happen? Eisenstein’s brilliant political (most call it ‘propaganda’) film, dramatizes the mutiny of the battleship crew in 1905, part of the runup to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The scene at the steps of Odessa where the machine like ranks of the Tsar’s army shoot down civilians, driving them into the whips of the mounted Cossacks waiting at the bottom of the stairs, contains the endlessly quoted – I almost said ‘iconic’, but what does that mean? – bit with the baby carriage bouncing down the stones unattended after the girl attending it is shot down.
There was a mutiny, however, and I was tickled to read that the last survivor of the original crew died in Ireland, aged more than 100, the owner of a thriving fish and chips store.