Roger Ebert isn’t entirely wrong here; even as I put the disc into the player, I found myself wondering what I’d be able to say about the film. By now, just a few days more than 84 years after its first unveiling at the Bolshoi Theatre, it’s such a basic text of film appreciation that I honestly don’t know what I can add to the discourse… Mind you, on watching it again tonight, it was obvious why it’s such a basic standard, i.e. it’s just really fucking great. I watched the Kino edition of the Patalas restoration, whose most important aspect (even apart from restoring missing shots and titles and even picture area lost in older reprints) is surely the inclusion of the 1926 score by Edwin Meisel, which is terrific. And I don’t think I ever fully appreciated just how many people there are in the film as well.
The very handy accompanying restoration featurette on the disc demonstrates some of the film’s tortured history, but I wish more had been said about the censorship of the film in other countries… it’s stunning now to think that governments around the world were so afraid of the film and what they perceived as its potential influence; apparently banned in Britain until 1954 and then rated X for decades after, and according to IMDB it was banned in Italy even later than that… hard to understand that now. Which perhaps reinforces what Ebert also said about the film needing the right audience and situation, without which it doesn’t really work, but I don’t think I agree with him; seeing tonight for the first time in maybe 15 years (I can’t recall having seen it since I did a university essay on it back in 1994), it had plenty of power in its own right. If it wasn’t a top piece of filmmaking irrespective of the context it’s seen in, I can’t imagine anyone would’ve ever given a shit about its propaganda potential.