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“Sooner or later all delicate things/Are butterflies with severed wings.”
In 1933, at age 33, Harry Alan Potamkin (b. Philadelphia, 1900) died of complications related to starvation, at a time when he was one of the world’s most respected film critics, In his writings, he advocated for a cinema that would simultaneously embrace the fractures and polyphony of modern life and the equitable social vision of left radical politics, “embracing the possibility of social justice during the rise of industrialization (Chris Kennedy).” Nowhere near biography, Stephen Broomer’s astonishing Potamkin (2017) hypothesizes the critic’s matrix of thought as a metallurgical audiovisual amalgam of almost 100 films from cinema’s first three decades (among them Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc and Lang’s Metropolis) as well as verbal citations of Potamkin’s criticism and poetry. At the Odessa steps, trampling gives breath to the child.
Ivonne Sheen: “The physical interpretation of Potamkin’s spirit is visualized by a disintegrated, contrasted and superimposed filmic material. The scenes repeated along the film are near-death climax scenes. Scenes of an essential suffering caused by the unavoidable death. A metaphor of Potamkin itself, from the mutable and organic vitality of the filmic medium. Broomer amalgamates different scenes, with the superimposition method, to give more intensity and condensation to the sentiment that Potamkin embraced about those films. His spirit pass[es] through them and unifie[s] them. The film starts with one of his verses: ‘Sooner or later all delicate things. Are butterflies with severed wings’. A poetic image that portrays him and his world view, with a tragic destiny, such as the characters resurrected by Broomer, but with the persistence of their unavoidable death.” (Desistfilm, 22, July 2017.)
Image Credit: Stephen Broomer—Potamkin (2017)