There are some stories that work decently well in a silent format: Keaton and Chaplin comedies can still entertain because they knew how to execute inventive physical comedy that didn’t need words, and a lot of German Expressionism still seems charming because they emphasized mood over plot and aimed at dream imagery more than realistic representation. The story of the Potemkin, however, is one that cannot be understood outside of historical context, and it’s true meaning requires a certain amount of narrative nuance, and silent films are terrible about context and nuance because those things are hard to convey with gestures.
Once you get past the fact that the lack of spoken dialogue really undercuts the film’s ability to tell the story clearly and the fact that the over abundance of text undercuts the movie’s ability to deliver the moral concisely… well, then you find the movie’s other problems. For example, the editing is terrible, with unimportant shots lingering a few beats too long and important shots getting sliced to the bone. Also, the pacing is off-kilter, with the riot on the boat building to a slow crescendo and then the riot on the shore exploding almost immediately, with far less build up.
Fortunately, many of the unfortunate aspects seem forgivable just because of the movie’s age. It feels mean to kick it in the shins for it’s formal failings when I’m not really educated enough to appreciate it’s formal advances. Furthermore, I’m well aware that most people only watch Battleship Potemkin today as a historical curiosity, not because it might entertain, so I need to judge it by a different standard. This is not good enough to entertain, but it is distinct enough and influential enough to be worth being curious about.