Dedicated to classics and hits.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Ivan the Terrible part 1 (1944) d. Sergei Eisenstein

This still from Ivan the Terrible part 1 is a good example of the excellent use of shadow and general influence of German Expressionist films on Eisenstein

Ivan the Terrible part 1
d. Sergei Eisenstein
Criterion Collection #86
Box Set, Eisentstein the Sound Years

  Russia is an interesting place.  I can't think of another place that has played such an outsize role in the cultural history of the West without developing into a Western market for Art products.    Russia is like a weird bizarro culture that has absorbed all the lessons of Western Art and Culture without becoming the west at all.

  Even if you compare Russia to Japan- the other major non-Western representative in the World Film Canon, they lag. For many cultural products Japan is the number three or even number two market, Russia is barely top 20. I think that's what makes Russian art so interesting.
Ivan the Terrible with his rival/vassal, the idiot Prince Vladimir

  Take Ivan the Terrible part 1.  Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein is best known for his work in the silent era, where he helped to introduce the basics of film editing and grammar to the entire world.  In 1944 he was currying favor with dictator/genocidinaire Josef Stalin.  Stalin was a huge fan of Ivan the Terrible, and this film is clearly made with a Stalin pleasing agenda.

 Specifically, the meat of Part 1 concerns Ivan the Terrible's struggle to unify Russia over the opposition of the Boyars.  Bear in mind that Stalin had the analogous class in Soviet Russia brutally murdered- all of them- they were called the Kulaks.  Thus, watching Ivan the Terrible is probably similar to a viewing of Leni Rifenstahl's Triumph of the Will:  A good time at the movies, but raises uncomfortable questions about the intersection of film and totalitarianism.

 After all, if you look at the great Dictators of the 20th century: Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini- they all had a deep understanding and appreciation for the power of Cinema in modern life, but they were hardly going around promoting different novelists etc.   Movies are more powerful because you don't need to read to appreciate a movie- assuming that the technology has been disseminated, the Audience for film is essentially everyone vs. for a novel it's everyone who can read.

  Leaving aside the queasy making moral implications, Ivan the Terrible is a watchable film despite the mid 1940s creation date.  Part of this comes from Eisenstein's skill as a film maker- though his style seems closer the the German Expressionist films of Fritz Lang and FW Murnau then those of his early avant garde/silent period.  Eisentstein's use of shadows on the set really stand out in my mind.

  I should probably reveal at this point at least one of the other blogs that has attempted this same feat of watching all the Criterion Collection titles- the Criterion Contraption- authored by Matthew Dessem- did really thorough work on 1-118 before abandoning work in 2012 (probably got married? had a kid? realized the utter futility of existence in a meaningless world?) But his write ups are super duper thorough and contain a ton of stills- and his entry on this movie is worth a look because he shows all the different set ups that Eisentstein uses- they are quite striking.

  He talks so much about the movie though it makes me feel like I don't need to watch the movie itself.


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