Saturday, March 6, 2010

#86-88: Eisenstein: The Sound Years

(Sergei Eisenstein, 1938-1958)

Eisenstein is probably best known for his silent film The Battleship Potemkin, thus the title of this box set, The Sound Years, which includes three films: Alexander Nevsky, and Ivan the Terrible Parts I and II. I watched the first of these about six years ago, and was pretty disappointed in it. Yes, it was technically accomplished, the score by Prokofiev was great, and the scope was impressive. But it lacked any emotional impact, and I barely got through it.

Which is why it took me this long to watch the follow-up, Ivan the Terrible. Too bad, because these are pretty fucking spectacular, especially the first one. Originally planned as a three part series before Eisenstein, um, died making the third one, the series begins with Ivan rising to the throne and ends in the second part with his rule being solidified after a failed assassination attempt. But the plot doesn't really matter, because it's the visual spectacle that makes these films really memorable. The second is noteworthy for switching to color halfway through its running time, but it's the first film that really establishes itself as an impressive visual statement. Every shot is a work of art, with each character defined by their faces and the framing of their costumes. There are probably four or five shots here that I'll never forget, despite the fact that the pacing of the film seems primitive and the plot moves glacially.

Overall, I don't think the two films are something I'll ever watch again, but I am extremely happy to have seen them.

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