Ivan the Terrible 1945
I decided to jump into what I thought would be Russian filmmaking in the silent era – because I’m already there – only to discover that this film was made 17 years after sound became the norm.
The Eisenstein film I knew was from 1925 (Battleship Potemkin). I’d assumed the notable Ivan the Terrible films were from the silent era as well. What a crushing disappointment to discover they were made in the 1940s.
I acknowledge that not knowing that, is like not knowing the difference between when The Day the Earth Stood Still was made compared with The Sound of Music and when Close Encounters of the Third Kind was made compared with Lincoln.
The difference is that I was alive when the two Spielberg films were made and my father was not even alive when Battleship Potemkin was made and released. When Ivan the Terrible was released, my father was not yet fifteen.
it was the end of the second world war (1945) and the film is anti-German.
It was voted by 15 critics (#102 of All-Time) in the 2012 Sight & Sound Poll as amongst their Top Ten films of all time, as well as by two directors (out of 358).
What’s extraordinary about this is that Kristin Thompson (who co-authored the book I studied at University in my film course: Film Art: An Introduction, also Honorary fellow, University of Wisconsin-Madison) was one of those critics/academic, as was Ian Christie (Film historian, Birkbeck University) who was chosen to write up the Introduction – “Ian Christie rings in the changes in our biggest-ever poll.” – to the results of the 2012 Poll for the British Film Institute. Michael Wood (Professor, English and comparative literature, Princeton University) was another.
For me, however, It’s a very poor film for the most part. That’s an arrogant thing to say in the face of people with the credentials of the aforementioned.
I think that, naturally, indicates, that it should not be taken at face value and bears investigation, to determine why in the last third of the film it suddenly changes its previous shape and form, becoming a very different film from everything that preceded the manner in which the film described its own appearance.
What I mean by this, is that it is like Eisenstein has disguised this film in different clothing for the first two-thirds, just like Hitchcock did with Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960), setting the audience up with a traditional genre film, lulling us into a false sense of comfort, by giving us something we would accept at face-value.
Then, suddenly, BANG! Hitchcock makes those two films into something unlike anything he’d done before. And BANG! Eisenstein does the same thing, turning third-rate theatrics into something that is very powerful, very well-judged and has a skill that is barely revealed in the previous 71 minutes of the film. In fact, I wonder if Eisenstein wasn’t attempting to parody earlier silent films by making something that comments on
Suddenly it is much more subtle; comparatively, after the over-acting and the poor editing and poor continuity of the first two-thirds.
Knowing that Eisenstein was considered to be one the great silent filmmakers (including October ) and one of the most revolutionary, and innovative filmmakers, it is inconceivable that he directed this film, with its sloppy handling of the actors and of the extravagant sets and costumes.
It makes me ask myself the question – knowing something about the composers who fell in and out of favour with Stalin depending on the style of music they composed – “is Eisenstein disguising the film in one form so that he comment, later, with less scrutiny?”, like Arthur Miller commented on the McCarthy hearings in his play The Crucible.
The title cards at the beginning of the film – which may or may not have been there when it was released in 1945 – give the background to what the viewer is about to experience:
THIS FILM IS ABOUT THE MAN
WHO UNITED RUSSIA IN THE 16th CENTURY.
THE MUSCOVY PRINCE WHO WELDED SCATTERED PRINCIPALITIES INTO A MIGHTY STATE.
THE COMMANDER WHO ENHANCED THE MILITARY GLORY OF RUSSIA IN THE EAST AND IN THE WEST.
THE SOVERIGN WHO, IN ORDER TO ACCOMPLISH ALL THIS, WAS THE FIRST TO HAVE HIMSELF
CROWNED TSAR OF ALL RUSSIA.
I need to investigate and consider why Ivan the Terrible Part I has this profound change partway through the second half.
More to come.
‘City Lights’ once again
Just about to see City Lights again. I was meant to watch this film last week – seven days ago – when my Dad made his weekly trip from Petersham to Marsfield but life got in the way.
My father’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and as soon as possible she was scheduled for surgery. Dad couldn’t come over last week because Colleen would be having her operation that day or the next day, so City Lights was put on hold.
Against all odds my stepmother survived the operation, completely calm about the danger involved in the knowledge that when she died – if it was during the operation – she would be united with Jesus Christ and God in heaven, the recipient of eternal rest.
Her faith and my father’s faith in the God of the Jewish and Christian belief, and of Jesus Christ, as a personal Saviour, are like Mount Everest – something which stands as long as mankind can measure. Like Mount Everest it was there before humanity and may well be there after the last of mankind.
‘City Lights’ displays the Entire Bag of Chaplin
Wow. So much to see second time around. I was very nervous about watching it with a wife who doesn’t like any kind of slapstick; and my dad, a diehard teetotaler, knowing that it had a strong plot thread about alcoholism and knowing he would be repulsed by those sequences. I don’t think either of them will be able to truly see beyond those things, to find the true meaning of what is disguised in pathos, cynicism, melodrama, sentimentality and exaggeration: the comment that Chaplin was deliberately or accidentally making about the effects of poverty, alcohol, violence, domination and unemployment on people who are at the bottom of the social pile, to their eternal detriment.
Like Chaplin, himself – the man behind the writer, director and actor – he allowed his alter-ego, occasionally to end up with the hope or the real result of happiness in the denouement (or at least the appearance of it).
Any writer uses their own experience and knowledge to comment on behaviour that they know at first or second-hand even if the story they’re telling isn’t central to that behaviour.
In City Lights, Chaplin shows the things that arise from drunkenness and alcohol abuse. The recurring two are memory loss and suicidal tendencies.
I’m not suggesting that Chaplin was making a conscious social statement in City Lights about alcohol and drunkenness, nevertheless it is a common factor in many other skits or sketches he wrote and directed.
Like many things he commented on – by finding humour in them – in his movies within movies, they were themes which were so second-nature to him as a fully-developed adult, that those themes populate his films.
I’d only seen Modern Times, The Great Dictator and The Countess from Hong Kong prior to two or three weeks ago. Now, I’ve seen them again as well as The Gold Rush (1925 and 1942 versions), The Circus, City Lights and A Woman of Paris.
Now, after watching several of Chaplin’s films in a ten-day period I have seen many recurring themes:
- drunkenness, alcoholism and memory loss (Gold Rush, City Lights)
- the fear or rejection (Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, The Circus, A Woman of Paris)
- the power of those with money over those without (City Lights, Modern Times, Great Dictator)
- violence against women and men (The Circus, The Gold Rush)
- inability to rise above poverty or keep a job (almost all of his films and, interestingly,
- the need to steal and the ever-present threat of prison (Modern Times, City Lights)
- survival at any cost (most Chaplin films)
- the hope for love by someone who can see beyond who you appear to be (most Chaplin films)
Naturally, I assume, ten thousand people have noticed these themes and written dozens of essays about them.
I didn’t read anything about Chaplin prior to this, and I assume he came from a poor background.
Must investigate more.