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Part Ivan the Terrible I and II Movie Review

eisenstein sergei film czar

1944, 1946 – Sergei Eisenstein –

A film pageant, the two parts of Ivan the Terrible are stunning in their visual beauty, static in their development. To accept the film on its own terms, one must modify some traditional expectations since director Sergei Eisenstein subordinates seemingly everything to the pictorial design. The actors—star Nikolai Cherkasov complained about some of the strange postures into which he had to contort himself—are at times little more than moving props adorning the sets, some of them cavernous, some of them cramped. The script itself was a series of sketches drawn by Eisenstein and apparently influenced by the paintings of El Greco, about whose work Eisenstein had been writing. The director's great visual sense responded to the shape of even little things like the ruffled collars of the courtiers, the curved pikes of the soldiers, the distorted shadows cast by sleeves that drag the ground. The expressiveness of faces and especially eyes also seized Eisenstein's attention. When, for example, Ivan's aunt (Serafima Birman) plots the death of Anastasia (Ludmilla Tselikovskaya), she wears a black habit and cowl that frames a face in which her two eyes burn maliciously (reportedly, the actor was again regarded as a prop-like adornment since Eisenstein had the natural shape of Birman's eyelids changed with makeup to produce the desired glare). Eisenstein was pushing cinema toward a grand opulence, a kind of visual opera.

The story concerns the sixteenth-century czar who united all the Russias and whose coronation on January 16, 1547, begins the film. Ivan's attempt to unify his country is opposed by the Boyars, a group of aristocrats represented primarily by his aunt and the archbishop of Novgorod (Alexander Mgebrov). Outside the kingdom, Ivan faces threats from King Sigismond of Poland. In Part I, Ivan begins to doubt the rightness of his mission after the murder of his beloved Anastasia. After retreating to the provinces, he sees a seemingly unending line of his subjects stretching across the landscape to petition his return to Moscow. In Part II, the plotters turn to Ivan himself, and he must use his wits to keep Vladimir (Pavel Kadochnikov) off the throne. The second part landed Eisenstein in trouble with Stalin and the Communist Party for the perceived unflattering and ambiguous picture of Ivan and some of his inner circle. Though the second part of the film was banned upon its completion, Eisenstein gained permission to plan a final part (to be called The Battles of Ivan) of what was meant to be a trilogy, but he died of a heart attack at age 50 before the project could be completed.

Cast: Nikolai Cherkasov (Czar Ivan IV), Serafima Birman (the czar's aunt), Ludmila Tse-likovskaya (Anastasia), Pavel Kadochnikov (Vladimir Staritsky), Mikhail Nazvanov (Prince Andrei), Mikhail Zharov (Malyuta Skuratov), Andrei Abrikosov (Boyar Fyodor Kolichev), Alexander Mgebrov (Pimen, archbishop of Novgorod), Maxim Mikhailov (the archdeacon), Vsevolod Pudovkin (Nikola), Amvrosi Buchma (Alexei Basmanov), Ada Voitski (Yelena Glinskaya), Erik Ryriev (Ivan as a child) Screenwriter: Sergei Eisenstein Cinematographer: Andrei Moskvin, Eduard Tisse Composer: Sergei Prokofiev Producer: Sergei Eisenstein for Mosfilm Studio Running Time: 99 minutes (Part I); 85 minutes (Part II) Format: VHS.

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