#102 (tie) – Ivan the Terrible, Part I (1944), dir. Sergei Eisenstein

Ivan the Terrible

C.C.C.People Power. Tsar Ivan Groznyy absorbs the will of the people as they march to beg his return to the thrown in one of countless powerful images from Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, Part I.

Sergei Eisenstein is one of the great directors. A pioneer of montage editing, inventive camera placement, and rousing action set pieces, Eisenstein was also a deeply cerebral filmmaker and a Marxist deconstructionist of film technique who put together some of the best theoretical pieces on movies ever written. In many ways he represented the leading edge of experimental Russian cinema in the cultural renewal that followed the Bolshevik Revolution. But like many of his contemporaries, things didn’t go so well for the director after Stalin came to power, and his film output dwindled. Still, with World War II raging and the Soviet Union suffering the brunt of the casualties, Eisenstein was called on to create a series of films meant to inspire the Russian people against the Germans. The director set out to craft a trilogy about Ivan the Terrible, the first tsar of all Russia, using the 16th century monarch as a representation of the supreme power of the State and a symbol of unity for the Russian people. Ivan the Terrible, Part I (Ivan Groznyy, 1944) was considered a triumph upon its release, and features some of the most stunning visuals found in any film, as it tackles the opening years of Ivan’s reign from his coronation to his first major victory over the scheming nobility. But Eisenstein’s success was short-lived. Though Part II was finished, it did not meet the approval of Stalin, who forbade the film from being released. Stalin also pulled the plug on the production of Part III, of which little footage has survived. Eisenstein passed away not long after. (99 min.) Continue reading


#171 (tie) – Earth (1930), dir. Aleksander Dovzhenko


This land is our land. Agrarian subject matter, striking closeups, and beautiful photography combine with Soviet ideology in the visual verse of Aleksander Dovzhenko’s Earth (1930)

Get ready for some hot agricultural action! Earth (Zemlya, 1930), like many films coming out of the early days of the Soviet Union, is unabashedly a piece of communist propaganda. While Battleship Potemkin and Man With a Movie Camera tackled the military and urban life in their paeans to the Soviet state, Earth turns its attention to agrarian society as it looks to promote the collectivization of farms. And so, a community of poor, hardworking farmers are pitted against greedy yeomen who try to control the land and its agricultural wealth while being supported by sadistic clerics. It’s a heady collection of themes that the movie attempts to address in its relatively short running time — collectivism, the promise of technology, sex, class struggle, the existence/relevance of God, generational conflict — and it does so through the simple story of a young man who pushes for collectivism and the use of technology, only to be killed by the landed classes. The young man’s father, initially dubious of his son’s communist fervor, takes up the cause after the murder and unites the village under the banner of advancement through socialism. And fortunately Earth boasts some astounding cinematography as a spoonful of sugar to help the bourgeois oppressors fall down. (69 min.) Continue reading

#11 – Battleship Potemkin (1925), dir. Sergei Eisenstein


Comrade overboard! Potemkin sailors leap into the water to save the leader of the mutiny against tyrannical Tsarist officers in Eisenstein’s remarkable Soviet propaganda film.

Workers of the world unite! In this entry we discuss Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potemkin), a film that has been considered a major classic pretty much since its premier in 1925. The 2012 Sight & Sound poll represents the first time in the poll’s 60 year history that Potemkin has not been in the Top 10, and it missed out by just one vote. So it carries a lot of critical baggage as an essential film. The movie itself centers on the true story of a mutiny aboard a Russian naval vessel during the revolutionary uprisings of 1905 and the (fictional) brutal reprisal by Tsarist troops against the mutineers’ supporters in the city of Odessa. Like most Russian films made in the aftermath of the Russian civil war (1917-1922), Potemkin is very much a piece of communist propaganda, but its revolutionary use of montage is credited with redefining the way in which stories are told on the silver screen. (69 min.) Continue reading

#8 – Man With a Movie Camera (1929), dir. Dziga Vertov


Creative sparks fly. The cameraman sets up in a steel mill during a particularly impressive sequence in Man With a Movie Camera (1929).

We start our discussion with the namesake of this blog and the #8 film on the Sight & Sound list: Man With a Movie Camera (Chelovek s kino-apparatom, 1929). This silent documentary is the creation of director Dziga Vertov, a truly revolutionary force in early Soviet cinema. Vertov was the editor of the Soviet state newsreels during the Russian civil war, and came to have increasingly radical views about film. He believed that the newly communist Russia needed a completely new cinema, one that totally eschewed all forms of narrative content and elements of fiction, which he thought of as the new “opiates of the masses”. Therefore, this film has no actors, no plot, no sets, and no intertitles. It is composed of a diverse collection of everyday images creatively strung together to create a rapid-fire montage of Soviet urban life in the late 1920s. (68 min.) Continue reading