#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

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

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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