Eisenstein DVD's

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Daniel J.S., May 8, 2003.

  1. Daniel J.S.

    Daniel J.S. Stunt Coordinator

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    Who here has the "Eisenstein: The Sound Years" set? I got this recently and I was extremely pleased with it. David Bordwell's commentary Alexander Nevsky is one of the best I've heard in a while and Ivan the Terrible is a masterpiece pure and simple. I'm finally understanding how effective montage editing can be and I wonder why it isn't used as often today. I e-mailed Criterion to ask if there was any progress on putting the silents on DVD. They said that they weren't on schedule for 2003, but hopefully 2004. Given how tight-lipped Criterion is about their projects, is this is a good sign that they're working on these films?
     
  2. Dmitry

    Dmitry Supporting Actor

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    If Criterion were to release Battleship Potemkin I'd grab that in a flash. Ivan the Terrible was a great improvement over Image release IMHO.
     
  3. Ben Motley

    Ben Motley Supporting Actor

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    I didn't like Alexander Nevsky too much. The whole film seemed mis framed, as he mostly filmed all of the action at eye level on a flat plane, above the ground (cutting off characters feet, very bad composition, allowing objects to run out of the frame) and filming lots of clear sky. There is so much unused space in Nevsky, and so little use of angles whatsoever, I was visually bored sensless. In addition to that, I found the story and pace extremely dry as well.

    Then it was time to check out Ivan. Holy canolli! What a difference! Some of the scenes are still a bit cramped, but they work because there is definitely much more attention given to composition in these scenes. The action and acting is much more intersting. It is overdone, but that's by design, and it works. Ivan is a freaking nut! And it's a joy and thrill to witness him go from idealistic visionary to paranoid megalomaniac. There is so much more depth to this film than Nevsky, and I'm glad I got the set.

    I highly recommend both movies in fact, to see the progression of a filmmaker. The contrast of the two films is fascinating, and the commentaries are extremely informative. A very interesting, engaging set. Thanks and kudos to Criterion on this one. [​IMG]
     
  4. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

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    If you'll forgive me, that's an incredibly bold statement to make about one of the greatest action scenes ever filmed. If you haven't already, please listen to the commentary, which should clear up a few of your qualms with the film's (staggeringly brilliant) photography. You'll be accusing Dreyer of bad framing and failing to use establishing shots in The Passion of Joan of Arc next... [​IMG]

    But, in any case, these are truly great films and the Criterion set is worth getting any way you can. Don't expect perfect quality, because the original elements are in atrocious condition, and Criterion will only clean them up to the extent of not altering the actual look of the image. But essential nonetheless.
     
  5. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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  6. Ben Motley

    Ben Motley Supporting Actor

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    Hey now! [​IMG] I never made any bold statement about one of the greatest action scenes ever filmed. I wasn't talking about any one scene, but the whole film overall. I do remember being impressed by the frozen lake battle, but I just didn't think the film as a whole was a visual, compositional triumph. I'll give it another go at some point, and maybe I'll change my tune then - but come on, you've got to at least admit that Ivan is more visually interesting than Nevsky, no? I think it's night and day, with Eisenstein much more mature, expressive, and just plain more involved behind the camera.

    As for Passion of Joan of Arc, I found that very interesting visually. Sure, there are many closeups that place the characters, especially Joan, in unconventional framing, but it works for me - kind of like Sergio Leone (I know I'm gonna get it now, comparing Passion to Fistful of Dollars [​IMG] ). And the rest of the filming is interesting too, with obvious attention given to lighting, indoor set and outdoors framing, with much attention given to placement of the various players and inanimate objects as well.

    And that was more my beef with Nevsky; not the closeups so much, or the ability to pull off the action scenes, but rather composition of the outdoor scenes and set shots. I think Passion absolutely blows Nevsky away in that department.

    I did listen to the commentary on Nevsky, but I didn't take notes, and it's been a while since I listened to it, so it's not fresh in my memory - but as I've already said, I do remember being impressed with the commentary, as it was very informative. It was even more interesting to listen to since it went into the propaganda elements of the film, and I had just recently also watched Triumph of the Will and listened to the commentary on that. Talk about illuminating - compare the themes of propaganda and nationalism between the two films and it gets deep, especially when you consider the dates of both productions (Triumph, '34, Nevsky, '38). Of course, by design Triumph is much more blatant about nationalism, but still, it's downright creepy watching Nevsky in the context of realizing what was going on globally at that time, and knowing what was just around the corner. Of course, I didn't even give this a thought when I watched it on the first run, but when they mentioned it in the commentary, it was like a light bulb came on up there.
     
  7. Brook K

    Brook K Lead Actor

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    I believe (and hope) the Eisenstein: The Silent Years box set is to consist of - Strike! (my favorite), Battleship Potemkin, and October.

    IIRC, Nevsky's ice battle is mentioned on the commentary to Henry V as being an influence.

    Arise ye Russian hordes....
     
  8. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    I'm with ya, Ben!

    I think "Nevsky" is a flat-out terrible film, rank propaganda and juvenile romanticism, and not much different from a focus-grouped, mainstreamed (but oh-so-technically-proficient) wad of crapola from modern Hollywood (say, "Pearl Harbor" or "Windtalkers"). The best thing about it in my mind isn't the battle on the ice, but rather Prokofiev's score (too bad it sounds like it was recorded inside a cardboard box!).

    And though "Ivan the Terrible" has been the object of ridicule and derision over the decades in many quarters (populist "Movie Turkey" books, as well as the critical establishment), it's in my view a far superior film (or films). Though highly stylized and nearly overwrought in its imagery, it's also extremely nuanced. And the dangerous game of analogy that Eisenstein was playing vis Stalin is thrilling to watch.
     
  9. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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  10. Ben Motley

    Ben Motley Supporting Actor

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    You know Lew, Henry V has just been one of those elusive Critters for me. There are so many Criterions that I want, it's unreal. Add to that the steady release of other dvds as well, and, well, I don't know when I'll be able to finagle it. [​IMG] Being that I've got on this WWII propaganda flick kick lately, I may have to put that back to the front (gotta get Eye of Vichy too). But then, I still don't have The Seventh Seal, Andre Rublev, The Third Man, The Dreyer set, My Man Godfrey, Spellbound... ugh, I'm makin' myself sick here - so many Critters, and so little moolah. Thanks for the recommendation though Lew! :up:

    Rich, it's good to know I'm not alone, haha. I do believe you have a slightly stronger disdain for the film than I do... also, I liked Windtalkers. [​IMG]

    I know - everybody point and laugh at the guy who is waxing philosophic over Dreyer and Eisenstein, and yet likes Windtalkers. I can take it. [​IMG]
     
  11. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

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    Some of the politics and propaganda in Alexander Nevsky are a little crude to be sure (blame Stalin for that one), but to call it out a "flat-out terrible film" is some way short of the mark.

    However, Ivan The Terrible is unquestionably the finer film, and a bona-fide masterpiece in my book.
     
  12. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    It is not often that I am in disagreement with Brook and Rich, but in the case of ‘Ivan’, I am of the dissenting side (Brook and I had some discussion in this thread already).

    Strangely, I really like ‘Nevsky’, even though I know it a bit of wartime nationalism. And I love ‘Potemkin’ as well—and it is even less even-handed—so to speak. [​IMG]. Puts me at odds with Rich twice in the same post. I may have to turn in my ‘art house’ card.
     
  13. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    Ben—send me a PM. If you live anywhere close to University Park, I have a few DVDs that you might like to borrow and watch. [​IMG]

    Not Henry V, though (it is on my to-be-purchased list). I’ve only seen it on the big screen.
     
  14. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    In addition to issues of subject matter, I'm simply not enamored of the montage style. To be fair, I'm much more impressed by Eisenstein's editing than the modern "mixelators", as at least there was a purpose (aesthetic and intellectual) behind each cut and juxtaposition of shots in Eisenstein's films. At least his films don't make me feel as though I'm watching 10 reels of coverage shots edited together (Baz Lurhman, I'm looking at you).

    But it's probably my affinity for the styles of Tarkovsky, Dreyer, Bunuel, etc., that makes this more a matter of personal taste. And particularly Tarkovsky. I wish I had my copy of "Sculpting in Time" with me as his critiques of Eisenstein's approach are the most potent I've read. In my opinion, it's Tarkovsky's rejection of the whole Soviet Montage school that allowed him to advance, if only a few steps, his explicit goal of helping to place cinema on a plane equal to the mature arts. Eisenstein created cinematic "pamphlets", as far as I'm concerned ("Ivan" being the one exception), whereas Tarkovsky made cinematic poetry.

    I link the following essay on the distinction between Tarkovsky and Eisenstein's styles, though it's rather poor and disjointed and with no clear thesis and some ladled-on sentimentality that reads like an afterthought... but it sorta gets to the basic difference, though not nearly as vividly as do Tarkovsky's own words: http://www.ce-review.org/00/39/kinoeye39_halligan.html)

    But I think Woody Allen's little throwaway chuckle in "Love and Death" (the "sheep juxtaposition" during the battle scene a la Eisenstein's "pigs", among other eye-rollingly on-the-nose analogies) is as potent a critique as any scholarly essay!
     
  15. Daniel J.S.

    Daniel J.S. Stunt Coordinator

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    Well, Nevsky is a masterpiece as well as Ivan in my book. Someone mentioned the excessive use of empty space in composition. There is a method to the madness there. For example, when the peasant army is being gathered, the words on the score are "arise" while we see a shot of the peasants walking along the field. The group is placed very low in the frame, with very little of the ground visible. This creates the appearance of the people walking along the sky. At the beginning of the battle, we see shots of Nevsky at the far left of the frame. The rest of the shot is sky. The purpose is to make Nevsky look one with nature, someone who is in tune with the proleteriat but still inherently wiser. This illustrates the Socialist Realist concept of the hero who leads Russia to glory. So, the use of open space is crucial to the meaning of the imagery.

    It's interesting that montage editing is not as prominent in this film as it is in Ivan. The film tsar at the time was demanding a simpler, more accessible style which meant montage was out. Nonetheless, Eisenstein managed to get some very effective montage in there, particularly in the Pskov sequence.

    Brook, shouldn't Old and New be included in a "Silent Years" set? Why include three of them and leave the remaining one off?
     
  16. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    I actually watched Ivan the Terrible first when I got this set, so going to Nevsky was a bit of a dissappointment, simply because the thematic and cinematic layers were so much more simple.

    A huge plus is that one of my favorite composers, Prokofiev, composed the score.

    I have never seen them before buying the Criterions, but they look great to me.
     
  17. Ben Motley

    Ben Motley Supporting Actor

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    That makes some sense of the space now Daniel, thanks. I'm no student of Russian film, or Russian anything for that matter, nor do I know anything about montage (I believe it has something to do with symbolism, but I have no clue as to what makes it different than being just symbolism), so I would have just never caught on to the symbolism of what I would think as an erroneously planned camera angle. Heck, if I were a producer on Eisensteins set, I'd be screaming at the cameramen for being so absent minded - oh, the irony! :b

    Lew, thanks for the offer! You've got mail. [​IMG]
     
  18. Daniel J.S.

    Daniel J.S. Stunt Coordinator

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    Well, montage isn't symbolism per se. It's a form of editing where different visual elements are juxtaposed to convey an idea. At the beginning of Ivan we see a montage unit of the crown, the scepter and the observers to convey without dialogue that a coronation is taking place. A more recent example would be the train station sequence in "The Untouchables" (which is pretty much a swipe of the Odessa Steps scene in "Potemkin"), where gunfire and people being shot are juxtaposed with the carriage rolling down the steps. That scene is a textbook montage sequence.
     
  19. Ben Motley

    Ben Motley Supporting Actor

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    But what's the difference between montage and just cuting back and forth from shot to shot? I can see your point with the opening of Nevsky, as it reveals what's happening in a series of shots without putting up a title saying "this is a corronation" - but my problem comes with The Untouchables (which I know is from Potemkin, which I've unfortunately never seen). So what's the big revelation in that scene? That a carriage is rolling down the steps while a gun battle is going on? I dunno, maybe I'm dumb, but that just seems to be an action sequence to me. I mean, if that's montage, then so is any John Woo movie, or any number of westerns. I mean come on, how many times have we had little old ladies crossing the street when you know a gunfight is about to break out? Then the gunfight does break out, and little old lady finally, to the relief of all the tense patrons of the theater, makes it safely across without getting shot. Eisenstein is credited with coming up with montage? Puh-lease! It was John Ford!! [​IMG]
     
  20. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    I think the difference is that just plain ol' cutting is just part of showing a specific action. Montage, on the other hand, uses the images to create feeling seperate from the action- like an extra "character" or set piece.

    Using the example of the carriage in The Untouchables, the montage not only show shows just the event of the carriage, but the way the whole thing is edited creates a feeling or idea that is more than the sum of its parts, so that what you're getting isn't a carriage rolling down the stairs or people shooting each other, but a third thing that combines all these elements into an additional idea held together by the "glue" of the montage editing.

    Gosh, I hope that I'm right and that made any sense. I'm too scared to go back and re-read it.
     

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