For Reel

Ivan the Terrible, Part I (1944)
February 1, 2012, 7:57 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Sergei Eisenstein

Commissioned by Joseph Stalin in 1941, Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible was devised to rehabilitate the image of the titular ruler as a mythological ideal of Russian leadership. Eisenstein was a master of spectacle – few filmmakers produced images so viscerally thrilling as he – and the two existing parts of Ivan (the third was never completed due to Eisenstein’s death in 1948) are perhaps his most arresting achievements. The picture’s production design is so humbling in scale that it makes every other film-world seem austere. Colossal frescoes loom overhead in each frame, and shadows are exaggerated so thoroughly that they often become the decor themselves. The palace’s architecture seems unusual and impractical – characters are often forced to duck through doorways, even as the ceilings stand several stories high. In the way that the characters interact with these sets, as well as the way that the frescoes comment on the action (paintings of eyes, for example, heighten the sense of paranoia), Eisenstein achieves a flawless expression of place. Just as the settings are large and worthy spectacles taken alone, the costumes are hugely eclectic and effectively character-building. Actors without a single line of dialogue are given thoroughly established characters simply by what they wear. Experiencing the picture on the big screen is a must for any cinephile.

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