86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

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tryavna
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#26 Post by tryavna » Wed Dec 06, 2006 3:28 pm

I'm also a little puzzled by David's negative view of this film. It was the first Eisenstein I saw, so perhaps that's why it will always hold a special place in my heart. But I also find that the way E. (with ample help from Prokofiev) builds tension just before the battle and during the Teutonic charge quite breathtaking.

I can understand why some viewers might find it a tad long or even aloof, but there are some nice touches of warmth here and there, like the embrace between the two friends just before the battle and the comical romantic rivalry. Nevsky himself, though, is certainly as aloof a hero as you're likely to come across in film -- at least until the celibate Jedi came along.

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#27 Post by david hare » Thu Dec 07, 2006 4:49 am

Well, in Nevsky I think Eisie actually CREATES the video bite.

His closest copain in American Cinema is surely Ridley Scott.

I Loathe the film (surely now obvious, total revisionism for Stalin) and hate the waste of such great facility and taste on such an entirely policital pre-war piece of propo. We're surrounded by this shit now on television. Honestly I'm totally totally shocked you all arent similarly revulsed.!

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#28 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Dec 07, 2006 10:22 am

davidhare wrote:I Loathe the film (surely now obvious, total revisionism for Stalin) and hate the waste of such great facility and taste on such an entirely policital pre-war piece of propo. We're surrounded by this shit now on television. Honestly I'm totally totally shocked you all arent similarly revulsed.!
Nevsky is is pretty innocent stuff compared to the utterly malignant "Bezhin Meadow" -- and "Old and New" sounds like it wasn't much better (I have yet to see this).

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#29 Post by jbeall » Thu Dec 07, 2006 10:43 am

While I'm sympathetic to your criticism of Nevsky, what do you think Eisenstein should have done? Make a film critical of Stalin??? That'd go over real well!!!

I don't see it as a justification for Stalin at all. Eisenstein used historical events as an allegory for the Soviet Union's relationship to Nazi Germany in the late-30s.

There was strong reason to do so. Even prior to Hitler and Stalin's non-aggression pact, their respective nations had found themselves on opposite sides of the fence in Spain. The Nazis provided weapons, supplies, and even troops to Franco's fascist revolutionaries, while the Soviet Union supported the Spanish republicans. The evidence was there for all to see (including the British and French) that Hitler was trying to spread fascism all over Europe.

And yet when Hitler wanted to invade Poland and Czechoslovakia, he knew that he'd have to deal with the USSR. After all, Nazism explicitly supports race-based politics; the Czechs and Poles, like the Russians, are Slavs. That's why Hitler signed a non-aggression pact with Stalin before moving eastward.

Eisenstein saw the logical outcome of Hitler's policies long before European leaders did, and made Alexander Nevsky as a warning to Stalin that the Nazis would violate the pact and invade, which is exactly what they did. And in fact, Stalin rejected the film as being too 'anti-German.'

Does the film subscribe to the totalitarian 'Great Man' ideology? Perhaps. But again, what else could Eisenstein have done? How else do you get this film made in the USSR? While Stalin and the Central Committee was busy censoring the news and keeping the population in a state of ignorance about what Hitler was really up to, Eisenstein was THE ONLY ONE who had the guts to tell Stalin not to trust the Nazis (and in a timely fashion, too, since Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1939, one year after Eisenstein made Alexander Nevsky.

And finally, I think there are some subversive aspects to the film as well. As tryavna points out, there's the romantic rivalry that goes totally against the grain of an ideology of ruthless self-criticism and denial of individual desire. The real Stalin would have had these lesser characters (esp. the clownish guy; I forget his name) killed; but they survive the film, and I would argue that this is deliberate. When the film's jester lifts his head up off the ice after the battle, I suspect the average filmgoer identifies far more with this 'Everyman' than with Nevsky/Stalin.

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tryavna
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#30 Post by tryavna » Thu Dec 07, 2006 12:51 pm

jbeall wrote:since Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1939, one year after Eisenstein made Alexander Nevsky.
Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Otherwise, I agree with most of what you say.

I don't guess any of us are going to change David's mind, but I don't think he's going to change ours either. I really don't understand the comparison to Ridley Scott, though. Just because E. married his images to P's music reduces it to the level of a music video? (At least, I think David means that in a derogatory way.) Would you also claim that Powell's efforts with Brian Easdale in Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes are similarly "music-video-ish"?

Likewise, I don't understand the distaste for Nevsky because of its propagandistic qualities. Wouldn't that mean you'd have to hate most of what Eisenstein and Pudovkin produced? Or, to return to Powell, shouldn't you dismiss 49th Parallel for similar reasons? I'm just not sure I get you here, David.

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#31 Post by jbeall » Thu Dec 07, 2006 1:00 pm

OOPS!!! My bad! You're absolutely right, tryavna.

Sorry, everybody, the non-aggression pact was signed in 1939. I got everything jumbled in my head.

Nevertheless, my point remains: this film is more than simple agitprop. IMO, it's an extremely brave film to make in the Soviet Union during the 30s.

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Tommaso
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#32 Post by Tommaso » Thu Dec 07, 2006 1:19 pm

tryavna wrote: Just because E. married his images to P's music reduces it to the level of a music video? (At least, I think David means that in a derogatory way.) Would you also claim that Powell's efforts with Brian Easdale in Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes are similarly "music-video-ish"?.
Good comparison, indeed. In all these cases (including "Nevsky" and even more in the operatic "Ivan") there is indeed this unison of images, text and especially music that Powell dreamt of as 'total' art. I would add Greenaway's "Prospero's Books" as a further example, and it's significant that PG repeatedly stated that Eisenstein was one of the very film directors he accepts because he made films that were 'films' and not just 'illustrated text'. The marriage of music, visuals, text is of course a concept that may have been taken over by music videos (if only a few of them,but there ARE successful examples, or have been, rather), and if indeed Eisenstein 'invented' the music video, it only shows the modernity of his film-making. The same point has been made, btw, for Riefenstahl's "Triumph", with Hitler as a pop star avant la lettre. No wonder David Bowie apparently was/is a big fan of that film, as was Mick Jagger.

Of course all these films may be reproached as 'totalitarian', 'cold', 'statuesque', or at least placing form over content, but in my view this is not a valid criticism once we're talking about the films themselves. It may be valid if we see the films as an expression of certain wider cultural phenomena, but then we're talking sociology and politics, not film.

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zedz
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#33 Post by zedz » Thu Dec 07, 2006 4:56 pm

I'm in the same minority of those indifferent to Nevsky, by a large margin my least favourite Eisenstein (even including the fragmentary ones). I don't object to it on ideological grounds, because, frankly, few Soviet films of the era can dodge that particular bullet, but because I find the pageantry stiff (really only taking flight briefly in the battle scenes - a lot of the scenes work much better as stills than on the screen, in my opinion), and the cliched 'socialist realism' characterisations tooth-achingly awful. Soviet films of the 30s and 40s are full of these lumbering, folksy types, and I find Eisenstein's treatment of them completely standard: leadenly 'humorous' or lugubriously sentimental. It's a very awkward midway ground between the montaged 'non-performance' of his silent films and the ultra-stylisation of performance(definitely an acquired taste, but one I find quite in tune with the material and presentation) of the Ivans.

Nevsky was actually the first Eisenstein I saw, and I was greatly impressed, but it's sharply declined in interest for me as I've seen Eisenstein's other work and the socialist realism 'classics' from which it takes too many cues.

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#34 Post by david hare » Thu Dec 07, 2006 6:13 pm

Very briefly - I promise to get off my high dudgeon horse - Zedz nails it again and I'd add to his criticism my dislike of the triumphalism and the whole school of agitprop on the grand scale. Im also totally left cold by October and Old and New.
Perhaps the only thing further I can contribute to this discussion which is of the slightest interest to anyone is one's own "history" in regard to Eisenstein. I first saw him in my teens in the sixties when his reputation generally was beginning to take a nosedive. Indeed the rise of American auteurism through Sarris and others pretty well nailed his coffin for "formalists" and auteurists then like me. And it took a couple of decades before I started to watch him again in a spirit of rediscovery. Luckily I started reviewing him with Strike which I like a great deal, and was deeply struck with the constant throb of the underlying homoeroticism of Potemkin. And then Ivan, in particular Part 2 (significantly more than part 1). I wouldn't go as far as David Ehrenstein in only claiming interest in Eisenstein as a gay filmmaker, but this aspect is certainly fundamental in vieiwng Ivan 2, very much in tandem with the relatively outrageous psychological commentary he's providing on Stalin and the colonies of the old USSR. I think Part 2 is a very great film, just as I still find Nevsky predictable and formulaic.

And surely Dovzhenko and even Pudovkin could fruitfully be viewed as both more artistically consistent. Although, as Zedz rightly says nobody, certainly not even Prokofiev or Shotakovich, managed to evade the cold eye of Big Brother in that awful period. I would add to Michael Kerpan's observation about Bezhin Meadow - from the extant stills it's impossible to say definitely but I strongly suspect this WAS material of the most robustly gross propaganda which Eisie had indeed subverted with more emphasis on individualism. But of course we'll never know for sure, and it's also certain Stalin's banning and control of Eisenstein's subsequent career could not possibly have been without his awareness of Eisie's homosexuality, and the hijinks in Mexico during the Que Viva shoot which were certainly common gossip in the Hollywood community. One can only guess at the leverage Papa Stalin had with this fact alone.

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#35 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Sep 04, 2008 3:13 pm


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knives
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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#36 Post by knives » Mon May 18, 2009 10:45 pm

I'm surprised there hasn't been more talk about the design of Nevsky. It's the second element I'm in love with. The exaggerations of the costumes and sets held my interest more so then the story which I felt was meh. I suppose the old saying about the score could be said of the whole film. It's a wonderfully put together film, that also is a terrible film.

Everyone talks about the ice battle with as this grand thing, and I accept and understand its importance, it is mostly a dull monotonous affair once things begin. The only reason I'd give it leeway when Bernard and Lang were making much better fight scenes at the same time is because of the situation they were in. The scenes surrounding the battle were more interesting for me, especially the silent moments and most of the stuff involving the Germans who were made to be absolutely frightening.

But going back to why I'm making this post I have to say the look of the film, from the towering castles and war armour to the peasants clothes and barren ground was almost as amazing to me as the score and I would like to hear what others have to say about this unspoken of aspect to the film.

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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#37 Post by Bennie » Tue Mar 02, 2010 1:36 pm

I absolutely adore the three films in this set, and was so looking forward to buying it. They are among my favourite films. However, with all this talk about the poor soundtrack quality on Nevsky - wrong source used/only a rehearsal track, etc, etc. now I'm not so sure. Is the sound really as bad as some/many have suggested? If so, do Criterion plan to rectify this problem? This is so unlike Criterion's usual impeccable high standards, especially for a film as important as Nevsky.

Any info/feedback much appreciated
Thanks in Advance.

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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#38 Post by Tribe » Tue Mar 02, 2010 1:49 pm

Bennie wrote:I absolutely adore the three films in this set, and was so looking forward to buying it. They are among my favourite films. However, with all this talk about the poor soundtrack quality on Nevsky - wrong source used/only a rehearsal track, etc, etc. now I'm not so sure. Is the sound really as bad as some/many have suggested? If so, do Criterion plan to rectify this problem? This is so unlike Criterion's usual impeccable high standards, especially for a film as important as Nevsky.
This was one of Criterion's earlier releases...I doubt it would have been released in the main Criterion line today. Be that as it may, your mileage may vary depending on how much of a stickler you may be. That soundtrack does sound pretty bad and if you can find an alternative that sounds better (I'm not sure if there is one out there...if there is someone here ought to know about it) you might want to go that route.

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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#39 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Mar 02, 2010 2:01 pm

Unfortunately, the original soundtrack for Alexander Nevsky (though brilliantly written) was very poorly recorded. The only thing one could do is strip out the dialog somehow and fit this into a newly recorded performance of Prokofiev's score. (And there is NO way to reconstruct the missing reel from the middle of the film).

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zedz
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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#40 Post by zedz » Tue Mar 02, 2010 2:21 pm

Someone else is bound to know more about this than me, but the Nevsky soundtrack has always been a big problem, centring on the poorly recorded, hastily rehearsed score. I think there may have been some later work done in Russia to 'fix' the soundtrack which didn't exactly help and compromised the (already compromised) original, and I think that version is the one Criterion issued. As far as I know it's the only version in circulation, so what do you expect?

I don't think there are any alternatives available on DVD, but if anybody knows otherwise, let us know. In the meantime, I believe the Criterion set is as good as it gets. I'd also add that this set has a fantastic set of extras for such an early release, particularly the Bezhin Meadow reconstruction and the superb visual essay on Ivan.

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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#41 Post by Jonathan S » Tue Mar 02, 2010 2:43 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote: The only thing one could do is strip out the dialog somehow and fit this into a newly recorded performance of Prokofiev's score.
That's exactly what was done in 1994 with the St Petersberg Philharmonic conducted by Yuri Temirkanov. The soundtrack was released on CD by RCA, who also published it on VHS (at least in the UK). I don't think this version has been released on DVD but it has been shown on UK digital channels in recent years. Of course, being in stereo it doesn't sound remotely authentic and all the main titles were remade. I think the overall result pleased music lovers more than film fans!

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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#42 Post by evillights » Wed Mar 03, 2010 1:44 am

I'd step up to bat for the NEVSKY soundtrack as it currently exists on the Criterion. You want a "newly recorded" version? Then what you'll end up getting is harsh, digital "high-definition fidelity" which is better suited to the production of a Celine Dion record, no matter the fidelity of adherence to the original score. Think of these quote-unquote poorly recorded pre-restoration silent soundtracks as being the only existing elements that actually have any equivalent of film-grain-structure. What's happened in silent film soundtracking over the last decade+ is shameful. The majordomos of 'restored soundtrack' productions/recordings have no production/recording sensibility whatsoever.

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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#43 Post by Tommaso » Wed Mar 03, 2010 8:00 am

evillights wrote: What's happened in silent film soundtracking over the last decade+ is shameful. The majordomos of 'restored soundtrack' productions/recordings have no production/recording sensibility whatsoever.
While I totally agree with what you say about 'Nevsky' - I also think that it should stand as it is, after all it's a historical artifact, and the bad sound even heightens the experience for me -, I'm not quite sure what you mean by 'what's happened in silent film soundtracking'. Do you have a re-mastering of some old Movietone scores in mind? Or do you refer to newly recorded music? If the latter, then I can't see where the problem should be. If you have a truly high quality recording of a silent score, you will probably have a far closer approximation of what it sounded like in the cinemas in the 20s in a live performance. Let's take the newly recorded Erdmann score for "Nosferatu" as an example: it sounds gorgeous in every respect, and it really gave me the feeling of sitting in a cinema with the orchestra accompanying the film. On the other hand, "Nevsky" probably wouldn't have sounded so much better in 1938 than today, given the technical resources available at the time. That some record companies today misuse the digital medium and get crappy sound from overcompression etc. is deplorable, but I seldom came across it with silent film soundtracks, only with commercial cds (one of the reasons why fewer and fewer people buy cds, in my view).

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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#44 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Mar 03, 2010 11:20 am

According to what I have read, contemporaries (who were supporters of the film) were quite disturbed by the low technical quality of the recorded score -- but it didn't matter because it _didn't_ bother Stalin.

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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#45 Post by Bennie » Thu Mar 04, 2010 12:59 pm

Many thanks for all your feedback everybody. Its very disappointing to hear that the Nevsky soundtrack is so poor, but as there doesn't seem to be any better alternatives out there, I may just pick this set up after all. Several sources though (including DVDBeaver) have said that this is just a "rehearsal track". So what happened to the REAL soundtrack? Has it been lost? I'm also concerned that if I shell out for this set now, Criterion may decide to re-release it in the near future with a much better score, maybe by, as Micheal Kerpan says, stripping out the dialog somehow and fit this into a newly recorded performance of Prokofiev's score.

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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#46 Post by NilbogSavant » Thu Mar 04, 2010 1:45 pm

The Laserdisc release has a great stereo soundtrack.

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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#47 Post by jsteffe » Thu Mar 04, 2010 1:52 pm

I'd like to point out that the version of Alexander Nevsky used for the Criterion DVD is the 1986 Mosfilm restoration, which included rerecording some of the music. The credits for this (in Russian) are at the end of the film. The two Ivan the Terrible prints on the Criterion set also include some rerecorded music, if I'm not mistaken.

If you really want the "unrestored" soundtracks, your best bet is to get the Corinth/Image Entertainment versions of the same films. These are based on prints of the original versions that were struck in the early 1980s and have burnt-in subtitles. I personally prefer the restored Criterion versions because of their much superior image quality, but for historical purposes I'm glad that Corinth has also released the older prints on DVD.

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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#48 Post by Doctor Sunshine » Thu Mar 04, 2010 5:29 pm

Bennie wrote:So what happened to the REAL soundtrack?
There is no "real" soundtrack. Stalin saw the film with the rehearsal track and gave it his seal of approval. And in Stalinist Russia, if you somehow got that, you called it a day, you're done. The story's covered in the disc's supplements. Also, I wouldn't worry about these getting reissued. Rublev would come before anything in this set and we've been waiting for that six plus years now. A lot of red tape involved in licensing these Soviet films, apparently. It's an amazing set, regardless.

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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#49 Post by Matango » Fri Mar 05, 2010 12:04 am

NilbogSavant wrote:The Laserdisc release has a great stereo soundtrack.
Yes it has. RCA Victor/BMG put out the Alexander Nevsky laserdisc in 1994, with the original Prokofiev score reconstructed and re-recorded in stereo by the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and some Russian choirs. I think they also put out a CD at the same time, so if you could get hold of that, it would sort of solve the problem if you could synch them up properly. The laserdisc came with a free Alexander Nevsky baseball cap, too. Quite what the target market was for that, I cannot easily imagine.

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Re: 86-88 Eisenstein: The Sound Years

#50 Post by HarryLong » Fri Mar 05, 2010 11:55 am

Matango wrote:Quite what the target market was for that, I cannot easily imagine.
Nor can I, but what a wonderfully daft idea.
Almost on a par with that line of Harley Davidson cake mixes a few year ago...

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