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Eisenstein:the Sound Years

Nikolai Cherkasov , Serafima Birman , Dmitriy Vasilev , Sergei M. Eisenstein    Unrated   DVD
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Product Description

Product Description

Sergei Eisenstein, long regarded as a pioneer of film art, changed cinematic strategies halfway through his career. Upon returning from Hollywood and Mexico in the late 1930s, he left behind the densely edited style of celebrated silents like Battleship Potemkin and October, turning instead to historical sources, contradictory audiovisuals, and theatrical sets for his grandiose yet subversive sound-era work. This trio of rousing action epics reveals a deeply unsettling portrait of the Soviet Union under Stalin, and provided battle-scene blueprints for filmmaking giants from Laurence Olivier in Henry V to Akira Kurosawa in Seven Samurai.


A biography of the first czar of Russia was the final movie project of the great Sergei Eisenstein's life. It would be his undoing, as Stalin was not pleased with part II of this epic. But Ivan the Terrible, Part I still stands as a magnificent, rich, and strange achievement. This is a "composed" film to make Hitchcock look slapdash; every frame is arranged with the eye of a painter or choreographer, the mise-en-scène so deliberately artificial that even the actors' bodies become elements of style. (They complained about contorting themselves to fit Eisenstein's designs.) If you don't believe movies can be art, this could be (and has been) dismissed as ludicrous. But Eisenstein's command of light and shadow becomes its own justification, as the fascinating court intrigue plays out in a series of dynamic, eye-filling scenes. This is not a political theorist, but a director drunk on pure cinema.

Part II continues with the struggle for power and the use of secret police, a controversial segment that caused the film to be banned by Stalin in 1946 (the film was not released until 1958). The predominantly black-and-white film features a banquet dance sequence in color. Obviously the two parts must be viewed as a whole to be fully appreciated. Many film historians consider this period in Eisenstein's career less interesting than his silent period because of a sentimental return to archaic forms (characteristic of Soviet society in the '30s and '40s). Perhaps it was just part of his maturity.

Alexander Nevsky (1939), Eisenstein's landmark tale of Russia thwarting the German invasion of the 13th century, was wildly popular and quite intentional, given the prevailing Nazi geopolitical advancement and destruction at the time. It can still be viewed as a masterful use of imagery and music, with the Battle on the Ice sequence as the obvious highlight. Unfortunately, the rest of the film pales in comparison. A great score by Prokofiev was effectively integrated by the Russian filmmaker, but stands on its own merit as well.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent box set. Thank you Criterion! June 5 2004
By Ted
This box set is one of the Criterion Collection's best releases yet. In this set are 3 films.
Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible (Ivan Grozny) parts 1 and 2.
Alexander Nevsky is based on the true story of 13th century Prince Alexander Nevsky who helped fend off Teutonic (German) soldiers out of what is now Russia.
The film has an excellent score composed for the film by Sergei Prokofiev. The acting in the film is also very good also. The film was very popular and was temporarily banned by Stalin after Germany signed a nonagression pact with the Soviet Union.
The film is on disc 1 and has the following special features.
Restoration demonstration, Production stills and storyboard drawings, a multimedia essay by Russel Merrit on Sergei Eisenstein's work with Sergei Prokofiev on the film's score, an feature length essay on the film by David Bordwell, who wrote a book on Eisenstein's films, and there is also stills and dialog from Eisentein's unfinished film, Bezhin Meadow with photos of the film's set.
Ivan the Terrible parts 1 and 2 are the first two parts of an unfinished trilogy. Several scenes of part 3 were filmed but only one scene is known to survive today.
The film follows the life of Tsar Ivan Vassilivich also known as Ivan the Terrible (Ivan Groznyy). He is credited with uniting the people of Russia into a single nation. The first film covers his coronation and a battle that was fought to reclaim lost territory. The film is also very famous and has music by Prokofiev.
The first part on disc 2 has the folloving special features:
The deleted prologue sequence covering part of Ivan's childhood where he witnesses the poisoning murder of his mother and also contains another deleted scene.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nevsky DVD April 14 2004
I'm only telling you about the Nevsky DVD here - my local library has a copy of it, and that was all i got to see.
Terrific transfer - firstly. The film's look, like with Ivan, is its greatest attribute - and here it looks incredible. The images are just so clear, i couldn't believe it. You can fully appreciate the brilliance and purity of Eistenstein's cinema.
Sound quality was good.
Special features were particularly good (as usual). Audio commentary and tidbits from film historians and critics. Most interesting was a reconstruction from stills and titlecards of Eistenstein's unfinished/lost pastoral film Bezhin Meadows. This is the only place you'll get to see this. And i was quite impressed by it. There are some striking images in there, similar to some compositions from Nevsky.
Unlike Ivan (which i have seen Part I of, but not on this DVD) in my opinion, Nevsky does not suffer from a creaky plot, but has good unity and good progression to the climax of the battle of the ice. Part love triangle, part battle epic, Nevsky feels wearisome in places for how very much it is soviet propaganda. In both films, the performances are unusual, because they are more like silent performances, which would have been poetic in a silent, but definitely look quirky in a sound movie.
If i had any complaints it would be these:
one for Eisenstein, for his sound engineer, for the terrible job he did of constructing the sound for the battle on the ice. I could hear the foley artist literally clanking a whole lot of swords together rhythmically. Very distracting indeed.
one for Criterion: i would not have subtitled every line of the singing. Nevsky and Ivan are both part Eisenstein movie, part Prokofiev opera.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb and unusual Eisenstein sound films Oct. 31 2003
By A Customer
Alexander Nevsky:
For those familiar with this classic of the Russian cinema, little need be said. For others, here are the high points: the story is set in medieval Russia and it essentially is about a great warrior who is drawn out of seclusion to lead the fight to defend the homeland against invading barbarians, who are German; there is much bravura acting from the loyal patriots, who deal not only with a vicious enemy from without but also with insidious traitors from within; the hero-warrior who leads them is suitably understated and dignified, striking a memorable portrait of nobility and grandeur. All this is dramatically heightened by some of the best cinematography ever, climaxing in a final battle over the ice which is done entirely with striking visuals and music-only sound. The result is one that rises far beyond the level of a mere costume picture or any cartoon story of battling types. This is a rich treasure from cinematic history, with all talents (including Sergei Eisenstein, one of the greatest directors ever, seen at his best) in brilliant form. Don't miss it.
Ivan the Terrible, Parts I and II:
During World War II, with Russia in the grip of Stalin and with Hitler at its door, the greatest Russian director of his day, and perhaps ever, joined the greatest Russian actor of his day, to depict the dark and brooding story of the rise and fall of a ruthless Russian Tsar who tyrannized Russia during the 1500s. While the story hardly amounts to movie uplift, the joy and fascination here lies in the details. Straightaway, in episode one, there is perhaps the most amazing movie opening ever filmed, in the coronation of Ivan the Terrible.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A Review for Alexander Nevsky
This is a Russian film released in 1938, just before the start of World War II. Although the film features battle sequences between the Germans and Russians, it is not about World... Read more
Published on Dec 19 2003 by Lynn Douglas
5.0 out of 5 stars Criterions's Finest Offering!
"Ivan the Terrible Parts I and II" is a film of greatness, so great in fact that after seeing it only once I would probably include it among the ten finest films I have ever seen. Read more
Published on Dec 27 2002 by findkeep@eburg.com
3.0 out of 5 stars Awezzzome.
'Ivan The Terrible', the story of the first true Russian tsar, is Eisenstein's most theatrical film - with a couple of brief exceptions, every scene takes place indoors, with the... Read more
Published on May 22 2002 by darragh o'donoghue
5.0 out of 5 stars These two masterpieces are a treasure
The famous battle on the ice and the perfect harmony of Prokofiev's music and cinema language create a natural esthetic emotion in Alexander Nevski as well as in Ivan the Terrible. Read more
Published on May 20 2002 by Anibal R. Penton
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay...
I'm a film fan, but I just can't seem to get into Eisenstein. I liked POTEMKIN, but sitting through these films made me restless. Read more
Published on Sept. 15 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good transfer but not up to Criterion's usual standards
I confirm another viewer's observation of Criterion's Alexander Nevsky: The visual restoration is excellent when it is done, however Criterion seems to have NOT been THOROUGH in... Read more
Published on June 16 2001 by Anton Karidian
3.0 out of 5 stars Warning: Mastering Bugs!
June 2001: The Eisenstein box set from Criterion is based on new transfers but has serious problems with the mastering. Read more
Published on June 3 2001 by M. Hafner
5.0 out of 5 stars Transfer Below Criterion's Usual Standard
Classic Russian films. For people not familiar with Eisenstein's work, I would suggest listening to the audio commentary to "Alexander Nevsky" *before* watching the film. Read more
Published on May 8 2001 by KS
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding
It has always been hard to enjoy these movies because of the poor prints available, but Criterion has undertaken the trouble to restore these three great movies to their original... Read more
Published on May 6 2001 by Martin E. Edwards III
5.0 out of 5 stars An Incredible Set
This is an absolutely incredible package. Owning all the Criterion titles, I can honestly say that this is their best release. Read more
Published on April 28 2001 by Jonathan
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