IVAN THE TERRIBLE (1985 review)

From the September 1985 Video Times. — J.R.

Ivan the Terrible

Part I

(1944), B/W, Director: Sergei Eisenstein. With N. Cherkassov, S. Birman, P. Kadotchnikov, and V. Pudovkin. 96 min. Subtitled. Corinth, $59.95.

Part II

(1946), B/W & C. With N. Cherkassov, S. Birman, P. Kadotchnikov, and V. Pudovkin. 90 min. Subtitled. Corinth, $59.95.

For all the growing availability of many film masterpieces on tape, there is such a world of difference between good and bad prints that we may wind up possessing less than we think we do. This is starkly illustrated by Corinth’s new editions of Ivan the Terrible, which offer the last work of Sergei Eisenstein in such a splendid condition that it automatically makes all the previous tape editions inadequate and obsolete.

What makes this offering so special is that it comes directly from the original source. Striking prints from the nitrate negative stored at Gosfilmofond (Moscow Film Archives), Corinth has restored the brilliance of the photography. The film’s subtle gradations and intricate lighting schemes are very much in evidence (the sinister gleams in certain characters’ eyes, for instance, are now fully visible). More importantly, thanks to the two full-color retimings, it has given us the climactic color sequence near the end of Part II, with its full range of reds, oranges, browns, grays, and blues — hues that have been virtually absent in the faded prints we have had to contend with over the past few decades. This last sequence includes a delirious song and dance scherzo scored by Sergei Prokofiev, as is the rest of the film. Eisenstein shot the sequence on color stock stolen from Germany during WWII, which has not held up well on older prints.

Ivan remains a fragmented, unfinished work — Eisenstein died before he could realize Part III, and Part II was suppressed for over a decade. nevertheless, its awesome visuals make it in some respects the most impressive of his films, as well as the most personal. Depicting the growing isolation and ruthlessness of the ruler who united Russia in the 16th century, it can also be seen as an anguished self-portrait of Eisenstein’s own solitude at the end of his career. Epic and operatic in its extreme stylization, it is one of the film world’s most artistic creations, and Corinth is to be commended for making the riches of Ivan the Terrible available to us at long last.  — JONATHAN ROSENBAUM

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