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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

ALEXANDER NEVSKY (1938)

This pure-hearted, patriotic, historical about the 13th Century Russian Prince who led his countrymen against a German invasion has probably surpassed BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN/'25 as Sergei Eisenstein’s most popular film, and it’s also the best entry point before trying his more demanding works. It was designed that way. Made when Eisenstein and his incomparable collaborator, classical composer Sergei Prokofiev, were in Stalin’s political doghouse, they latched onto this flag-waving project to help rehabilitate their reps. Prokofiev’s first chord is instantly recognizable as the film opens with artfully composed shots of a weathered battlefield before moving on to introduce Nevsky in his peaceful fisherman mode. But he knows what battles lie ahead and avoids any alliance or entanglement in order to begin his great task: gathering his people into a mighty army to meet the invading hordes. Act II is almost entirely taken up by battle scenes, particularly the famous battle on the ice, and Eisenstein takes advantage of the lack of story complications by putting his creative energies into forming great swaths of clashing armies and kinetic battle montage. There's a definite Marvel Comic vibe in the elaborate helmets worn by the enemy Knights (a rising fist, antlers, eagle talons*), and lots of rustic comedy among Nevsky’s warriors. The image looks stunning in the Criterion DVD, but only so much can be done with the original soundtrack, horribly compromised by Soviet sound recording technology. An old LaserDisc came with a fine alternate track featuring Yuri Temirkanov & the St Petersburg Phil. It really bumps everything up a notch, especially for newbies unused to listening thru Soviet sonic crudities.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY:*Heck, in this original poster, Nevsky could be Batman!

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