Friday, January 2, 2015

Color Sequence from Ivan the Terrible, Part II, by Sergei Eisenstein, 1958

Though it had to wait until ten years after its author’s death to be released, the second part of Eisenstein’s uncompleted trilogy stands as his finest film; and this dance and murder plot sequence, its penultimate section, the most celebrated.  (Stalin wasn’t pleased with the film’s portrayal of his great predecessor in Part II, and so banned it and destroyed most of the footage already shot for Part III.) There’s something wonderfully Queer about this long and complicated scene, where Ivan’s most loyal supporter, Fyodor, does a dance in travesty (supported by a throng of muscular young men) for the entertainment of the Tsar and his cousin (and would-be successor,) Vladimir.  Ivan takes great pleasure in drawing the details of the plot against him from his inebriated rival and then dressing him in his regal robes so that he may be assassinated in his stead by the handsome young assassin sent by Ivan’s Aunt Efrosinia (Vladimir’s mother.)  This is the only section of the film (and the only instance in his career) where Eisenstein used color stock.  The film seems suddenly to burst into flame with the cut to a dancer leaping into frame, gold against red.  It reverts to black and white when Vladimir, disguised as the Tsar, follows his unknowing assassin out into the street, leading the procession to the Cathedral, before which he’ll be stabbed in the back.

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