Ivan the Terrible, Part One
May 27, 2012
During World War II, Eisenstein was granted permission to make a trilogy of films on the life of Ivan the Terrible who ruled Russia from 1533 to 1584. Soviet ideology of the period saw Ivan as a predecessor of Stalin, as a ruler who strengthened and expanded the Russian state. Accordingly, Part One depicts the young tsar as a heroic and progressive figure but one surrounded by enemies, both within Russia and abroad. Part Two illustrates Ivan’s ruthless campaign to eliminate his internal enemies. Already demonstrating his penchant for baroque visual imagery in Part One, Eisenstein depicts the Ivan of Part Two even more illustratively as he descends into madness. With shots that emphasize the graphic qualities of the cinematic image, with lines and curves emphasized as much as volume and depth, Ivan the Terrible has even been compared to animation; Ivan’s elaborate silhouette as a hunched, bearded figure becomes an important part of his characterization.
Eisenstein may have been emboldened by the government’s approval of Part One, but Part Two, easily taken for an implicit critique of Stalin, was banned. Eisenstein died shortly thereafter, having filmed only a few scenes for Part Three.