Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Sergei Eisenstein and Film Effects

Google Search reminded me yesterday that it was the great Russian film director's birthday. Sergei Eisenstein lived from 1898 to 1948 but in his career built a significant body of work, including the feature-length films: Strike (1925); Battleship Potemkin (1925); October (1928); Alexander Nevsky (1938); and Ivan the Terrible (1944).

I've seen all of the above except for Strike. Eisenstein's pictures were wide-screen though they weren't wide-screen, epic in scope, passionate, and always about people. Emotion was always present, whether the themes were about fighting for individuals' rights or battling in defence of the beautiful motherland.

Back in 1988 or 1989 I attended a screening of Battleship Potemkin at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) here in Toronto. I had seen the film before, but like many a great film, it revealed something new. The famous "Odessa Steps" sequence, famous for its staging and editing, and emotive power, hit me with great force. The picture was moving. I realized I was watery-eyed. Violence shown as being exactly what it is. Senseless.

Although a 'silent' film, of course there was a music score. It was not the original Edmund Meisel score (quite probably the version with a compilation of Dmitri Shostakovich material) but the sequence's power was heightened nonetheless.

Which reminds me.

In November of 1989 the Toronto Symphony Orchestra played a couple of special performances: As Alexander Nevsky rolled in Roy Thomson Hall its score was played live-to-picture. A 'sound' film, Nevsky had been designed by Eisenstein in a such way as to avoid having music tracks playing under dialogue, which meant that in this live concert hall presentation the orchestra could light up between dialogue sequences. Director Eisenstein worked with composer Sergei Prokofiev to make cinematic magic -- the melding of music and image, each serving the other. This score is, in my opinion, the greatest of all film scores. The absolute peak.

The presentation that day was magnificent. A showcase of how image and music fused as one becomes another art.

I should sit down and watch Strike.

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