Archive for Ivan the Terrible

The Sunday Intertitle: Wax, Lyrical

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 30, 2020 by dcairns

The new restoration of WAXWORKS, out soon from Flicker Alley (US) and Masters of Cinema (UK), was screened in the online Il Cinema Ritrovato and looks amazing. You could step onto Paul Leni’s sets (and get promptly ejected) or stroke Ivan the Terrible’s beard (hard to say how he’d react, but you’d be taking you life in your hands). Fiona plonked herself ten-year-old fashion on the floorboards smack in front of our TV to soak up the expressionism at close range. You’ll ruin your eyes!

As a “Case Study” discussion hosted at the fest made clear, the German negative is lost, the original intertitles along with it, and the censor’s file, which usually contains records of what every title card says, came up empty. Drafts of the script survive, but differ significantly from the movie so don’t serve as a reliable guide. So we’re still dealing with the English-language intertitles in which, for what I suspect are censorship reasons, Jack the Ripper is incorrectly described as Spring-Heeled Jack. The Ripper murders were within living memory, and very unpleasant: SHJ seems not to have done any serious harm, just scared the crap out of people, and although he had been reported active as late as 1904, by 1924 there was probably less belief in him. His MO resembles that of the Men in Black in that it consists of unaccountable behaviour designed mainly, it would seem, to make an impression. He definitely DESERVES a waxwork, but Werner Krauss isn’t it.

We also learned from the discussion about the mysterious fourth figure: Rinaldo Rinaldi (third from the left — the figures are arranged in order of intended appearance). To my amazement he’s apparently played by the film’s leading man, William Dieterle, the Iron Stove himself, who acts as protag in each of the film’s embedded narratives. RR was a celebrated Italian bandit, and his story was to have been about him rescuing a kidnapped girl (hearts of gold, those bandits). But the money could not be raised and the sequence was never shot. A shortage of cash (post-WWI German mega-inflation) may also be the reasons Krauss’s Ripper sequence wound up so short. Though the version screened at the premiere seems to have been a good bit longer, the cuts don’t seem to have come from this section.

But as I say, though the vicissitudes of history prevent this original version from being reconstructed, what we get from the Deutsche Kinemathek and Cineteca di Bologna restoration is a far sharper and shinier vision, layers of accrued muck swept away so the movie greet us with startling immediacy.

Walking on the Frame

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2020 by dcairns

(It’s crazy how rough my old DVDs of IVAN look compared to the Blu-Rays, images of which I’ve seen but which I do not currently own…)

Eisenstein makes a big thing out of having a character actually walk forward and stand on the bottom edge of the frame in IVAN THE TERRIBLE (among countless other bold compositional devices).

Since so much of, for instance, MACBETH is clearly under the influence of Eisenstein, I’m assuming that Welles’ occasional moments of framewalking are also inspired by this.

(VLC Media Player has decided to screw up the aspect ratio. Still, Welles has achieved the effect of a mass of characters at different distances from the camera all standing on the frame edge by positioning them on different raised platforms. Otherwise, some of them would be cut off at the knees, some at the waist, as they got further away.)

In PATTON, Franklin Schaffner poses George C. Scott on the lower edge, but the effect is somewhat different since the entire screen is transformed into Old Glory, with just the tiny figure at bottom, a graphic effect that’s quite different from Eisenstein and Welles’ pop-up charcoal cartoons.

Of course Welles and even Schaffner score over Eisenstein in my book, despite his visual richness, because they show recognizable human beings while S.E. is totally in the moving-icon business. It’s a personal prejudice of my own — the hinged cardboard of the characters in IVAN is off-putting to me, though I can dig something like COLOUR OF POMEGRANITES which more or less excludes human behaviour altogether.

Been watching too many turkeys, so I wanted to look at an Acknowledged Classic. I recall Paul Verhoeven telling Alex Cox that he rewatched IVAN annually along with THE SEVEN SAMURAI and VERTIGO, “to remind myself that, yes, film CAN be art, because I have almost forgotten this, not only because of what everyone else is doing but because of my OWN work…” I tried ROME, OPEN CITY but my DVD of that has likewise been thoroughly superseded, and a good thing too — it’s taken from an old US print with the original subtitles, which choose not to translate half the dialogue…