- A Word from the Editor
FROM THE ARCHIVE
- Individual Tournament
- Trapèze: a Forgotten Ballet by Serge Prokofiev and Boris Romanov
- Sergei Prokofiev – “Soviet” Composer
- The Magnificent George
A PHOTO - A STORY
ARTISTS ON PROKOFIEV’S MUSIC
- The Many Faces of Prokofiev
- Eisenstein: the Sound Years
- CD Reviews (David Nice and Daniel Jaffé)
- Serge Prokofiev Diary 1907-1933
Nevsky and Ivan are available separately or as a three-disc set. They are region 1 discs so you’ll need an appropriate DVD player and an NTSC compatible television.
Criterion discs are only available online; perhaps you should start with www.dvdpricesearch.com which allows you to compare prices from several sources.
Criterion’s own site is here
1 This essay is reproduced in Eisenstein, S. M., “Selected Writings”, volume 2: Towards a Theory of Montage. Michael Glenny and Richard Taylor, eds. (London: BFI, 1991).
Prokofiev’s cinema career was a particularly chequered one but in his collaborations with Eisenstein – Alexander Nevsky and the two completed parts of Ivan the Terrible – director and composer played off each other to combine high artistic standards and innovative techniques with popularity. Sadly, in the case of Ivan the Terrible’s second part, The Boyar’s Plot, recognition of this came only with the unbanning of the film in 1958 after the deaths of both men.
Perhaps for Prokofiev the best has been the enemy of the good, leaving his other cinematic work unfairly overlooked. His dramatic instinct meant that from the start he grasped the essence of what was needed both architecturally and from moment to moment, so it might seem that all his films should be standard fare for showing how images and music can be brought together for maximum effect. In fact Nevsky is the most common exemplar and that probably because of the articles both men wrote on it, in particular Eisenstein’s Vertical Montage, with its plan of exactly how image and music counterpoint each other in the film.(1) In retrospect the strictness of Eisenstein’s ideas on this is interesting if slightly suspect, and there may be an element of cultishness about the impressive fold-out section which aligns the images with the score. Nevertheless there is a huge amount to be derived from his writings as he developed the idea that montage was manifest even in texts and still images.
Prints of all three films are easy to find for cinema screenings and some of them are very good. And of course they’ve all been available before in various video incarnations but DVD offers many potential advantages. One is the clarity of the image and after an A/B comparison of video and DVD it’s incredible to think that the former was ever tolerated! Where on VHS shadows quickly clogged into an ugly unremitting black surrounded by fuzz, the DVD has a beautifully crisp brightness. Details that had formerly been invisible are now easily studied and the genius of photographers Andrei Moskvin and Eduard Tissé is brilliantly exposed.
Almost any DVD is going to be an improvement on VHS in that department but Criterion take a particular pride in their restorations, so much so that they include before-and-after examples of the improvements to Nevsky. Ironically this isn’t as impressive as you might expect since the original image, though certainly degraded, wasn’t as bad as in some other films and the high-key images further conceal flaws. But the Nevsky restoration has disappointed some people and caused controversy. Though the image is slightly smoother and less grainy some of the problems that the restoration demonstration shows being solved recur elsewhere in the film. The video master used for the DVD was struck from a new Mosfilm print in 1986 (Ivan the Terrible enjoyed the same treatment the following year). Apart from the cost of digital restoration, another problem is that overdoing it can soften the image. The restorer has to find a compromise between a flawless, but slightly soft image and a scratched but sharp and less grainy image. Criterion seem to have erred towards the latter. So it isn’t pristine but it is improved and better than you’re likely to see elsewhere.
But that demonstration is probably the least interesting part of this three-disc set. The other extras are far more useful and I can imagine people returning to them more than once. One other thing about the set as a whole is that where earlier releases have left parts untranslated Criterion offer improved subtitles (in English only) which can be turned off though they don’t extend very far into the credits. Next