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ANEVSKY

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There is crazy talk these days about colorizing Sergei Eisenstein’s black-and-white film Alexander Nevsky. The person behind this notion is the CEO of “Formula Color,” Igor Lopatenok.

I don’t mean to be reactionary, but I simply can’t endorse such “European-style renovation” of a masterpiece.

For one thing, who said that color is better, or that black and white no longer has appeal? In my opinion black-and-white film is sometimes much more interesting than color. Alexander Nevsky achieved tremendous expression through “old-fashioned” means. What will colorizing add? Has the film not been seen by enough viewers? What, in essence, is the point of the exercise, besides estranging Alexander Nevsky from its original context— a dangerous path to pursue insofar as it risks spoiling our perception of a masterpiece (much as the recent color remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho did). While we’re at it, we might as well reattach Venus’s hands, add pastels to Malevich’s Black Square, and renovate the canals and buildings of historic Venice.

Eisenstein could have filmed Alexander Nevsky in color, at least in part, because color technology existed in 1938. But it is clear that Eisenstein preferred the starkness and gloriousness of black and white. “He was a big fan of color [film stock], and even used it in Ivan the Terrible [Part 2],” Lopatenok declares in an interview. Yet Eisenstein used color only in one sequence, in the concluding Bacchanalia of the film, and assigned the red and gold tints symbolic meanings (blood, flame, etc.). Eisenstein’s discrete use of these tints and the surprise factor involved made the scene shockingly exciting, as did the humming chorus and spasmodic dance that Prokofiev composed for it.

Mr. Lopatenok claims that the music for
Alexander Nevsky was “hastily recorded.” What nonsense! Prokofiev and Eisenstein wrote at length about their collaboration on the film. The composer thought carefully about the seating of the musicians and microphone placement in the Mosfilm studios. They might have been limited by technology, but there was certainly no lack of initiative. In order to make the horn calls of the Teutonic knights as unpleasant as possible for Russian ears, Prokofiev had the musicians blow coarsely into the microphones. He placed the bassoons as close to the microphones as possible, and the trombones some 20 meters to the rear, thus making the sound of the bassoons massive and the sound of the trombones trivial. Here was the law of inverted orchestration, unthinkable in standard orchestral performance but easy to achieve through electronic amplification. Prokofiev also proposed placing the chorus and brasses in different studios, with the engineer in the booth strengthening or weakening the sound of each group with a simple turn of a lever, in accord with the events unfolding on screen.

Before talking nonsense, Mr. Lopatenok should perhaps read the memoirs of the engineer Boris Volsky about his work with Prokofiev in the Mosfilm studios. The recording might not suit you, but there is no need to rewrite the music to thicken its perceived thinness. Think again, given the means available these days to improve the original through careful restoration. The benefits of committing funds to preservation will, I’m certain, greatly outweigh the benefits of colorizing someone else’s great, historic film.

In the aforementioned interview, Lopatenok comments: “Ask any large company [like Paramount] as to whether colorizing is preferred, and the answer will always be yes. Films that have long ceased to be profitable will again make money. This is an objective measure: viewers vote with their wallets.”

So there you have it: the purpose of colorizing the film is money, profit. But Alexander Nevsky will not look better in color, and the precious aura of the original will be lost as a result of the caprice.

PS
I remember a remark by Maestro Yuriy Temirkanov to the effect that “Eisenstein’s film”
Alexander Nevsky is “obsolete.” What brought him to this conclusion? And why has Eisenstein suddenly fallen into disfavor in his own country?

 



 
On Lopatenok and "Nevsky":

http://www.ria.ru/authors/20120720/704568589.html (Yuri Bogomolov)

http://www.rg.ru/2012/07/16/lopatenok-poln.html (Valery Kichin)

http://www.ria.ru/culture/20120718/702885588.html (Mary Tokmasheva)

On Temirkanov and “Nevsky":

http://www.vedomosti.ru/blogs/pospelov/1776 (Pyotr Pospelov)
   

 

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22 JULY 2012