Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Alexander Nevsky

This weekend Eisenstein's film Alexander Nevsky is on at the local cinema. Hurrah! I own it on disc. I've seen it in concert (live orchestra and chorus performing Prokofiev's super score, with film also showing; conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy in 1989). I've seen in at the cinema before, but I'm always game to see it on the big screen again.

The film is about a 13th Russian century warrior who really existed. Details about Nevsky can be found here. Looks like he was in almost constant conflict with the neighbours. He's called Nevsky for his victory over the Swedes at the River Neva. The film centres on his fight with the Teutonic knights, so we get the Battle on the Ice which some people will realise that a lot was swiped by the recent film King Arthur.

But the film of Alexander Nevsky is a lesson in propaganda. It was released in 1938, and prior to this the Soviet Union's relations with Hitler were somewhat strained, to say the least. Then a pact was made between Russia and Germany so the film was hastily shelved. The Teutons seen soundly thrashed in the film were of course Germanic... But when Hitler invaded the east, the film was brought out of 'retirement' and shown widely in the Soviet Union. The film is history classically filtered by modern considerations. However, some images (and sounds) are truly beautiful and it's well worth seeing it for those moments alone.

It's thought that Laurence Olivier was inspired by Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky in making Henry V in 1944. Again a film used for propaganda; so what if Henry's opponents were French ;-). I think the central mounted duel between Henry and a French knight has some similariities to Nevsky fighting a Teuton knight, but the two films don't really mirror one another. Henry V is in colour for starters, and there's is definitely a Hollywood sophistication about it that Nevsky does not have. To be sure, Olivier got classical composer, William Walton, to write the superb film score, and Eisenstein used Prokofiev. Just occasionally, Walton's music seems to echo Prokofiev, but otherwise, it's very much a British score. Prokofiev's is very Russian indeed. Both use folk melodies from their respective countries, which is very much a trait of the time.

And yes, Nevsky is of interest for writing a novel about! Since the story's set in Russia, I would be facing a heck of a lot of research - not that I'm complaining :-)


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