Take a Drink: for references to the threat of German aggression
Take a Drink: for rousing speeches
Take a Drink: against pure, unadulterated evil
Take a Drink: for comic relief guy (the armorer)
Take a Drink: for marching
Do a Shot: spot the swastika!
Do a Shot: whoops, rape joke?
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Sergei Eisenstein is one of the world’s most name-checked filmmakers, but his legacy is a lot more than that baby carriage on the Odessa steps scene from Battleship Potemkin.
You get to call it a homage if you’re famous.
Alexander Nevsky may actually have influenced even more future directors. It’s a simple film- the great warrior Alexander Nevsky puts off his long conflict with the Tartars to face a more imminent foe- the cruel Teutonic Knights, who brutally sacked the Russian city of Pskov. They meet in battle on a frozen lake, which will influence history… and a host of classic films. Yep, we’re talking about Star Wars.
This was Eisenstein’s first sound film, but you’d never guess it. He takes to the sound age like a fish to water, creating and mixing sound effects for his big battle in a way that it’s easy to take for granted today. he also worked hand in hand with classical composer Sergei Prokofiev to tailor his score to the film and vice-versa, to great effect (when it’s not a little too jaunty for the bloodshed on screen).
As usual with Eisenstein, the rest of the film is equally a technical marvel. The climactic battle, which takes up the majority of the film’s runtime, delivers an epic scale the old-fashioned way, with hundreds of extras, but broke new ground in how it used editing to intensify the action, going on to inspire war scenes even today. Making things even more difficult, it was shot in the height of summer, kind of a deal-breaker for a wintry ice-bound conflict. Eisenstein damn well made it work, though, but used the necessary artificiality to create a believable, but enhanced reality, in a way similar to how Charles Laughton spun being confined to studio sets into a nightmare fairytale with Night of the Hunter.
Making lemons into Cristal.
Besides the spectacular battle sequence, Alexander Nevsky‘s other standout element is its emblematic separation of good and evil. There’s no grey here, which enhances the film’s parable-like, propagandistic bent (you’ll notice more than a few Nazi Germany parallels, reflecting Russia’s distrust of their growing threat). The Teutons are starkly evil, a point driven home by costuming, casting, and canted camera angles accentuating their intimidating characteristics. You’ll see a host of future baddies in their features, from Disney villains to Sith Lords (who I guess are Disney villains now…)
Oh, look! It’s John du Pont!
It’s pretty propagandistic, but that’s par for the course for Eisenstein. More damaging is the crowd-pandering romantic triangle subplot, which isn’t developed enough to care who gets the girl. Why pick either guy?
Unless you’re Benny Hill, fast-foward is off-limits. Even in 1938, it should have been plenty obvious hwo shitty and unconvincing it looks. Also, as good as the battle is, cutting to Comic Relief Guy #2 ever five minutes or so hamstrings they rhythm without even adding any, you know, comedy.
Some aspects of Alexander Nevsky have aged poorly, but others have passed into iconic status. Simply one of the most influential war films ever made.