Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Maybe I'm not that great of a film dork and ALEXANDER NEVSKY (87)

I'm at the beginning of a trilogy of Russian films by the supposed Russian master Sergei Eisenstein right now, and I'll be very honest, I could care less about them. Sure, in a lot of film circles Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin is one of the great films of all time. And again, I could care less. These films are stodgy, boring, at times painful films to watch and though I appreciate the effort and time put in to each and everyone of Criterion's releases, I can barely bring myself to slog through these films.

And it brings a question to my mind: am I really that big of a film dork? Am I really up to the task of watching each and every one of these films? Am I even the right person to be taking up this Criterion Quest?

I mean there's people out there who have not only sat through these coma-inducing Russian films but have sat through them multiple times and have enjoyed them, have spent hours in coffee shops dissecting the symbolism of a hat or a camera angle with their bespectacled friends. I'm not, ever, going to do that with these films. But does this really effect my status as a film dork? Should I really be loving each and every film I watch or at least showering these "classics" with a sort of fawning adoration blindly given to all "classic" films by a certain echelon of film geeks?

I, personally, don't think so. I'm a film dork, that's quite certain, I'm just a film dork who doesn't like dreary Russian melodrama from the late-30s, early 40s. I'm just a film dork who prefers sci-fi, fantasy, and modern cinema to Olivier's Shakespearean work. I'm just a film dork who's slowly starting to form a filmic identity in terms of what he watches and what he likes. And sure, I may not be the most scholarly of film dorks (and I don't believe you are either if you've been reading my last 135 posts) but hell, I know a lot and I love watching movies more than most. Thus, I think I am the right person for this quest, a sort of bumbling everyman trying to figure out just what a classic film is, just what makes a movie so beloved.

That's all I can offer, and I hope you're enjoying it so far.

And that said, I could barely stomach Alexander Nevsky (87). This is big, plodding, Russian period drama in a way that's so overwrought with costumes and flowery speeches and sped-up battle scenes and snow-driven fields, and I couldn't keep my eyes awake. I returned this gem of a film four days to late to the local video store having watched it almost entirely out of the corner of my eye, a one inch by one inch screen jammed in to the corner of my vision.

Here are my, exceptionally, brief thoughts on the film:

- The Russians made films just soaked with symbolism. There isn't a character in the film who doesn't seem to have some sort of Stalinist counterpart. The "Germans" in the film are white-cloaked bearers of Christian death, hate-mongering representatives of everything the Russian people were supposed to hate. Alexander Nevsky is a famous Russian figure, and this whole film is pretty much just propaganda about how amazing the Russian people are and how amazing they are in the face of crisis. Seriously, there's a battle scene in the middle of the film where the jovial, salt-of-the-Earth Russians literally stop to pass a chalice and play a few flute bits. It's strange, but it gets at Eisenstein's point here: the Russians aren't a showy people, they aren't from royalty, they're just good solid people, looking to protect the Motherland from those who might avoid. It's really Ivan the Terrible Part 1 & II (88) that showcase Eisenstein's dislike for the rich and powerful.

- Again, this film bored the tar out of me. Period pieces always have.

Two thoughts. That's all I have. Maybe the next films in this trek through the black and whites of Russian medieval history will peak my interest, but I highly highly doubt it.

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