David Bordwell Shows How Eisenstein Broke the Rules of the Biopic

Inside Criterion / On the Channel — May 7, 2018


In his final masterpiece, Sergei Eisenstein revolutionized the screen biography, departing from the conventions of the genre to mount some of his boldest experiments. Ivan the Terrible, a two-part epic about the notorious Russian Tsar, is fueled by what the great director-theorist called “expressive movement,” the staging of physical action to evoke intense emotions. Though Ivan is often considered less formally inventive than Eisenstein’s most celebrated montage-driven silent films, including Battleship Potemkin, its elaborate set pieces are filled with pictorial techniques that produce powerful, sometimes bizarre effects. In the latest episode of Observations on Film Art, now streaming on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck, scholar David Bordwell gives us a twelve-minute dose of film school with Ivan the Terrible, Part II as his focus, using one key sequence to illustrate how the director incorporated the languages of painting and dance in his own style. Check out the above excerpt, then head to the Channel to watch the whole piece alongside our edition of the film.