Ben Meiselman RUSS298K Spring 2007

Isolation and Power
The Theme of the Artist in Ivan the Terrible Part II and The Steamroller and the Violin
Sergei Eisenstein was a pioneer in cinematic theory and technique. Ten years after Eisenstein’s death in 1948, Andrei Tarkovsky directed his first film as a student at the Soviet State Film School. Tarkovsky went on to become one of the most accomplished Soviet directors and to make his own contribution to film theory. The careers of these two influential directors together span nearly the entire duration of the Soviet Union. This paper will look at the artist figure in Eisenstein’s last completed film, Ivan the Terrible Part II, and at the artist figure in Tarkovsky’s undergraduate thesis film, The Steamroller and the Violin. It will put these two treatments into the historical context in which the films were produced and into the context of the directors’ cinematic theories and careers. Based on their theories and their actual treatment of the artist figure in the two films, this paper will draw conclusions about how Eisenstein and Tarkovsky envisioned the role of the film viewer. A natural question to ask at this point would be whether an artist figure is even present in Ivan II. This paper will focus on the title character Ivan. As a film about an authoritarian ruler created during the regime of another authoritarian ruler, Ivan II clearly invites comparisons between Ivan and Stalin. However, Eisenstein gave Ivan more complexity than that initial comparison would reveal. Eisenstein himself said he also

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But I have no close friends. This suggests that the artist is in some way defiant. My personal guard forms an iron ring around me. but also the film’s visual portrayal of Ivan’s image of himself. In Ivan’s words. and can selectively be controlled or be in control. “The people support me. Eisenstein’s representation of the artist thus involves isolation and the exercise of power. which pervades the scenery throughout the film. The young Ivan literally turns to face the boyars and stands in front of them defiantly. the artist uses creative power to Page 2 of 8 . by means of reclaiming political power from the self-interested boyars. The narrative of Ivan II is primarily about Ivan’s consolidation of power at the expense of the boyars and their plot to overthrow him.used Ivan as a representation of himself (according to class discussion).” The scene that includes Ivan’s flashback to his childhood provides an interesting opportunity to observe not only the film’s visual portrayal of tsar Ivan. My enemies are kept at bay. and therefore Ivan will be examined here as an artist figure. Ivan’s goal throughout is the Great Cause of unifying and strengthening Russia. On whose shoulders can I rest my head? With whom can I share my joys and sorrows? I am alone. is also played out through Ivan’s eye movements in this scene. While Ivan uses political power to shape reality. God refuses me the sweet consolations of friendship. The general theme of eyes and surveillance. He becomes more isolated and his tactics become more brutal as a result of the successive realization that each of his closest friends (Andrei Kurbsky. sitting on a throne. abandoned. Ivan’s physical relationship to other characters is often that of a ruler to ruled. but he also prostrates himself in this scene to Fyodor Kolychev. Fyodor Kolychev) and relatives (Efrosinia) betray him. the two films’ treatments of Ivan are fairly consistent. Although the official reception of Ivan I was the Stalin Prize and the official reception of Ivan II was censorship.

and defiant. Sasha smiles broadly. the hallway dwarfs him. “What should I do with you? Too much imagination. The viewer also gets to see shots from Sasha’s point of view. Steamroller shows the artist to be small. Beyond the fact that Sasha is a child. His music teacher says. and he is obscured briefly when his large teacher.” Imagination is what makes Sasha happy. Page 3 of 8 . In The Steamroller and the Violin. In the lesson itself he stands in front of imposingly tall windows. the artist figure is a seven year old boy named Sasha who plays the violin. Through the visual motif of eyes and especially Ivan’s eye movements. Sasha also struggles with his identity as an artist. Sasha befriends a worker named Sergei who operates a steamroller. glass. namely his music teacher and his mother. The wheel of the steamroller is taller than Sasha. In the film’s reality. Sasha is tormented by other children and smothered by the authority figures in his life. who is usually shot from a low angle. The film portrays Sasha as a dreamer. In the imagination sequences. imaginative. especially as a reaction to reflections from mirrors. As he enters the building for his music lesson. He sits on a chair that is clearly too large for him in the waiting area. Steamroller makes the artist figure appear to be small. Ivan II suggests that the artist is in a constant state of close observation of his environment. who stands next to it. isolated. or water. the shot composition frequently minimizes Sasha’s size in relation to his environment. Visually. Sasha squints often.shape a representation of reality. crosses the screen. even in his mind’s eye as he imagines several sequences.

She makes him start over three times before giving up on his playing according to the dictated tempo. pandering and a bit of deception. Sasha is offended by this. At lunch with Sergei. something different about Sasha. but when his lesson is over he skulks away without even looking at her. Sasha takes pride in his music. Though one of the children who torment Sasha carries a trumpet. She accepts his overtures by eating the apple.” Stalin’s Terror muted or at the very least distorted the artistic process by encouraging self censorship and enforcing actual censorship. Sasha resists external control. Films were judged based on how well they fit into the paradigm of Socialist Realism. Even the two people nearest to him are separated from him. to which Sergei replies that he is a musician. Through careful planning. Sasha’s relationship with Sergei is cut off by Sasha’s mother. suggesting that Sasha is not a worker at all. but he contents himself with an imagined meeting with Sergei on the steamroller. Sasha is either unable or unwilling to do this. but from the quality of his music it seems more like a choice. This was the environment in which Ivan II was produced. but he is sensitive about being different from others. who forbids him from meeting up with Sergei for the movie as promised. however.Sasha is isolated from the people around him. it is Sasha who is called “musician. Producing art with an unacceptable political message put the artist personally at risk. The teacher’s attempted imposition of a metronome echoes the counting game played by one of the children who torments Sasha. He opens up to the girl in the waiting area of the music lessons by giving her an apple. someone asks what kind of worker Sasha is. Page 4 of 8 . His music teacher wants him to count and to play in rhythm. There is. Sasha is very disappointed.

only two years after Ivan II was released. Eisenstein began directing films in the experimental stage of Soviet cinema in the relatively unfettered 1920s. Although art was still censored and many films that were produced were put “on the shelf” until Gorbachev instituted glasnost in the 1980s. Although his films were criticized as formalistic and inaccessible. which was left unfinished. and subsequently abandoned. 4). Alexander Nevsky was well received by critics and audiences. which was banned and not released until 1958. Page 5 of 8 . the personal risk associated with artistic expression was reduced and the range of what was considered acceptable was expanded. which Eisenstein expanded into what he hoped would be a trilogy (Neuberger. Eisenstein came out with Alexander Nevsky in 1938. Nikita Khrushchev presided over the “thaw” of the Soviet Union’s icy artistic environment (Woll.Eisenstein secured an enthusiastic official response to Ivan I despite its ambiguities. Introduction). He was compelled by the government to return. or Ivan III. which he continued making until his death in 1986. the international success of Battleship Potemkin earned him a high status among Soviet directors. Boris Shumiatsky. After Stalin’s death in 1953. and it prompted the Soviet Union to commission the production of a film about Ivan IV. Tarkovsky enjoyed success with many of his subsequent films. In this environment. Eisenstein left the Soviet Union to make films elsewhere as the mechanisms of censorship developed in the 1930s. His next project was aggressively attacked by the chief of the Soviet film industry. Tarkovsky directed Steamroller. He was not as successful with Ivan II.

He’s much smaller than the worker. Ivan asserts his authority against the boyars also. He’s shot from below when he begins to play for the worker. support the dunce Kolychev is in his own court. Ivan Part II You still get a flashback – to ivan’s childhood as he tells the story of his mother’s death. My personal guard forms an iron ring around me. with the reflection of the water lighting him up. He sticks up for the little guy who’s getting hit with a ball. and yet he is the musician. It’s not a tractor. we’ll take them back by force. Seizes the most powerful one. My enemies are kept at bay. One is bribed by the livonians. The other boys make fun of him. He has a degree of control – the music teacher tells him to count but he does not. God refuses me the sweet consolations of friendship. duh. Mother comments on dirty hands SASHA is the kid. If they don’t return them voluntarily. The worker allows him to drive the tractor. torment him. Fragility – my mother boils my milk. The wheel of the tractor is bigger than he is. He got beat up but in the end he gives the ball to the kid who was getting beaten. as tsar. worker does it no problem. Kurbsky is in the polish court. Vows to rule without the boyars. The people support me. he is often in the background. plotting against him. “I hold great power. Trouble cutting the bread. He looks much bigger when he is practicing his craft. a man of god Ivan’s feet dangle as a teen Two advisors. But I have no close friends. claiming to be Philip. Narrative. He’s always squinting and rubbing his eyes – artist as observer Things he watches and is pleased by – reflections and clearing away “everything came crashing down They meet up in a huge empty lot??? If there are multiple characters in a shot including the boy. Why does he go into that room? He feels safe because the worker is around. the other by the hansa. support the boyars.The boy is always dwarfed by whatever is around him. it’s a steamroller. One of the other boys has a trumpet. SERGEI is the steamroller driver. On whose shoulders can I rest my head? With whom can I Page 6 of 8 . Reward is a scuffle.

just as ivan takes it up for the greater cause Ivan offers a ploy – Eisenstein offers a ploy…? Both Eisenstein and Tarkovsky discuss the importance of executing their theories.share my joys and sorrows? I am alone.” (20) “Through poetic connections feeling is heightened and the spectator is made more active. coherent reasoning. a new cause. I fear not for myself.” 21 an artist is “an explorer of life…one who creates great spiritual treasures and that special beauty which is subject only to poetry. I had a friend.” In Sculpting in Time. in the sense that stories and ideas that are appropriate to convey in one form might not be as fitting in another form. but he seems genuinely to not have known it was she that killed his wife? Mother? Even though he always lays these traps Boyar is a prince of the church Kolychev takes up arms not for himself. As a basis for his film Ivan’s Childhood. kurbsky he has betrayed me. but I tremble for our great cause.” 21 Page 7 of 8 . Tarkovsky believed the story had “cinematic potential” despite the fact that he “derived little joy from the detached.” I had a single close friend – Anastasia. on which one had hardly embarked. and thus to life itself. than is the logic of traditional drama. Tarkovsky emphasizes the distinct nature of film as opposed to other art forms. our great cause. ” (20) “linear sequentiality” is not as good as “associative thinking” “the artist obliges the audience to build the separate parts into a whole. rather than sound. poison or betrayal. She has left me.” “Poetic reasoning is closer to the laws by which thought develops. Great tradition of heeding the boyars – you lie Ivan is always stooping Inner conflict – by what right do you judge. detailed. is the only one that puts the audience on a par with the artist in their perception of the film. but for the church. and to think on. further than has been stated. abandoned. leisurely narrative. ivan? he’s judging kolychev looks straight up who is he talking to when he looks up? God? He figures out that it was efrosinia. No not just myself. Tarkovsky used a short story by Bogomolov. “The work could all have been done in my head. But there is a certain danger in not having to reach final conclusions: it’s all too easy to be satisfied with glimmers of intuition. I don’t fear the trouble makers I don’t fear the sword.

Eisenstein and Tarkovsky without a doubt use different vocabulary. So his philosophy of cinema as expressed in the book is probably not quite the same as his philosophy when he directed Steamroller. Tarkovsky says poetic reasoning. “Masterpieces are born of the artist’s struggle to express his ethical ideals” (27) intellectual versus psychological Page 8 of 8 . Tarkovsky’s essay was written long after he completed Steamroller. leads to a more meaningful reality on screen and in the mind of the viewer. Eisenstein says that conflict leads to a concept. Alltogether distinct from any other medium. the director’s subjective interpretation and distortion of reality. They definitely agree on the uniqueness of film as a medium.

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