IVAN THE TERRIBLE Sources of inspiration Analysis
Ivan the Terrible Part I August & November 1944 completed film shown to Committee on Cinema Affairs, changes demanded. Reviewed in December and approved for release on December 31. Released in 16 January 1945 in Moscow, approved by critics and by Stalin. Received Stalin Prize in January 1946.
Making Part II 1945 Eisenstein travels between filming in Almata and editing and teaching in Moscow. Obtains “trophy” Agfa colour film from occupied Germany, uses it for the final scene. December 1945: Part II completed and submitted to Mosfilm authorities. 2 February 1946: Part II reedited and submitted to Committee on Film Affairs for approval. At celebratory party Eisenstein has heart attack.
Politics continues… 7 February 1946: Film viewed by Mosfilm Artistic Council. 5 March 1946: Central Committee of the Communist Party prohibits release of Part II because of its “ahistorical and inartistic qualities.” August and September 1946: Central Committee criticism made public. 25 February 1947: Eisenstein and Cherkasov have interview with Stalin, Molotov and Zhdanov. Permission given to remake Part II and complete Part III.
And more Politics. 29 November 1947: United Nations approves creation of State of Israel. Stalin’s campaign against “cosmopolitism” begins. 10 January 1948: Jewish actor and theatre director Solomon Mikhoels, president of Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, murdered by NKVD in Minsk, the start of the “struggle with cosmopolitanism.” 11 February 1948: Eisenstein dies after second heart attack. Coincidence?
Ten years later 1 September 1958: Ivan the Terrible, Part II finally released. The new context of the “Thaw”: Stalin is dead; Political prisoners have returned from the GULAGs and the dead are being “rehabilitated.” Khrushchev made his speech denouncing Stalin at the party congress in 1956.
Ivan is recognized as the People’s choice at Aleksandrov at the end of Part I
Ivan the Terrible Part II: Synopsis Part II opens in the court of King Sigismund of Poland, to whom Kurbsky swears allegiance. Sigismund promises to make Kurbsky ruler of Ivan's territories, once he exploits the tsar's absence by conquering them. The plan is foiled when an emissary announces that Ivan has returned to Moscow.
Kurbsky at the Polish court gives his sword to King Sigismund, gets it back and kisses it
Shooting Ivan the Terrible: with one of the Polish courtiers
Ivan begins by reforming the land distribution: he takes the boyars' lands, then reinstalls them as managers, increasing his own power at their expense. His friend, Kolychev, arrives, now the monk Philip; after a heated debate, Philip agrees to become metropolitan of Moscow, if Ivan gives him the right to intercede for condemned men. This is mutually agreed upon.
Ivan humiliates himself before Kolychov now Metropolitan Filip.
Flashback: Young Ivan witnesses his mother’s poisoning, has boyars arrested
Ivan as a youth begins to assert himself against the corrupt courtiers
But as soon as it is settled, Ivan, propelled by Malyuta, finds a way around this: he executes condemned men quickly, before Philip can use his right. In this way he has three of Philip's kinsmen executed.Fyodor Basmanov, the first of the Oprichnina, helps Ivan figure out that the Tsarina was poisoned, and both suspect Efrosinia of poisoning the cup of wine. Ivan orders Fyodor not to say anything about it until he (Ivan) is certain beyond doubt of her guilt.
Maliuta Skuratov persuades Ivan to create his own force, the oprichniki, and begin a reign of terror
The boyars, close to desperation, plead their case to Philip and eventually win him over. He vows to block Ivan's abuse of power, and confronts him in the cathedral while a miracle play is being presented. As the argument heats up, Ivan, angry, proclaims that he will be exactly what the boyars call him - terrible - and has Philip seized. The boyars now decide that their only option is to assassinate Ivan, and the novice Pyotr is selected to wield the knife.
Evrosinia plans with Pimen to murder Ivan and put her son on the throne.
Ivan, now certain of Efrosinia's guilt, invites Vladimir to a banquet with the Oprichnina. Ivan gets Vladimir drunk while the Oprichnina sing and dance around them; Vladimir mentions that there is a plot to kill Ivan, and he (Vladimir) is to replace him as Tsar. Fyodor Basmanov notices the assassin leaving, and signals Ivan, who, pretending surprise at Vladimir's revelation, suggests Vladimir try being Tsar for a while, and has the Oprichnina bring throne, orb, scepter, crown and royal robes, and they all bow down to "Tsar Vladimir."
Fyodor Basmanov leads the oprichniks in a wild dance
Then Ivan tells Vladimir to lead them to the cathedral in prayer, as a Tsar should lead. Hesitantly, Vladimir does. In the cathedral, the assassin runs up and stabs the mock Tsar, and is immediately seized by Fyodor and Malyuta. Ivan orders them to release Pyotr, and thanks him for killing the tsar's worst enemy. Efrosinia arrives, jubilant at the apparent death of Ivan, until she sees Ivan alive; rolling the corpse over, she realizes it is her own son. Ivan sentences her and then relaxes, proclaiming that all his enemies within Moscow are vanquished and he can turn to those outside.
Efrosinia and the dead body of Vladimir, mistakenly killed by the assassin.
Some themes and patterns Inversions and mirror images
Andrei Tarkovski about Ivan The Terrible “There is a film, Ivan The Terrible by Eisenstein, that is as remote as possible from the principles of direct observation, - Not only is the film as a whole a hieroglyph, it entirely consists of a series of hieroglyphs, large, small and tiny, there is not a single detail in it that is not saturated with authorial design or intention.”
Solzhenitsyn, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. No my friend [...] objectivity requires that we recognize Eisenstein's genius. Isn't Ivan the Terrible a work of genius? The dance of the oprichniks with their masks! The scene in the cathedral! Affectation! [...] replied X-123 angrily. There is so much art that there is no art left. Pepper and poppy seed instead of our daily bread! Plus a disgusting political idea - the justification of the tyranny of one man. Dancing on the grave of three generations of Russian intelligentsia. [....] But how else would they let it through? Oh, so they would let it through! So don't tell me he is a genius.! Say that he was a lickspittle, that he carried out a swinish assignment. Geniuses don't tailor their work to suit the taste of tyrants! [...] But listen, art is not in the "what", but the "how". To hell with your "how," if it doesn't arouse good feelings in me.