Ivan the Terrible Should Have Made a Dark Ale

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Sergei Eisenstein’s great film Ivan the Terrible demands as much from it’s viewers as it did it’s creators. That’s why I can’t and won’t mention a food that perfectly complements the film, because it doesn’t leave a lot of room for food. However, I can recommend a beverage, like a dark, Russian ale that you can only get out of a cask at certain artsy-fartsy pubs. Having met many a beer connoisseur, I know that a Russian Dark Ale, like Ivan the Terrible, isn’t for everyone. Both require a little bit of effort before and during consumption to fully maximize their enjoyability. Therefore, in order to fully appreciate Ivan the Terrible, it helps to know ahead of time what to expect. It also helps to heighten your awareness while watching the film, so that you can catch some of the subtleties that make this film legendary.

Note Eisenstien's use of shadow in this scene

The film follows the reign of Ivan IV, who expanded and transformed Russia from a system of nation states to an empire. The first half of the film chronicles Ivan’s successes and justifies his struggle with the boyars (rich land-owners), whereas the second half exposes Ivan’s unorthodox methods to exert control over his subjects while plunging into madness. The films were made in the 1940s, which was when Stalin was at his dictatorial and murderous best, which meant that the films would not be released if he didn’t like them. Fortunately for director Sergei Eisenstein, Stalin liked the first half of the film and allowed it’s release in 1944. Unfortunately for Eisenstein, Stalin disliked the second half because he felt an affinity for Ivan the Terrible and didn’t like how he was portrayed negatively (albeit truthfully). Sadly, the 2nd part was not released until 1958, long after Eisenstein’s death.

Aleksei the Dog and Ivan the Bird

Because most of them were trained for theatre, the actors in the film use exaggerated movements and facial expressions which can be rather jarring for someone who is not expecting that. In addition, Eisenstein wanted certain characters to represent certain animals. Nikolay Cherkasov, the actor who plays Ivan, adopts specific movements that are supposed to remind us of a bird, whereas his trusted lieutenant Alexei uses movements reminiscent of a dog. Eisenstein was also adamantly attached to details when making his movies, which is why it is important for viewers of his films to play close attention. His use of costumes, sets, shadows and lighting, and even film editing (by which he revolutionized the film industry worldwide), are factors that, if not ignored, make the film entrancing. So entrancing, in fact, it’s 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

So, for anyone willing to put forth some effort in order to have an experience that will transport them, I highly recommend Ivan the Terrible, which is conveniently available for online streaming on Netflix. And for any micro-brewers out there, you can make Ivan the Terrible Dark Ale, but I get 20% of the profits, and it can only be available on tap, and you can’t take any short cuts making it. It’s going to require a little effort to fully enjoy, just like it’s cinematic namesake.

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