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Thursday 20 November 2003

Alaxander Nevsky Paper

Celeste Hutchins
Nevsky Paper

I read Eisenstein's explanation of how the Nevsky images and sound work together and I remain unconvinced. However, what was clear both in his writing and his film were strong issues of Russian identity.

These were very obvious in the film, where the characters openly discuss what it means to be Russian and the importance of the homeland. This was contrasted with the German other. Today's Colloquium speaker noted that the music used for the Russian themes in the film were based on Russian folk modes. Thus it is somewhat similar to Stravinsky's Svadebka, as they both use folk elements to re-imagine folk life.

I recognized other things common to Svadebka including that the female love interest had her hair parted into two braids, thus indicating her status as an unmarried woman. However, at the end of the film when the two couples pair off, neither woman starts singing a platch, but instead look happy with their future husbands. However, the matchmaker (mentioned early in the movie) has not yet been sent, so perhaps the platch would be premature and might interfere with the happy ending.

Russian identity is obvious in Eisenstein's writings as he quotes Pushkin. Pushkin's poetry is strongly linked to Russian identity. He is widely quoted and revered.

Despite the obvious and strong Russian identity in the film, certain American film conventions were used. For example, as one of the Germans fell through the ice and slowly slipped in and drowned, there was a Mickey Mousing downward trombone slide matching his action. Eisenstein goes so far as to claim that all of the score in the waiting scene is Mickey Moused, drawing diagrams and making claims of eye motion. Some scenes had music pre-written for them and Mickey Moused in reverse, so that the action was made to mirror the score.

This type of Mickey Mousing however, goes far beyond anything that would be found in an American film. The score, with it's folk modes and choral works is distinctly Russian. These Russian identities in the film are contrasted with the film's portrayal of German otherness. The creepy bucket-style helmets make the Germans look like aliens. Issues of religion also figure in very prominently.

The Germans have crosses on their uniforms. They have crosses on their shoulders. Even the eye holes in their helmets are cross shaped. Many scenes show the German holy leaders raising crucifixes. The religious leader goes so far as to say that there is only one world emperor and he must bow to the Pope. The Germans are in Russia on a religious crusade to impose Catholicism.

In contrast, there was only one scene showing Russian Orthodoxy. It was a short shot of some people standing, one of them holding an icon. The Germans are evil Catholics and the Russians are practically atheists by comparison, but they do have this other religion, which they get to keep, at least until the revolution.

Musically, Catholicism is represented by the organ that the priest plays. Also, since the trumpets are first blown at a church service, they also represent catholicism as much as they represent the threat of the knights. It is hard to draw a distinction between Catholicism and the Teutonic threat as Catholicism is the Teutonic threat. It is their motivation for coming to Rus and their justification for committing atrocities. Religious baiting is a tired old form of propaganda, but probably useful in a legally atheist society, as it helps build national religious (or irreligious) unity.

There is also a single character who was probably supposed to be a Jew. This character tells the angry nationalist mob that nationalism is not as important as money. Some nobel character kicks the Jewish man and calls him a cur. Because of the diasporic nature of Jewish peoples, they were viewed as stateless. In the Soviet era, Jews were not considered Russian citizens, but rather resident aliens. Their legal nationality was Jewish.

This possible Jewish character does not get a musical theme. He has about the same amount of screen time as the Russian Orthodox church, maybe a bit more. He is represented by stereotypes and carries no iconography. Thus religions in Russia are barely present in the film, whereas German religion is threatening, gets a lot of screen time and has musical themes and instruments associated with it.

Russian identity is thus defined, both as what it is and what it is not. Russian identity uses folks modes, quotes Pushkin and is forever optimistic. Enemy identity is religious, faceless and threatening, with odd instrumentation of bassoons and strange trumpets. Most horrible of all is the traitor to Russia who gets killed by an angry mob. Real Russians - the ones not kicked to death by the proletariat - love their country and will fight for it.

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