Magazine article American Cinematographer

Alexander Nevsky Comes Back in Style

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Alexander Nevsky Comes Back in Style

Article excerpt

Movies were married to music almost from the first; long before the spoken word joined in. The tinkle of a piano or the rumbling of an organ sufficed as accompaniment to the early "flickers" and continued to serve the purpose in small town and neighborhood theaters for more than 30 years. In large metropolitan houses the increasingly sophisticated silent films were accompanied by increasingly effective scores played by "grand orchestras" approaching symphonic proportions. What could be better?

The early "talkies" certainly were not. Cinematography reverted to its lowest estate in years as voices on records and tracks blabbed incessantly. Music was either sparse, utilitarian or non-existent, and in recorded form it could hardly compete with a live performance. Within a few years cameras were moving again, sound tracks were less tinny, and canned talk calmed down to normal.

One of the times when veteran moviegoers longed for the old days of live musical accompaniment was when the Soviet film, Alexander Nevsky, was shown in 1938. Here was a picture with magnificent visuals, representing the collaboration of director-writer Sergei M. Eisenstein and cinematographer Eduard Tisse; spare dialogue, and a superb musical score by Sergei Prokofiev. The music was more than an accompaniment to the photography; it was conceived in advance and developed during production as an organic part of the structure.

The U.S. release prints were marred by muddy duping to accommodate English subtitles which were necessary but intrusive. The sound recording was so primitive as to do less than justice to Prokofiev's score. Alexander Nevsky was widely admired, nonetheless.

It's unfortunate that Eisenstein, Tisse and Prokofiev are no longer alive, because their great collaboration is now returning in the grand style it deserves, almost a half-century " after its premiere. Thanks to the sponsorship of AT&T, Alexander Nevsky will be presented in a series of concerts in which the screen images are crisp and clear, the English dialogue titles are projected below the frameline, the spoken dialogue and sound effects have been rejuvenated, and the music is performed - live! - by great symphony orchestras and choirs under world famed conductors.

The deluxe edition premieres in Los Angeles at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion November 3, with André Previn conducting the Los Angeles Symphony and Master Chorale.

The next performance will take place in Severance Hall, Cleveland, on November 22, with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Cleveland Orchestra. In the spring of 1988 it will be presented at Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting the National Symphony Orchestra.

John Goberman, producer of public television's Live From Lincoln Center series, conceived the idea of the concert performances and is producer of the events for AT&T. He secured new prints from the original nitrate negatives, had the voices and sound effects enhanced by the latest means, had new and much improved subtitles written, and devised the method of projecting them outside of the picture area. He also had composer William Brohn arrange the original studio orchestra score for full symphony.

"Nobody has ever really heard this film," Goberman said, citing the small orchestra and the poor sound track. "Yet the film was conceived almost as an opera, with the music equal to the picture in importance. This is the first time that film audiences will hear the film and music audiences will see the music."

Alexander Nevsky, the titular hero of the film, is one of the few leaders of ancient Russia to survive the many drastic changes in the political, social and religious systems of the past century. Following the Bolshevik Revolution and the establishment of the USSR, most of the tsars and military leaders of "Holy Russia" were no longer considered heroes, whatever their success in dealing with the hordes of invaders that plagued the country for centuries. …

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