Friday, April 22, 2011

Ivan the Terrific

Last night's film was "Ivan the Terrible", the Stalin-era epic from Sergei Eisenstein. This chronicles the rise of the tsar, who conquered neighboring lands to make Russia into a super-state, crushed his domestic enemies who were always plotting against him for their own nefarious purposes, and consolidated and centralized power so he could do the best for the people.

Sound familiar? It's no wonder Stalin approved the film, it basically justifies the power-mad and cruel leader, despite the fact that the hero is a tsar--the very type of monarch the Communists replaced. Apparently, "terrible" translated in Russian is more akin to "terrifying" than "awful". And Ivan was nothing if not terrifying--tall and gaunt, with sloping eyebrows and pointy beard, he sort of looked like something from Tim Burton's nightmares.

The actor playing Ivan, Nikolai Cherka-something, is well made up to look a lot like the tsar's portraits, and his spooky voice makes his character one you don't want to be in a room with. The director made good use of shadow to give this a spectral presence, and build the character into an almost otherworldly spook.

The film got me thinking, though, why is it that we Americans gets leaders who are bumbling cornpones (Jimmy Carter, George W Bush), touchy feely creeps (Clinton), evil rich plutocrats (FDR) or stand-up comedians (Calvin Coolidge), and the Russians get leaders who are all insane psychopaths out of a Michael Bay movie? Peter the Great literally ripped beards off of people's faces, Stalin was a longtime train robber, and Putin--don't even get started on Putin! If as pacifists would like the wars of the world were fought by heads of state rather than soldiers, there's no doubt that Vladimir Putin would be right now clonking Obama and Sarkossy's heads together while bitch-slapping David Cameron with his bare foot.