Between many magnificent shots, which Sergei Eisenstein created for his last film, I especially love one still, that was made for the scene “Ivan and the Fresco Painters” from the third, unfinished part of the movie. It didn’t survive as a motion image, as well as other scenes of this part; in 1946, Stalin banned the second part, and in 1951, all additional materials of the unfinished film were destroyed as “erroneous”. Only few positive clippings of some frames survived. You can see here four of them. I’ll try to explain why I especially love one of the images. Eisenstein’s co-author in the creation of these shots was the great cameraman Andrei Moskvin.
…Ivan (played by Nikolai Cherkasov), dressed in a monastic cassock, rises upstairs to the young monks who decorate the Kremlin Palace with new frescoes. The tsar begins to lesson the painters, that they must “keep the purity of the ancient style”, and pokes by his staff to “picturesque mistakes”, exclaiming: “You must paint in the tradition of our teacher Andrei Rublev!”…
You can see from the shots how the young monks are surprised by the tsar’s reproaches: after all, they draw the Guardian Angel of Moscow in the Kremlin palace, and not an icon for a church.
Eisenstein’s fantasy is based on a true fact: in 1551, the Orthodox church really gave instructions “to paint icons, for example, the Holy Trinity, from ancient icon patterns, as Andrei Rublev and other famous masters painted…” Later tsar Ivan ordered to cover Rublev’s Trinity with a golden frame – it was a sign of special veneration. (Paradoxically, due to this mention and action, Rublev’s name itself survived in the annals, from there it was picked by historians and saved for us; otherwise it could have been forgotten, as many other names in Russian culture…)
My favorite shot is the third one in the proposed composition: Ivan, rising from the royal throne upstairs, to the wooden platform of painters, falls into the sunbeam beating from the window. The almighty tsar dissolves in the light!
According to ancient beliefs, light is a divine substance. In “Ivan the Terrible,” the image of Lord’s Light is expressed twice by powerful rays seen under the vaults of the Kremlin Cathedral: during the ceremony of the coronation of Ivan (in the 1st part) and (in the 2nd part) during the mystery play, while Metropolitan Philip accuses the Christian tsar of pagan cruelties. In the 3rd episode, Ivan, who considers himself to be an unlimited ruler, was supposed to disappear in the radiance of the Light of Lord of Heaven – thus, the Autocracy on Earth lost power and meaning…
I have no doubt that Eisenstein made this film in the hope, that the attentive audience sooner or later will learn to understand the visual language of cinema, and that, while watching this “painting with light”, people will understand the irony of this scene.
… I wonder if Eisenstein and Cherkasov remembered it during their meeting with Stalin in Kremlin on February 26, 1947, at night: while the Soviet leader accused the famous filmmaker for “ignorance and distortion of history”, named “Ivan the Terrible” a “mistaken film” and was teaching Eisenstein how to make cinema?