Saturday September 16th at 3.30 p.m.
This was one of several films commissioned in order to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Great October Revolution. The most famous of these is Sergei Eisenstein’s October Ten Days that Shook the World (1928). Both films include sequences showing the storming of the Winter Place: in fact the filming of these sequences found the two productions ‘stepping on each others’ heels’.
However, Vsevolod Pudovkin, the director, has a different approach to drama and to ‘montage’ from Eisenstein. There are parallels between this film and his earlier adaptation of a Maxim Gorky’s novel, Mother / Mat (1926). This film follows the experiences of a young rural worker who migrates to St Petersburg in search of employment. We follow him in a linear fashion as he experiences the exploitation of the proletariat in Tsarist Russia and he becomes politicised. The film includes very fine sequences showing the advent of war, the experiences of the Russian army and then the series of conflicts that led to the overthrow, first of the Tsarist regime, and then of its bourgeois successor.
Pudovkin, together with his script writer Nathan Zarkhi and the cinematographer Anatoli Golovnya, present the city, the social movements and its representative characters with a strong sense of the world they live in and of the historic events in which they were involved. Whilst Eisenstein’s film ends with the Vladimir Lenin announcing the start of Socialist Construction Pudovkin’s film ends on a quieter note, expressive of the victory but also of the cost it has levied.
The film is screening in a 35mm black and white print. It should have English sub-titles for the Russian title cards and lasts about 85 minutes. This screening enjoys a specially composed musical score by the Harmonie Band who specialise in Silent Film accompaniments.
This is fine film and a signal celebration as we approach the anniversary of the most important event of the C20th. Hopefully we can look forward to other significant dramas and records of 1917.
So welcome to the year in which we celebrate the centenary of the Great October Revolution. One enjoyable form of celebration will be to watch some of the masterworks of Soviet Montage Cinema. One obvious candidate is Sergei Eisenstein’s film of the historic event, Oktyabr (Ten Days That Shook the World, 1928).
Other key films that we may hopefully see this year on 35mm [four with live music) would be:
The New Babylon (Novyy Vavilon, 1929) directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg. A powerful dramatisation of the historic Paris Commune of 1871: a forerunner for the October revolution.
Mother (Mat, 1926) directed by Vsevolod Pudovkin. Set during the Russian Revolution of 1905 and based on the 1906 novel ‘The Mother’ by Maxim Gorky.
The Girl with a Hatbox (Devushka s korobkoy, 1927) directed by Boris Barnet and starring Anna Sten. The film satirises the ‘Nepmen’, entrepreneurs who were allowed to conduct commercial business during the New Economic Policy of the 1920s.
Earth (Zemlya, 1930) directed by Alexander Dovzhenko and dealing with the process of collectivization and the hostility exhibited by the Kulak landowners.
Enthusiasm (Entuziazm / Simfoniya Donbassa, 1931) directed by Dziga Vertov. A film celebrating Socialist Construction in the Don Valley of the Ukraine. Needs to be seen with its original soundtrack rather than with live music.
Tuesday 23rd August at 6.30 p.m.
This is a part of the ‘Sculpting Time’ Andrei Tarkovsky retrospective. It was his first feature, shot in black and white and in Academy ratio. The film is set in the Ukraine, on the front line between the Soviet and German armies in World War II. Ivan (Nikolay Burlyaev) is a young boy acting as scout for the Soviet army, frequently working behind the German lines. An important aspect of the film is his strong relationship with the Soviet officers who run the post from which he works. He also carries the scars of past events.
Whilst the film belongs to a recognisable Soviet genre, as in all of Tarkovsky’s films, the plot is less important than the characters and the settings: the latter are as important as some of the characters. It is also full of the motifs and imagery that would become familiar in later works. Time Out, in praising this impressive film, noted:
“Ivan silently wading through still water, eerily immanent forestscapes, the poetry of forbidden zones, and life-and-death struggles played in slow motion.”
I would argue that this, along with Andrei Rublev (1966), is the filmmaker’s finest work. Certainly the film is beautifully produced and one should note the important contributions of the film’s craft people: the script was written by Vladimir Bogomolov, Production Design by Evgeniy Chernyaev, Cinematography by Vadim Yusov, Film Editing by Lyudmila Feyginova, Music by Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov. It runs for the original 95 minutes and has English subtitles.
And you can still collect the sets of well designed lobby cards from Curzon / Artificial Eye.
Screening on Tuesday August 18th at 7.00 p.m. The film hardly needs recommendation. A Soviet classic, from an excellent print from the Nederlands Filmmuseum and digitally restored by Lobster Films: both the latter are in the forefront of early cinema archival work. And this silent film is presented with a musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra, who went back to the archives and Vertov’s own musical notations for the original screening, [to accompany a screening at the 1995 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto].
Dziga Vertov is usually credited as director, but the credits read ‘Author and Supervisor’. The film sprang from a collective of Kinocs [the cinema of kino-eye]: with cinematographer Mikhail Kaufman and editor Elizaveta Svilova. Other radical Soviet artists were also involved in their work, so that the famous posters for the film were designed by Georgii and Vladimir Stenberg. It is worth adding some context. The film was produced by the Ukrainian Film and Photography Administration [VUFKU]. 1929 saw the cementing of a new political line in the Soviet Union, best represented by ‘Socialism in One Country’. The emphasis was on technology rather than social relations and in art and culture there was a retreat from radical form to the more conventional. However, for a while, an outpost of more radical style and content continued in the Ukraine: VUFKU had already produced Alexander Dovzhenko’s Arsenal in 1928. Thus much of the city footage was shot in Kiev and Odessa, with some found footage from the Kinocs’ earlier films for Goskino in Moscow. The radical form of the film can be seen in the opening credits and introduction, one of the most reflexive sequences in all cinema.
“This film, made in the transitional period immediately preceding the introduction of sound and excluding titles, joins the human life cycle with the cycles of work and leisure of a city from dawn to dusk within the spectrum of industrial production. That production includes filmmaking (itself presented as a range of productive labour processes), mining, steel production, communications, postal service, construction, hydro-electric power installation and the textile industry in a seamless organic continuum, whose integrity is continually asserted by the strategies of visual analogy and rhyme, rhythmic patterning, parallel editing, superimposition, accelerated and decelerated motion, camera movement – in short, the use of every optical device and filming strategy then available to film technology. …. ‘the activities of labour, of coming and going, of eating, drinking and clothing oneself,’ of play, are seen as depending upon the material production of ‘life itself’. (Annette Michelson in the Edited Writings of Vertov).
The film is often compared to the cycle of city films of the period: e.g. Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927). However, this is a film about people in the city and it is consciously political. In fact, it is a paean to Socialist Construction, a still meaningful term in 1929. Thus the final sequences of the film address themselves directly to the audience, the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union. This remains not only a great documentary but one of the outstanding products of the revolutionary 1920s Soviet Cinema.