Three very different classic Soviet silents
Barbara (Burkowsky) Underwood | Manly, NSW Australia | 12/14/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This special edition by Kino Video presents some excellent examples of Soviet Avant-Garde cinema, and therefore this is a good place to start if unfamiliar with this genre. Along with the visual impact and statements these films make, the musical score - especially for "End of St Petersburg" - is quite appropriate, being orchestral and very well suited to the scenes and feelings expressed in the film. I was most impressed by Pudovkin's "The End of St Petersburg", mainly for its dramatic and expressive images and the fierce passion and tempo overall. This film depicts people's struggle and the social upheavals of the revolutionary period and World War I, and it takes a bit of serious attention to appreciate the information, imagery and emotions packed into this film. As a complete contrast, "Earth", directed by Dovzhenko, has an overall slower pace, a simple storyline and different feel, yet it also expresses the plight of ordinary people, in this case farmers facing the challenge of modern technology (a tractor) and neighbourhood disputes. The picture quality isn't the best in "Earth" which is a shame because in this kind of film the images are important, but as you get into the style and feel of it, you can still appreciate the value of this film also. Finally, for a complete change of pace, "Chess Fever" by Pudovkin again never fails to put a big grin on my face as it makes a farce of people's obsession with chess during the Chess World Championship held in Moscow in 1925. This is a very clever and poignant short comedy (half an hour) that really hits the spot. Look out for the black/white checkerboard design on the main character's socks, cap, scarf and hankerchief! All three films together give a good overview of the range of Soviet films of this genre and period, and it's nice to have them on the one DVD."
A Great Russian Drama
darrell amade-vice | San Francisco Bay Area | 03/02/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"One of the early Russian film directors, Pudovkin, presents an excellent depiction of a peasants life during the time leading up to and during the October revolution, or more accurately, the events leading to the fall of the Czar, the Capitalist takeover, and the subsequent workers revolution. The Russian films of this period were considered to be the height of film art, and this silent film presents one directors vision of how great editing can make a film. This work is a good contrast to the style of another great Russian director of the period, Eisenstien, in that it works to gain the viewers sympathy and understanding of the main characters through emotion rather than Eisentsteins method of the use of intellect and heavy symbolism. The film pits the working class against capitalism and the ruling class in a struggle for survival. It has all the elements of classical Hollywood screenwriting with a main plot of the peasant struggle against the rulers and a subplot of tensions between individual characters. You can also observe the use of character arc for the main character, a peasant who goes from the selfish act of turning in a fellow worker to get a job for himself, to being fully committed to the cause of the working class and the overthrow of the rulers.If you are at all interested in viewing silent film, this is a choice movie."
The golden age of the Russian silent cinema
Stephen H. Wood | South San Francisco, CA | 08/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am not the greatest expert on Russian silent cinema, but still have a Masters degree from USC Cinema in History-Criticism. The three great filmmakers of Russian silents were Eisenstein, Podovkin, and Dovzhenko. They could not be more different. Eisenstein told a story cinematically in masterpieces like STRIKE (1924) and BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925); note the poetry in his powerful editing and dynamic visual compositions. Podovkin loved film technique, especially dynamic cutting, to tell a story. But in a classic, like THE END OF ST. PETERSBURG (1927), he does not forget to tell a gripping factory management vs. labor story. In complete contrast, Dovzhenko was Ukranian and ignored the story in favor of showing beautiful Ukraine landscapes, wheat fields and rivers, and especially the haunting faces of peasants working on their farms. His greatest film may be the silent EARTH (1930).
Which one Russian silent to recommend if you only have time for one? I am saving STRIKE and POTEMKIN for Labor Day Weekend. They are certainly the most famous films here, movies that "wrote the book" on camerawork and editing. But I like THE END OF ST. PETERSBURG quite a lot and find it very appropriate for Labor Day. In 1927, Lenin commissioned Podovkin and Eisenstein to each make a movie commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The results are Eisenstein's OCTOBER and Podovkin's END OF ST. PETERSBURG. Dynamically edited and excitingly shot, ST. PETERSBURG has a factory in 1917 where management dictates a longer work day to meet increased productivity. When the workers all go on strike, a whole city of scab workers go to work at the factory. This results in considerable bloodshed.
Over ten years, Russia goes to war--World War One, portrayed in all of its vivid brutality. The striking workers eventually go back to work, goaded on by rugged earth mother wives with babies, both of whom need food and milk. ST. PETERSBURG is unsurpassed at showing the horrors of war and the desolation of defeat. I again do not know the politics here very well, but gather that the war makes the capitalists rich and the working class more poor.
But by 1927, the Russian Revolution between peasants and weathy landowners somehow helps the working class and deprives the landowner capitalists of their money. A new Russia is born, run by Lenin as the glory of Communism in the new city of Leningrad. Podovkin is a major Russian filmmaker to be reckoned with in terms of both great filmmaking and potent storytelling. He is at his best in THE END OF ST. PETERSBURG which, incidentally, you should buy or rent in a 35mm archive print from Kino Video. Happy Labor Day Weekend!
(REVIEWED ON VHS VIDEOCASSETTE, but EARTH is a masterpiece also, one of the great films of world cinema. CHESS FEVER I am unfamiliar with.)
The machine brought the dream of happiness and a tragic deat
Jacques COULARDEAU | OLLIERGUES France | 08/28/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"That sure is beautiful filmography. It is still a silent film and it has to express the worst and deepest feelings with only the body and the face, at most some gestures. But, and that is the difference with German or English or American films of that time, the Soviets do not use the traditional symbolic gestures or face expressions. They do use those gestures that go along with the communist vision of things, with the revolutionary attitude the film defends and advocates. But the feelings themselves, like love or sadness, or suffering are exclusively expressed by natural facial language. A smile is a smile and it is not forced as it is too often in the American comic films or the German dramatic films of the time. It wants to be realistic to the last little detail. And that gives to the film a tremendous force. The story itself is of course ideological if not political but it is simple and probably true too in some respect. That the son of one of the collective farm workers is killed by the young landowner in the village is no surprise. This film is there in 1930 to justify the first purge Stalin imposes, a purge that went through without that much uproar from the world: the landowners were either willing to give their land or their land was taken away and they had to disappear in a way or another. But the joy of these collective farm workers when the first tractor arrives is so true with the dream of finally producing more with less exhausting work. That dream too is political in a way, but it is the dream of all men in the world, to produce more not by working less but by making work easier. The dream of progress, be it American or Russian or Chinese or Indian is always the same: to live better and to enjoy life, work and rest alike. This dream is painted in numerous close-up shots on faces and their expressions and that is marvelous, something to watch and appreciate. Can we still do that, or are our cinema actors more trite or concentrating more on language, even when it is dubbed afterwards? Silent films were making the actor the very center of the screen in the Soviet Union that was generally very tragic, which was less true with Fritz Lang or Laurel and Hardy, or at least in no way as realistic as with the Soviets.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines