Early Russian Cinema, Volume Ten: The End of an Era
Traditional accounts of Soviet cinema have always stressed its difference from the Russian cinema of the Tsarist period, implying in the process that this earlier phase was actively hostile to social change. Not so, as we begin to realize from the tantalizing fragments that have survived. Indeed commercial producers were keen, as ever, to exploit topicality; and the eight months between 1917’s two revolutions of February and October saw a remarkable upsurge of “revolutionary” sentiment. The Revolutionary, released in April, actually provides a link into the post-October period, since its writer and star, Ivan Perestiani, went on to direct one of the few genuinely popular early Soviet classics, Red Imps, in 1923.
In 1917, the journal Teatr noted sardonically: “The film studios have come up with a number of pictures tailored to ‘the moment.’ They have paid their dues to society though they have taken their cut too. The Revolutionary and The Provocateur were produced hastily in two or three days and are distinguished neither by their plots nor by any originality in their production.” It went on to record, however, that The Revolutionary “is a vivid example of agitational cinema, and that it drew applause when shown.”
For Luck also marked a transition: a tragically early end to the career of Bauer, who died after an injury sustained while on location in the Crimea for this film; and an early appearance by the future pioneer of Soviet montage, Lev Kuleshov. Kuleshov was already working as an art director with Bauer, when he was asked also to play the part of Lee’s hopeless young suitor. The central scheme of the film — a daughter and mother both in love with the same man — and the extraordinary intensity brought to the final scenes, in which the daughter’s psychological blindness becomes physical when she is rejected, show Bauer at the height of his subtle powers.
Behind the Screen is no more than a fragment of the major two-part film, A Life Destroyed by Pitiless Fate, released in November 1917, by which time most of the personnel involved in it would have already moved south on their way into emigration. Its film studio setting, therefore, has a coincidental poignancy, a farewell to the Russian cinema by two of its greatest stars, Mozzhukhin and Lisenko.
THE REVOLUTIONARY (Revoliutsioner). Director: Evgeni Bauer. Screenplay: Ivan Perestiani. Photography: Boris Zavelev. Production Company: Khanzhonkov. Released April 3, 1917. Cast: Ivan Perestiani (Granddad, on old revolutionary). Vladimir Strizhevskii (His son). Zoia Barantsevich (His daughter). Mikhail Stal’skii (A dying convict). Also Konstantin Zubov, K. Askochenskii, Vasilii Il’in.
FOR LUCK (Zo schost em / K schost’iu). Director: Evgeni Bauer. Screenplay: N. Dennitsyna. Photography: Boris Zavelev. Art Director: Lev Kuleshov. Production Company: Khanzhonkov. Released March 9, 1917. Cast: Nikolai Radin (Dmitrii Gzkotskii, a lawyer). Lidiia Koreneva (Zoia Vrenskaia, a rich widow). Taisiia Borman (Lee, her daughter). Lev Kuleshov (Enrico, an artist). N. Dennitsyna (Lee’s governess). Emmochka Bauer (A girl). Aleksandr Kheruvimov (The doctor).
BEHIND THE SCREEN (fragment) (Kulisy ekrana). Alternate title: A LIFE DESTROYED BY PITILESS FATE (Razbita zhizn’ bezzhalostnoi sud’boi). Director/Screenplay: Georgii Azagarov (?) & Aleksandr Volkov (?). Photography: Nikolai Toporkov. Production Company: Ermol’ev. Released November 28, 1917. Drama in 2 parts. [Only one reel preserved.] Cast: Ivan Mozzhukhin (Himself). Natalia Lisenko (Herself). Nikolai Panov (Studio director). Themselves: Lirskii, Iona Talanov, and Andrei Brei.
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