On to the early Soviet Revolutionary chapter in the Vogel book, characterized in form by “an
aggressive rejection of conventional methods and systems and a profound concern with the theory and language of film.” He writes on Eisenstein’s Strike and montage theory, the aesthetic poetry of Dovzhenko’s Earth, the avant-documentary of Vertov’s Man With The Movie Camera, and this Pudovkin. VP is described as “more sensuous and less cerebral than Eisenstein or Vertov” – I’d seen his wonderful Mother and Chess Fever, but not this one.

Master Mongol fur hunter is sick, sending his son to the bazaar. Much is made of the lovely fur he’s gonna sell which will feed them for months, so you know something’s gonna happen, and pretty soon a monk praying for the old man’s healing attempts to grab it as payment until the son kicks his ass and takes it back. The music is all light flutes for 15 minutes until a low bass kicks in when the suit-wearing whites appear “who guard the interest of capitalism.”

There’s a panic in town when the son punches a capitalist for offering too little, everyone flees while the white guy comically falls down getting lost in his own coat. “AVENGE THE WHITE MAN’S BLOOD” say the titles after he knifes an enforcer in self defense, never a phrase you want to see, and son goes on the run.

Sinister Whites:

The white man’s blood:

It’s an exciting and plotty movie, incidentally with lots of sword dancing and some cat tossing. Our guy runs into pro-soviet partisans fighting in the mountains, rescues their chief by tossing an enemy machine gunner off a cliff, and joins the struggle until captured and executed by the whites. But as he rolls down a cliff, they discover the amulet he’d recovered from the ass-kicked monk back at dad’s house, and believe him to be a descendant of Genghis Khan, rushing to save his life in order to install him as a puppet ruler.

Son in the mountains:

In chains:

The whites dress him in their clothes, never noticing the simmering rage on his face. He’s reunited with his enemy and property, snatching his fox fur from the evil furrier’s girl, prompting her to get the vapors and the white trader to go on a racist tirade, while in a back room the other whites draw up papers to steal the country. After a prisoner is shot right in front of the son he finally speaks up, and as he rages, the picture and intertitles begin to strobe. Finally, he grabs a sword and rides away, a literal storm blowing away the whites who give chase.


Other strong images and episodes had … a powerful, radicalizing impact
on audiences: the Mongol about to be executed, heedlessly walking through a mud puddle which his “civilized” British executioner studiously avoids … a dignified Lama priest and a ridiculous British general’s wife cross cut while dressing for a formal occasion … Altogether, the film is an object lesson in visual political cinema, glowing with revolutionary fervor and hatred for oppression.

Valéry Inkijinoff the Son would continue acting, appearing in late Fritz Lang movies, a non-Lang Mabuse, and an Eddie Constantine action flick. The furrier was in Pudovkin’s previous film The End of St. Petersburg. Pudovkin himself acted in films by the other major filmmakers mentioned above.

Another Russian movie full of visual and sound innovation that wears out its welcome after an hour and forty-five minutes of tedious state propaganda. I’m lost from the beginning – when the workers strike, are we on their side? We must be – in a Russian movie we are always on the workers’ side. But then wise Zelle with his hitler mustache tells us that a strike is unwise. A newsgirl is scolded by a policeman. Police vs. striker battle. Months pass. A boat is named “the five-year plan”. Someone is killed by a car chauffeuring a bored rich gentleman. Another guy jumps into the river (in gorgeous slow-mo) after reading a headline about mechanizations that can replace ten workers with a single machine operator. Negotiations continue. Finally the strikers are machine-gunned down, then strike-breakers march in while the soundtrack still plays the moans of the dying. Meanwhile, striker Karl Renn stays home because he’s tired of the whole thing. The survivors, I suppose, hold a meeting and decide to send four reps to the Soviet Union aboard “their” ship. I wasn’t aware that shipyard workers owned the ships they built, nor did I realize until halfway through the movie that it’s set in Germany! Whoops.

They send the four least useful workers, including shirker Karl Renn, to Russia for inspiration or something. After a massive welcoming parade, Karl joins a factory for some months, and sees it pull together with shock workers to complete an important project. Much, much, much typical proletariat talk precedes and follows, culminating in an endless speech by Renn made more endless by a german-russian translator. I did learn that the enemy of the German workers is the “social democrats” – should’ve realized that. Back in Germany, Zelle is dead and Renn joins the struggle. Movie ends with a wordless montage of cops beating the shit out of protestors.

It’s a part-talkie with total silence during some scenes. There are cool sound moments in others. The newsgirl’s voice keeps cutting off the music, which immediately restarts after, cut into shreds. Extremely rapid-fire cutting at times, too fast for my computer to keep from fragmenting the DVD image, with almost subliminal shots of explosions during the machine-guns-vs.-strikers scene. More explosions are superimposed over quick-cut exciting scenes – Pudovkin was a proto-Michael Bay.

Renn: “Long live communist party!”

From one of the writers of Potemkin. The newsgirl was Tamara Makarova, a film actress through the 80’s, and Karl Renn was in October. In Germany we see a movie theater playing Madchen In Uniform.

The NY Times’ 1934 review begins: “While the crushing of the labor movement in Germany during the two years devoted by V.I. Pudovkin to the production of his first dialogue motion picture has robbed it of much of its timeliness, the main theme of Deserter remains unaffected by the triumph of Hitlerism.”

Dramatizes the 1905 Russian Revolution. Although I didn’t know that until I looked it up after the movie, because I know nothing of history or Russia. Apparently Battleship Potemkin is about a military uprising during the same time, and the 1905 events led to the 1917 revolution which took out the Tsars and formed the Soviet Union. So that’s why the ending, which seems tragic, is filmed as if it’s a great victory.

Full of great editing, a few cool overlapping images. Pudovkin worked under Lev Kuleshov, using his teacher’s montage theories to make grand works of propaganda, “far less ambiguously so than his rival Eisenstein.” I was in the mood for some Russian cinema, thought I’d watch a bunch of early features leading up to Emory’s presentation of I Am Cuba on 35mm, but I got busy, only watched this one and missed Cuba.

Brilliantly tense movie, vaguely similar to the other film called Mother I’ve watched recently in that both mothers try to free their sons from jail, becoming more like their sons along the way. In this one, she is partly responsible for his arrest, revealing a cache of weapons he was hiding after his group’s unionist revolt takes a bad turn. Later, she has turned against the state and teamed with the unionists, marching on the prison to free their comrades. Everyone we liked is dead in the end, but the individual is unimportant anyhow; the movement lives on.

J. Jones:
“The montage effects are different from those of Eisenstein, who believed editing was a way of achieving dissonance, making a jagged cinema of conflict. Pudovkin is more lyrical. His cross-cuts, while dramatic, do not break up but enhance the narrative.”

Also checked out:
Twilight of a Woman’s Soul (1913, Yevgeni Bauer)

Unfortunately, I found it a dullsville tableau drama, despite minor excitement over a mild camera move or two, a flashback and the presence of such a taboo subject as rape in a silent film. Seems like a good study film for an early-cinema class, but it’s not thrilling my current urge to watch quality Russian cinema. The film’s writer played the rapist, ha.