KinoKultura: Issue 37 (2012)

Belye Stolby 2012: Commemorations and Discoveries

By Sergei Kapterev and Nikolai Maiorov

The 2012 edition of the annual archive festival of the Russian State Film Archive (Gosfilmofond) was centered on the 100th anniversary of Russian animation, showing an impressive range of less known and rare animated pieces, reflecting priorities and fashions of different historical periods, as well as some unique newly restored films, of which more below. Of course, the festival’s program included plenty of non-animation, covering—as usual—an impressive range of national cinemas, personalities and issues and, of course, allotting a special place to Russian cinema.

The festival’s traditional commemorative section also marked the 100th anniversary of the actor Sergei Filippov with a short film, Ignorant People (Temnye liudi), made in 1959 at the Moscow Popular Science Studio (Mosnauchfilm) as part of Nikita Khrushchev’s campaign against religion; and the 100th anniversary of the film historian Rostislav Iurenev, whose work includes an influential history of Soviet comedy and major studies of leading Soviet filmmakers.

dnevnikThe commemorative section also marked the deaths of the actresses Iia Savvina and Liudmila Gurchenko, represented through their roles in Boris Frumin’s “problem melodrama” The Diary of a School Principal (Dnevnik direktora shkoly, 1975); and of the director Tatiana Lioznova, who was commemorated through her first film, The Heart’s Memory (Pamiat’ serdtsa, 1958), a WWII melodrama based on a screenplay of Lioznova’s mentor Sergei Gerasimov. This film’s theme of Soviet-British wartime alliance reflected Khrushchev’s other, more noble effort to create conditions for peaceful interaction with the West.

The most important commemoration of the year, the 200th anniversary of the Russian victory in the “pre-cinematic” war against Napoleon, was celebrated with the demonstration of the well-known, but rarely seen and not fully preserved, but still impressive feature 1812, produced in Russia with French participation for the event’s 100th anniversary and stylistically inspired by historical military paintings; and by Humans, Too (Tozhe liudi),a 1959 short film based on an episode from War and Peace and directed by Georgii Daneliia during his student years with considerable interpretative and formal skill.

Special mention should be made of Gosfilmofond’s commemoration, through a montage of wonderful fragments from many wonderful films, of the centenary of Georgian cinema. In spite of the current rift between the two nations, Georgian cinema continues to remain a significant component of Russian intellectual culture. This makes one hope that the near future will see, at least in the cultural sphere, a more historically justifiable and productive interaction between Georgia and Russia.

Documentary materials from the World War II period have become the festival’s staple. This year, the events of 1942 were covered by newsreels presented by Gosfilmofond’s partner, the Russian State Documentary Film and Photo Archive (RGAKFD); and by the Soviet release version of Desert Victory (Pobeda v pustyne), the 1943 British record of the North African campaign, a potential object for comparative analysis. 

Another documentary shown at the festival was Sentenced by the Court – Sentenced by the People (Prigovor suda – prigovor naroda), a 30-minute propagandist account of the Stalinist trials directed in 1938 by Il’ia Kopalin. It was juxtaposed with Mission to Moscow (Missiia v Moskvu), an opportunistic production impeccably executed in Hollywood in 1943. As part of the FDR administration’s campaign to obtain greater Soviet cooperation in the war effort, it also justified the Stalinist terror of the late 1930s—and possibly served as a model for such multi-personage pieces of Stalinist historical propaganda as The Fall of Berlin (Padenie Berlina, 1950) and The Unforgettable Year 1919 (Nezabyvaemyi 1919g., 1951).

sadkoAnother international comparison was provided by a brief, fragment-based analysis of the anecdotal case involving Grigorii Aleksandrov’s The Jolly Fellows (Veselye rebiata, 1934). At the time of the film’s release, Aleksandrov was loudly accused of plagiarizing such Hollywood genre films as The Battling Orioles (1924)and Love Me Tonight (1932), as well as The Congress Dances (Der Kongress tanzt, 1931), the early German and international sound hit. The issue raised at the festival concerned the inevitability and productiveness of appropriation, especially in the course of technical and aesthetic change.

As a counterbalance to this instance of creative adoption, the program looked at two, even more direct, American appropriations of Aleksandr Ptushko’s Sadko (1952) and Sampo (1958). These films were slightly re-edited (in Sadko’s case, by young Francis Ford Coppola), dubbed into English and released—in 1962 and 1963, respectively—with new narratives and under new titles (The Magic Voyage of Sinbad and The Day the Earth Froze) as American productions.  

nalimOne of the highlights of this year’s program was a presentation of three-dimensional color films produced at the beginning of the 1950s on the basis of the “Stereo-35, Frame-by-Frame” system developed in the Soviet Union at the end of the 1940s. They have recently been reconstructed under the aegis of Gosfilmofond by Nikolai Maiorov, an enthusiastic theoretical and practical expert in technically complex, experimental and “novelty value” cinema. Maiorov’s ingenious reconstructions included the atmospheric sketch Park Alleys (V alleiakh parka 1952); Aleko (1953), a feature based on Sergei Rakhmaninov’s operatic treatment of a Pushkin poem and the world’s only operatic film shot in stereo, restored digitally by Gosfilmofond from the original colour negative; and The Burbot (Nalim, 1953), a vivid 27-minute adaptation of three of Chekhov’s short stories (“The Burbot,” “Fish Business,” and “From the Notes of a Short-Tempered Man”) with especially fine, aesthetically successful 3-D effects and featuring the famous Soviet actors Andrei Popov, Georgii Milliar, and Sergei Martinson.

Recent archival discoveries were represented at the festival by fragments – probably, preparatory materials – from two lost films, Lenin’s Address (1928) and Fritz Bauer (1930), produced in Leningrad by Vladimir Petrov, a disciple of Gordon Craig and the future maker of Peter the First (1937-39), and shot by Viacheslav Gordanov, one of the most accomplished Soviet cinematographers. The festival’s audience also had an opportunity to see newly-restored materials from the Aleksandr Shiriaev archive. They included two hitherto unseen 35-mm pieces of his stop motion animation (previously showcased at the Gosfilmofond festival in 2004) and records of performances of Shiriaev’s ballet students photographed in 35 mm in the 1920s, as well as comic skits, a couple of trick films, an instance of Shiriaev’s own dancing, and 1907-1909 home movies remarkable for their “modern” improvisatory freshness—all shot in the rare format of 17.5 mm.

In the opinion of many, this year’s installment of the festival was one of the most appealing. It reconfirmed Gosfilmofond’s ability to combine creatively scholarship and entertainment, promising even greater diversity and further discoveries and revelations.

Sergei Kapterev, Moscow

volk i 7 kozliatIn colour again…
After 70 years in oblivion Soviet colour animation films of the 1930s finally return to the screen in their full beauty. In a unique experiment two of Mosfilm’s three-colour films The Miraculous Traffic Light (Chudesnyi svetofor) and Tale of a Fisherman and a Fish (Skazka o rybake i rybke) have been restored digitally; they were shown at Belye Stolby 2011. This year, the restoration has been continued to include further colour films made at Mosfilm, Lenfilm and Soyuzmultfilm in the Soviet three-colour system.

At Mosfilm, a total of five films were shot in this method developed by Pavel Mershin, which have been transferred to digital format to make it possible once again to view them, as the original projection technology is not longer functional. Of particular interest is the first colour film The Fox and the Wolf (Lisa i volk) made by Sarra Mokil’ in 1936, which was shown to great acclaim and audience success before the war. Unfortunately, the final frames of the film have not been preserved and there is no positive print of the film either. However, the soundtrack has been preserved in full so the tale has an ending! Sarra Mokil’s The Wolf and the Seven Goats (Volk i semero kozliat, 1938) and Aleksandr Ptushko’s Testament (Zaveshchanie, 1937) complete the restoration of Mosfilm’s colour films of the 1930s.

ded ivanLenfilm’s colour animation included a musical version of the fairy tale Teremok by directors Aleksandr Sinitsyn and Vitalii Siukin. The film is not only an animated version of the well-known story, but is accompanied by music composed by Isaak Dunaevsky, famous for his scores to the Soviet musical comedies of the 1930s by Grigorii Aleksandrov.

Uncle Ivan (Kak ded Ivan smert’ prognal) staged at Soyuzmultfilm by Aleksandr Ivanov in 1939 reminds the viewer strongly of the success of the Soviet construction project and of the method of Socialist Realism and its application in animated films.

Restoration work continues on other colour films of the 1930s and 1940s… for next year’s Belye Stolby festival. 

Nikolai Maiorov, Moscow

Sergei Kapterev, Nikolai Maiorov © 2012

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Updated: 04 Jul 12