Silent Soviet Cinema

The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks/Neobychainye priklyucheniya mistera Vesta v strane bolshevikov

Lev Kuleshov | USSR | 1924 | 94 minutes

An example of ironic Soviet propagandistic film from the silent era, this film chronicles the adventures of an American, “Mr. West,” and his faithful bodyguard and servant Jeddie, as they visit the land of the horrible, evil Bolsheviks. Through various mishaps, Mr. West discovers that the Soviets are actually quite remarkable people, and, by the end of the film, his opinion of them has changed to one of glowing admiration!

Wednesday 14th November 2012 7:00 PM

The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty/Padenie dinastii Romanovykh

Esfir Shub | USSR | 1927 | 90 minutes

Using archival news footage, Esfir Shub pieces together a chronology of Russia, from 1913 to 1917. She introduces leaders of the Duma, gentry and peasants, soldiers and sailors, the bourgeoisie, and the Czar. In May of 1913, Europe’s crowned heads come to Petrograd to celebrate 300 years of Romanov rule even as most of them prepare for war. As war erupts, so does Russia: strikes in Petrograd and marches in Moscow threaten the regime. The Duma tries to survive, seeking accommodation with the Soviets. March 4, 1917, Nicholas abdicates; March 27, a mass funeral in Petrograd for those who died in the struggle to bring down the Romanovs; then, Lenin returns from exile.

Wednesday 21st November 2012 7:00 PM

Turksib

Victor A. Turin | USSR | 1929 | 57 minutes

Exploding the idea of the documentary as a staid, emotionally detached genre, Turksib and Salt for Svanetia applied the striking compositions and charged kineticism of Soviet montage to the fledgling genre and achieved an unprecedented intensity.

Resisting the character-driven narrative adhered to by the rest of the world’s filmmakers, Victor Turin formulated a grand, elemental drama centered around the struggle for survival in Asia, from the arid plains of Turkestan to the icy Siberian mountains. Turksib depicts the depicts the herculean accomplishment of joining these distant and disparate regions by rail – an awesome monument to Soviet engineering that is also a satisfying spectacle to behold on a purely primal level.

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Salt for Svanetia/Jim Shvante

Mikhail Kalatzov | USSR | 1930 | 55 minutes

This is one of the earliest ethnographic films, documenting the life of the Svan people in the isolated mountain village of Ushguli in Svanetia, in the northwestern part of the Georgian Soviet Republic. Containing some propaganda, the climax of the film shows how a Soviet built road connects the previously isolated mountain village to Soviet civilisation.

Wednesday 28th November 2012 7:00 PM

The House on Trubnaya/Dom na Trubnoy

Boris Barnet | USSR | 1928 | 64 minutes

There is a traditional Russian story about a young woman who leaves her village to go the city and is taken advantage of by an unscrupulous man. Her experience in the city is very negative and she returns to the countryside, where she is treated as an outcast. This is the story that inspired The House on Trubnaia Street. Whereas the traditional cautionary story is very much a tragedy, Barnet takes it and transforms it into a story of hope for the then fresh and nascent Soviet society. It is a Soviet movie, but it is in no way heavy-handed, nor does it try and shove anything down your throat, in fact Barnet transforms the story into a comedy.

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Stride Soviet!/Shagay, sovet!

Dziga Vertov | USSR | 1926 | 65 minutes

In 1925, the city council was up for re-election and commissioned Vertov to make a film for them. Clearly, they expected some kind of propaganda piece; instead they got a provocative, highly innovative work that reflects on one of Vertov’s favorite themes, the “humanization of machines” vs. the “mechanization of humanity”. Not surprisingly, after suggesting an enormous range of cuts and additions, the authorities refused to show the film.

Wednesday 5th December 2012 7:00 PM

By the Law/Po zakonu

Lev Kuleshov | USSR | 1926 | 80 minutes

A five-person team of gold prospectors in the Yukon has just begun to enjoy great success when one of the members snaps, and suddenly kills two of the others. The two survivors, a husband and wife, subdue the killer but are then faced with an agonizing dilemma. With no chance of turning him over to the authorities for many weeks, they must decide whether to exact justice themselves or to risk trying to keep him restrained until they can return to civilization.

Adapted from the Jack London story.

Wednesday 12th December 2012 7:00 PM

Old and New AKA The General Line/Staroye i novoye

Sergei Eisenstein | USSR | 1929 | 121 minutes

The General Line was begun in 1927 as a celebration of the collectivization of agriculture, as championed by old-line Bolshevik Leon Trotsky. Hoping to reach a wide audience, the director forsook his usual practice of emphasizing groups by concentrating on a single rural heroine. Eisenstein briefly abandoned this project to film October: Ten Days That Shook the World, in honour of the 10th anniversary of the Revolution. By the time he was able to return to this film, the Party’s attitudes had changed and Trotsky had fallen from grace. As a result, the film was hastily re-edited and sent out in 1929 under a new title, The Old and the New. In later years, archivists restored The General Line to an approximation of Eisenstein’s original concept. Much of the director’s montage-like imagery—such as using simple props to trace the progress from the agrarian customs of the 19th-century to the more mechanized procedures of the 20th—was common to both versions of the film.

Wednesday 9th January 2013 7:00 PM