Alphaville Videoteca

Early Russian Cinema, Vol. 3: Wladyslaw Starewicz (1913-1915)

Rusia. Animación. 58 minutos
Título Original: Early Russian Cinema, Vol. 3: Wladyslaw Starewicz
Director: Wladyslaw Starewicz
Formato: DVD  Calidad: DVD
Idioma: Silente   Subtítulos: Inglés

Early Russian Cinema Volume Three: LADISLAW STAREWICZ

- THE DRAGONFLY AND THE ANT (Strekoza i muravei). Director/Screenplay/Photography/Art Direction: Ladislaw Starewicz. Based on Krylov’s fable. Production Company: Khanzhonkov. Released February 22, 1913.

- CHRISTMAS EVE (Noch’pered rozhdestvom). Director/Screenplay/Photography/Art Direction: Ladislaw Starewicz. Based on the story by Nikolai Gogol. Production Company: Khanzhonkov. Released December 26, 1913. Cast: Ivan Mozzhukhin (Devil). Ol’ga Obolenskaia (Oksana). Lidiia Tridenskaia (Solokha). P. Lophukin (Vakula). A. Kheruvimov (Golova). Pavel Knorr (Chub).

- THE LILY OF BELGIUM (Liliia Bel’gii; also known as The Suffering and Resurrection of Belgium and An Allegory of Today). Director/Screenplay/Photography/Art Director: Ladislaw Starewicz. Text: Boris Martov. Production Company: Skobelev Committee. Released 1915? Cast: Irina Starewicz.

“Starewicz is one of those cinemagicians whose name deserves to stand in film history alongside those of Méliès, Emil Cohl and Disney.” Charles Ford’s 1958 claim could scarcely be verified until recent years — as Jayne Pilling noted in her 1983 booklet — due to the unavailability of most of Starewicz’s films to view. During the 80s, his stock rose rapidly as archival co-operation made at least some of the key films visible. These, however, were mainly from his French period and were vastly different from his very earliest Russian insect fables. What the opening up of Romanov cinema has revealed is the much wider range of his work in the years 1913-17, including a few surviving examples of his all-live-action films.

This collection includes examples of the three main strands of his early work. First, The Dragonfly and the Ant, based on a fable by the classic Russian writer Krylov, reveals the poetic elegance of Starewicz’s debut. The film was shown at court and rewarded by a gift and praise from the Tsar — which also reflected well on Starewicz’s patron, Khanzkonkov.

Adaptations of Gogol were another constant thread running through Starewicz’s work up to 1919, giving full rein to a love of the grotesque and the macabre which is also evident in the animal puppet films. Christmas Eve — which includes one of Mozzhukhin’s oddest character roles, as the devil — was apparently a great success, hailed by a contemporary reviewer as “sparkling with pure Gogolesque humor and ... accompanied by continuous laughter from the public.” Russia’s entry into the Great War produced a wave of patriotic propaganda from artists in many media.

Starewicz’s contribution varied from the knockabout satire of Mars’ Stepson and How the German General Signeda Pact with the Devil (both 1914) to the curious and touching Lily of Belgium. This uses one of his favorite techniques of mixing live-action with stop-frame animation to create an unashamed allegory of the German rape of Belgium.

Born into a Polish-Lithuanian family which had moved to Moscow, Starewicz was brought up by his grandmother in the Lithuanian town of Kaunas. He was a rebellious child who took little interest in formal education, but showed early graphic ability. He was also fascinated by photography and by entomology. His search for backing to make documentary films about the Kaunas region eventually brought him to the attention of the Moscow producer Aleksandr Khanzhonkov and led to the fusion of his twin passions. Apparently his planned film of a stag beetle fight was frustrated by one of the subjects dying under the studio lights. This led Starewicz to improvise a moving puppet beetle and in mid-1910 launched him on the series of insect fables and sly satires which soon attracted a wide following, abroad as well as in Russia.

In 1913 he began to make feature-length live-action films, albeit relying heavily on special effects, for two fantastic tales by Gogol, The Terrible Vengeance and Christmas Eve. The following year brought the outbreak of war and Starewicz’s eclectic animation skills were soon pressed into service to make a variety of propaganda shorts for the patriotic Skobelev Committee. Polish subjects entered his repertoire at this time, together with the “decadent” themes typical of the last years of Russian private production.

By 1918, Starewicz had joined many of his colleagues in Yalta, seeing no future for his talents under the Soviet regime. From there he traveled to Italy, then to Paris, where he worked with the Russian émigré community as a cameraman. In 1920 he secured a modest studio at Fontenay-sous-Bois, where he returned to making mainly puppet-based animal fables, later interspersed with publicity and advertising films for clients from many countries. After Le Roman du renard (1931), he did not succeed in mounting another feature-length production, but continued working until his death in 1965.

Titles translated by Julian Graffy. Original music by Neil Brand. Produced by Erich Sargeant. Selection and notes by Ian Christie.
Total Running Time: 58 minutes. Program: © 1992 British Film Institute. Film Copyright: Gosfilmofond, Moscow.