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Early Russian Cinema, Vol. 6: Class Distinctions

Rusia| Drama| 1912-1914|95 minutos
Título original: Early Russian Cinema, Vol. 6: Class Distinctions
Dirección: Vasili Goncharov, Yevgeni Bauer
Idioma: Silente Subtítulos: Inglés
Formato: DVD-R

Early Russian Cinema Volume Six: CLASS DISTINCTIONS

THE PEASANTS’ LOT (Krest’ianskaia dolia). Director: Vasilii Goncharov. Screenplay: Arsenii Bibikov. Photography: Louis Forestier. Production Company: Khanzhonkov. Released November 13, 1912. Cast: Aleksandra Goncharova (Masha). Ivan Mozzhukhin (Petr). Petr Chardynin (Petr’s father). Arsenii Bibikov,
Lidiia Tridenskaia (Maksim).

A contemporary review acclaimed The Peasants’ Lot as a fine picture on a subject “close to the heart of every Russian.” As well as applauding the “well-considered and excellent performances” by Goncharova and Mozzhukhin, the reviewer enthused over its choice of scenes from peasant life: “the scene at the races is wonderfully presented, the fire in the village vividly depicted, the pictures of rural life alternate successfully, hopeless poverty contrasting with the existence of a rich family in the capital.” Here was a ‘balanced’ view of the country, as seen from the city, which
followed Goncharov’s solidly traditional approach, echoing the view of rural life familiar from Russian 19th- century literature. A film that clearly answered the urgent demand for “national” images that confirmed the increasingly unstable status quo.

SILENT WITNESSES (Nemye svideteli). Director: Evgeni Bauer. Screenplay: Aleksandr Voznesenskii. Production Company: Khanzhonkov. Released April 29, 1914. Cast: Dora Chitorina (Nastia, a maid). Aleksandr Kheruvimov  (A porter, her grandfather). Aleksandr Chargonin (Pavel Kostritsyn). El’sa Kriuger (Ellen, his bride). Andrei Gromov (Nastia’s fiancé, the neighbor’s lackey). Viktor Petipa (Baron von Rehren).

It is impossible for us to see Silent Witnesses today without some degree of hindsight. For this “upstairs-downstairs” drama of life below stairs shows a world that, unwittingly, stood on the brink of extinction.
Fascinating also to compare the figure of the porter with Emil Jannings’ famous doorman over a decade later in The Last Laugh. But the film has an undeniable edge to its portrayal of the upper classes and — is this hindsight?— a marked sympathy for its servant class. It also shows Bauer’s virtuoso visual style at its most ornate, using split-screen and subjective shots, as well as the very architecture of the house, to evoke the social structure that is its subject.
A contemporary review noted: “Running through the film is the idea that people have still not shed their prejudices over white skin and blue blood. It is impossible not to single out the weak-willed, characterless whimperer exclusively preoccupied with his own pitiful ‘me’: he sees himself as the only thing of value in the world. The vitality of the idea, challenging bourgeois morality, is highly characteristic of both Russian and foreign dramas, and increases considerably the undoubted value of the film.” [Silent Witnesses, ed. Tsivian et al, London/Pordenone: 1989]

A civil servant until 1905, when he tried to enter literary circles, Goncharov was first attracted to literary and art-historical aspects of cinema. He scripted Drankov’s Sten’ka Razin (1908) before joining Thiemann’s company, and then moving on to work with Khanzhonkov, who shared his cultural enthusiasm. But it was during brief
spells with Pathé and Gaumont that he improved his directorial skills — The Dashing Merchant (1910) was considered a landmark historical film before he returned once again to Khanzhonkov for the commemorative spectaculars which were his final directorial achievements: The Defense of Sebastopol, The Year 1812 and Accession
of the House of Romanov (1913).

EVGENI BAUER (1865-1917)
Until recently, Bauer was little more than a name, albeit one cited approvingly, in brief accounts of pre-Revolutionory Russian cinema. Now, with some 26 films known of the 86 he directed in a career that spanned just five years, he has been acclaimed as the major filmmaker of the pre-Soviet period and indeed a director of world stature.

Evgeni Frantsevich Bauer came from a musical and artistic family. He graduated from the Moscow College of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and worked in the theatre and as an “artistic photographer” before entering cinema as a designer on Drankov’s Tercentenary of the House of Romanov (1913). However, the rest of his career
would be with Drankov’s rival, Khanzhonkov, and he was soon renowned (and highly paid) for his spaciously designed, slow-paced and subtly lit melodramas. Many of these were also scripted and photographed by him; and they helped create some of the leading stars of the period: Vera Kholodnaia, Vera Karalli, and his wife Lina
Bauer. Ironically it was a wish to add acting to his other talents that led indirectly to his death in mid-1917, when he contracted pneumonia after an accident while in the Crimea shooting For Luck.

Titles translated by Julian Graffy. Original music by Neil Brand. Produced by Erich Sargeant. Selection and notes by Ian Christie.
Total Running Time: 95 minutes. Program: © 1992 British Film Institute. Film Copyright: Gosfilmofond, Moscow.