Thursday, October 07, 2010

Bukhta smerti / [Death Bay]

[La baia della morte] (Goskino, SU 1926) D: Abram Room; SC: Boris Leonidov, based on a story by Alexei Novikov-Priboi; titles: Viktor Shklovsky; DP: Yevgeni Slavinsky; AD: Vasili Rakhals, Dmitri Kolupayev; ass D: Y. Kuzis; cast: Nikolai Saltykov (railroad worker Surkov, the Bolshevik), Leonid Yurenev (fireman Masloboev, the spy), Nikolai Okhlopkov (the sailor), Andrei A. Fait (Alibekov, head of the counter-espionage service), V. Yaroslavtsev, Y. Kartashchova, A. Ravitch, A. Matsevich, Vasya Liubinsky, A. Kharlamov, A. Ai-Artian, O. Golnieva, B. Zagorsky, Yura Zimin, A. Karpov; 35mm, 1860 m., 90' (18 fps); source: Gosfilmofond of Russia. Russian intertitles.
Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (GCM) with e-subtitles in English and Italian and Stephen Horne on the grand piano, 7 Oct 2010

IAN CHRISTIE in the GCM Catalogue: "Based on a novel by a popular writer of sea stories, Aleksei Novikov-Priboi, who had survived shipwreck during the Russo-Japanese war, Room’s debut feature is a propagandist adventure story set in a Black Sea port during the Civil War. An apolitical ship’s engineer has two sons, one of whom belongs to the Red group that is working with the sailors of the warship Lebed to overthrow the port’s White forces. After the Whites take over the ship, they hold the engineer hostage to help with their assault, while his other son manages to bring news to the revolutionaries before the unusually violent climax. Location shooting gave the film strong scenic values, which impressed the novelist Bryher, writing in Film Problems of Soviet Russia in1929 (in which Room is one of only four directors given a separate chapter). An excellent cast reflected Room’s extensive theatre contacts (including the director Nikolai Okhlopkov in a superb cameo as a card-playing sailor), but it was their restraint that impressed a contemporary Russian reviewer in Kino, indicating that Room had succeeded in following his own maxims, published a year earlier in Sovietskii ekran: “Cinema is pre-eminently realism, life, the everyday, properly motivated behaviour, rational gesture.”
Contemporary critics generally considered the acting and staging better than the script, although the film benefited from Viktor Shklovsky’s crisp titles. The final volume of Shklovsky’s memoirs appeared in the same year, and its title, Third Factory, refers to what had become his main work in the “film factory”. Shklovsky was also supporting the Serapion Brotherhood, a group of realist writers who shared his admiration for adventure narratives, and it does not seem fanciful to detect a hint of their beloved Robert Louis Stevenson in Death Bay. But for all these qualities, the film’s misfortune was to appear shortly after Battleship Potemkin. “A good film,” judged P. Neznamov (Kino no. 7), “but unlucky in that Eisenstein’s Potemkin had upstaged its hero, the ship, and set an impossibly high standard in the struggle to make an impression.” “A good film instead of being great,” echoed Bryher, before wondering if she was being over-critical, “for much of it is excellent, particularly the treatment of the landscape, the lonely sheepskin figure watching the sea, the fugitives scattered about the lighthouse wall, or the sensation of sunlight in the engineer’s garden.” – IAN CHRISTIE."

Image quality variable from fair to often good. A grim, stark, violent ship mutiny story. Powerful visual storytelling but it is easy to see how this more traditional film can have been overshadowed by Battleship Potyomkin.

No comments: