Monday, October 04, 2010

Lursmani cheqmashi / [The Nail in the Boot ]

(Samshoblo saprtkheshia / Gvozd v sapoge) [Il chiodo nella scarpa / The Homeland Is in Danger] (Sakhkinmretsvi, Georgian SSR, 1931) D: Mikhail Kalatozov [Mikheil Kalatozishvili]; SC: Leonid Perelman; DP: Shalva Apakidze; AD: Serapion Vatsadze; cast: Alexandre Jaliashvili, Siko Palavandishvili, Akaki Khorava, Arkadi Khintibidze; 35mm, 1450 m /24 fps/ 55 min; from: Gosfilmofond of Russia. Russian intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (GCM) with e-subtitles in English and Italian and Stephen Horne at the grand piano, 4 Oct 2010.

Nino Dzandzava in the GCM Catalogue: "In 1930 the Council of Soviet People’s Commissars ruled that the film industry should increase production of political and educational films. Two years later the All-Union Communist Party adopted a resolution on the transformation of literary and artistic organizations, which was to lead in 1934 to the definition of “Socialist Realism”, the ideological dogma which was henceforth to dominate all fields of art, including the cinema. Propaganda had always been implicit in Soviet art, but from the 1930s the message had to be unequivocal, with no possibility of variant interpretation. Censorship hardened. By the time Mikhail Kalatozov made The Nail in the Boot, the era of experiment was over, displaced by the symbolism of Soviet totalitarianism. His film was to be one of many Georgian productions suppressed or destroyed during this period.

The Nail in the Boot was to be the last film made in Georgia by the future author of The Cranes are Flying and I Am Cuba: it was to be eight years before he was able to direct another film. Made for the “Samkhedrofilmi” (Military Film) studio, it was intended as a so-called defensive-military and agitationpropaganda (agitprop) film, with the message that slipshod workers are saboteurs causing damage to national defence, and with the aim of ideologically educating the audience to oppose future enemies.

The film had an alternative title, The Homeland Is in Danger.

As its main title indicates, the plot is inspired by the universal folk anecdote “All for the sake of a horseshoe nail”. The first part of the film takes place on a battlefield. A soldier is dispatched to notify divisional headquarters that the armoured train is faced with destruction and urgently needs aid. On the way, his foot is injured by a nail sticking out of the sole of his boot, and he fails to reach headquarters in time. The train is lost. The second part of the film is a courtroom enquiry into the action of the protagonist, at which different aspects of the story emerge.

The least of the criticisms leveled against Kalatozov was that this plot was confusing for the audience.

The main attack was more fundamental and crushing. Kalatozov was accused of being carried away by formalistic pursuits and of destroying the logical narrative by ideological and other errors. Formalism was now a permanent stigma upon him. V. Katinov, in Proletarskoe Kino (1932, issue 5), charged:

“When making The Nail Kalatozov did not apply the revolutionary method of dialectical materialism to his theme, but proceeded from formalistic aestheticism.”

Along with the rest of the press, Katinov picked on trifles: the soldiers could not have been gassed while wearing gas-masks; nobody walks on his heels; it was illogical that the nail should pierce the soldier’s heel; there were inaccuracies in military and tactical terms, and inconsistencies between screen and real life. The major fault of the director was to belittle the Red Army (even though the military in the film are clearly not representing the Red Army, but are shoemakers).

The court scene was particularly attacked for confusing the audience. Kalatozov’s critics complained that the audience would sympathize with the leading character and then see that he was treated in an unfair way. Socialist Realism liked its issues clear and unequivocal.

Kalatozov responded indignantly to Katinov in Proletarskoe Kino: “The problem of Nail can be perceived in different ways, as an anti-Soviet film or a useful production for our constructive labour.”

Sincerely or not, he cited Lenin, as his critic had done, in ideological defence. It did not help: The Nail in the Boot was banned.

Today, almost 80 years later, we may feel that the Communist Party was to some extent justified in complaining that Kalatozov had not met the required ideological criteria. His first concern is seeking the visual concept of the film, and only then what the State requires from him as a Soviet artist. The Nail in the Boot, rather than calling for mobilization and battle with the conventional enemy, inspires sympathy with a loyal man who risks being subjected to oppression. The sentiments are expressed by subtle cinematic means and brilliant use of the potential of the materials available to Kalatozov in the early days of his creative life. If he failed the Communist Party’s exam, he triumphs in the higher exam of time and history. – NINO DZANDZAVA." 

A fine print with a beautiful definition of light. Strong visualization, striking montage, an excellent sense of composition, bold camera angles, daring use of low angles. There is a tendency towards pure cinema, pure visuality, a sense of abstract cinema. Parts of this can be called experimental cinema. - Also the defense in the trial is executed visually. "If the bricks are bad... " we see a smokestack collapsing. "If the steel is not well tempered... " there is a train wreck. "If the nails in the boot are ill fitted... " that's why he failed his mission.

No comments: