Saturday, October 02, 2010

Predatel / [The Traitor]

Predatel / [The Traitor] poster by the Stenberg brothers.
[Il traditore] (Goskino, SU 1926) D: Abram Room; SC: Viktor Shklovsky, from a story by Lev Nikulkin; DP: Yevgeni Slavinsky; AD: Vasili Rakhals, Sergei Yutkevich; ass. D: Sergei Yutkevich, Y. Kuzis; with: Nikolai Panov (Parchevski, course official), Yevgenia Khovanskaia (Madame Guillot, madame of the brothel), Nikolai Dits (chief of the secret police), Nikolai Okhlopkov (the unknown sailor). Incomplete (r. 1, 3, 5), 650 m /19 fps/ 30 min, from: Gosfilmofond. Viewed at Cinema Verdi, Pordenone (GCM), e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: John Sweeney, 2 Oct 2010

From the GCM Catalogue: "Lev Nikulkin had been a Soviet diplomat in Afghanistan, before his short story “The Sailors’ Silence” was selected by Room and Shklovsky for their first full collaboration as scenarist and director, after the latter had written titles for Death Bay. The film (only partly preserved) is an early example of a “before and after” structure that became popular in the NEP period and continued into the 1930s. A provocateur working for the Tsarist police succeeds in betraying a group of revolutionary sailors, but after the Revolution he is tracked down and exposed. This structure offered scope to draw a vivid contrast between the old and the new world, which Room and his designers, the experienced Vasilii Rakhals and the young Sergei Yutkevich eagerly seized. After the coastal landscapes of Death Bay, The Traitor consists largely of interiors, with the pre-Revolutionary section centred on a lavishly over-decorated brothel, followed by a Soviet-era apartment, which is almost equally ornate – and was criticized by a contemporary critic (Khersonskii, in Sovietskoe Kino 9-10, 1926): “In the guise of everyday life, the film shows superficial picnics, large ‘chic’ apartments, recherché knickknacks, and elegant ladies’ pyjamas.” This is quoted by Emma Widdis in a valuable recent article on early Soviet film design, which explores different interpretations of faktura (literally, “surface”) in the NEP period (“Faktura: depth and surface in early Soviet set design”, Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema, v.3 no.1, March 2009). Clearly Room and his designers had no inhibitions in portraying pre-1917 decadence through décor: Yutkevich referred to “a parody of the over-padded style of a Russian Watteau”. But as Widdis observes, the post-Revolutionary sets have the same “excess of surface decoration”, albeit in a different style, which led Khersonskii to charge Room with a “pure experiment in formalism” – a verdict that was not yet as lethal as it would become. Widdis also notes the parallels between Art Deco elements in The Traitor and the Modernist décor that was a feature of the émigré Russian Albatros productions in Paris inspired by Robert Mallet-Stevens, although only one film by L’Herbier had been distributed in Russia. Room and his collaborators were not alone in wanting to explore filmic forms of signification as Soviet film production gained confidence, approaching its peak output; and the densely textured interiors of The Traitor, providing settings for emblematic female characters, the courtesan Wanda and the “new woman” Natalia, were an important step towards their masterpiece, Tretya Meshchanskaya. – IAN CHRISTIE." - It was difficult to follow this film with only the reels 1, 3, and 5 surviving, but what I could comprehend (and it was late in the evening), this is not yet in the same league as Tretya Meschanskaya.

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