Saturday, October 04, 2014

Odin nasladilsia, drugoy rasplatilsia / [One Plays – The Other Pays]

Vera Charova as Chouchou, a lady of easy virtue, and Vladimir Kriger as the old roué who realizes that Chouchou has a young lover. Click to enlarge.
Один насладился, другой расплатился [L’uno si diverte, l’altro paga / One Plays – The Other Pays] (Thiemann & Reinhardt - Russia, 1913) D: Yakov Protazanov; DP: Aleksandr Levitskii; AD: Cheslav Sabinskii; C: Vera Charova (Chouchou Dorée), Vladimir Kriger (old lover), Vladimir Torskii (Vovo, gigolo); orig. l: 400 m. (2 rl.); incomplete, 35 mm, 219 m., 12' (16 fps); titles: RUS; print source: Gosfilmofond of Russia.
     With e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter Buchwald at Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), Pordenone, 4 Oct 2014

Peter Bagrov, Natalia Noussinova (Catalogue): "Comedy was not a very popular genre in Tsarist Russian cinema; melodrama reigned. There were few gag comedies, and high comedy didn’t exist at all. (Among the rare exceptions are Piotr Chardynin’s The Little House at Kolomna, and, with a bit of a stretch, Vladislav Starevich’s The Cameraman’s Revenge, which parodied traditional farces.) The dominant and most appreciated subgenre of comic cinema was the farce, adopted by cinema from the stage."

"In Moscow and St. Petersburg between 1890 and the early 1920s there were many theatres specializing in farce; their repertoire was primarily drawn from Russian translations of foreign plays, with a preference for erotic subjects and stories about adultery. Quite often these were accused of pornography (the meaning of this word being rather vague at the time)."

"Cinema farce was more or less a copy of stage farce. It was above all centred on the acting, with little worry about editing or camera movement. It is interesting to mention in this respect the farces of Yevgeni Bauer, which have been very little studied, though he made more than a dozen. Their style is very different from his dramas. It was not by chance that Bauer’s wife, who often played the leading roles in his films, changed her name according to genre: Emma Bauer in dramas became Lina Bauer in farces. It is also interesting to compare the playing of the actors in Bauer’s films according to genre: while static and merely an element of the frame composition in dramas, in farces they became very animated, with exaggerated pantomime and gestures, the characteristic lively “types” of stage farce."

"In this context, Protazanov’s One Plays – The Other Pays is exceptional. It is impossible to generalize when discussing the style of Protazanov’s pre-Revolutionary comedies, because only this
one example survives. But this one little film is quite remarkable, and unjustly forgotten. The subject of One Plays – The Other Pays obviously came from an as yet unidentified foreign farce, of which one can find a trace in the names of its two main characters, Chouchou and Vovo. The conflict is classic: to hide her lover, a wife presents him to her husband as her tailor, which results in the lover
receiving from the husband a fee, instead of a slap in the face. Now for the spice in the sauce: the husband is not in fact the husband, but another lover and rich protector. Thus the triangle becomes super “immoral”: it is composed of a courtesan, her official lover, and her unofficial lover, whom she has met at a restaurant."

"The language of the film is rather original. First, the three actors were quite well known, not as actors from stage farces, but from the highly reputable Korsh private theatre. Their style of playing is quite different from the traditional style of farces; it is less exaggerated, without the usual coquetry towards the audience. The imagery and the visuals are also rather sophisticated. Curtains and screens divide the frame, giving it depth and perspective. The film contains an elaborate shot, of the kind that in the future would become almost a trademark of Russian films of “high culture”. When the hero enters a house, we see his silhouette in the shadows, and at the same time we see auxiliary happenings in different planes in the same shot: pedestrians passing by, automobiles approaching, horses trotting in a park. This shot is all the more remarkable because it has nothing to do with the rather crude story of the courtesan Chouchou, and there is nothing comic in it. The composition of the image in several perspective planes is anyhow a rarity for 1913."

"This innovative shot, as well as the language of this film in general, paradoxically anticipates the arrival of the mature style of the films of Bauer. However, it is not very surprising, because the film was shot by Aleksandr Levitskii, one of the best cameramen of pre-Revolutionary Russian cinema, who went on to work in the 1920s with Kuleshov and Eisenstein. One should also note that Protazanov has made some little discoveries: for example, he has found a way to avoid the vulgarity of a low genre (and consequent problems with the censors) while still accentuating the erotic side of the situation. Witness how we see only the arm and the head of the heroine as she hides behind a curtain, while it is absolutely clear to the spectator that she is completely nude."

"The film had some success. The press congratulated the Thiemann & Reinhardt company upon its debut (at least its first steps) in comedy. The film was innovative in other respects: it formed the bridge between farce and comedy, it announced the classic language of pre-Revolutionary cinema, and it surely represents one of Protazanov’s first experiments in the comedy genre."
- Peter Bagrov, Natalia Noussinova

AA: The programme note by Peter Bagrov and Natalia Noussinova above is so excellent that there is little to add. There are funny touches and moments in this farce in which the events are outrageous but the approach is often subtle and restrained. Among the juicy characters is a hilariously slick tailor (the authentic one). The scene where the old roué and the young lover take each other's measure is also a funny one. Not a great film but truly something to see from 1913. There is a duped quality in the print; there is no black in it.

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