|Kinokariera zvonaria. Photo: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow|
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Risata russe.
Viewed at Cinemazero, with subtitles, grand piano: Maud Nelissen, Romano Todesco, 10 Oct 2015
Peter Bagrov (GCM catalog and website): "A Bell-Ringer’s Film Career is a student work – one of many made in Soviet Russia in the 1920s, and one of the few that still survives. Boris Chaikovskii’s Film School was a private one – run by Olga Rakhmanova (Chaikovskii himself having died in 1924), a veteran stage actress who earned a film reputation playing noble mothers in Yevgeni Bauer’s melodramas. For a decade it was the main rival of the State Technical Film School (which still exists as VGIK), and a very successful one. The State Technical School was hovering between avant-garde and state ideology, whereas Chaikovskii’s School had a pragmatic task, to train professionals – and to get them trained by professionals of all sorts. Thus, at a certain point, among those teaching there were Vsevolod Pudovkin, Serafima Birman (one of Stanislavsky’s best pupils, known today for playing the villainous Princess Efrosinia in Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible), and Ivan Sarkizov-Serazini (the founder of Soviet sports medicine). The list of graduates contained no great names, but many of them enriched the Soviet film industry, becoming good actors, successful second-rate directors, and famous assistants – among them the legendary Valentina Kuznetsova, whose eye for talent inspired Eisenstein to christen her a one-woman “Scotland Yard for Moscow actors”."
"None of the cast and crew members of A Bell-Ringer’s Film Career reached the heights – only Piotr Savin became a major star: in the late 1920s and 1930s he was known for playing komsomol activists in Sergei Yutkevich’s “optimistic dramas” and Igor Savchenko’s poetic comedies. Everyone else went into complete obscurity, sooner or later."
"What makes this two-reeler unique is its topic – a much-loved and even abused one in the West, yet quite rare in Soviet Russia: it is a film about filmmaking. More than that: the butt of its humour is one of the most popular theories of the Soviet avant-garde. In the 1920s everyone was obsessed with typecasting non-professional actors; montage was supposed to substitute for acting. There was a real battle between supporters of classical “actors” cinema and those who believed in the omnipotence of the “typage-montage” school. Naturally, a group of young professionally-trained actors was happy to ridicule the new tendency. What’s more interesting is the fact that their screenplay and the production itself were polished and supervised by two leading scriptwriters of the 1920s: Natan Zarkhi, who wrote both Mother and The End of St. Petersburg for Pudovkin, and Valentin Turkin, who had just finished The Girl with the Hatbox for Boris Barnet and two years later would make The Ghost that Never Returns for Abram Room. Both experienced working for the typage-montage cinema, both taught at Chaikovskii’s Film School, and both set great hopes on their class. So, innocent as it may seem, this comedy could be considered an anti-manifesto of a sort. A statement – not against typage per se, but against obsessions of any kind."
"In fact everyone looks ridiculous in this film, not only the simple minded bell-ringer who is forced to act as a matinee idol. Equally stupid is the provincial amateur theatre star (the next step on the road to professionalism) who is jealous of the bell-ringer’s success and is willing to step in at every minute – and of course the “show people” themselves, including the hysterical director, a disgustingly handsome hero, and a very young but cynical heroine. The crew is outraged when the bell-ringer “saves” the girl from an approaching train, holding her upside-down. But that’s not less convincing than a group of well-trained “Indians” (they are shooting a Soviet Western!) who are capable of moving only synchronously... It’s a pity we never get to see the result of the crew’s hard work, for the bell-ringer accidentally exposes all the footage."
"Considered a witty and elegant parody, A Bell-Ringer’s Film Career got a theatrical release – a rare honour for a student work. Alas, for most of its stars it turned out to be their last screen performance. And typage is not to blame; there was simply not enough work in a state-run film industry." – Peter Bagrov
AA: Along with Nelzia li bez menia? / Can't You Just Leave Me Out? a rare discovery in the Risata russe retrospective, unmentioned in general film history books.
Understandably unknown since this is a student film made with irreverent abandon. A parody and a satire about film-making. The producer's sole directive: "don't waste film".
The protagonists in this provincial story include a bell-ringer who keeps ringing his bell with his foot tied to a rope. There is Lidochka who churns milk. The country landscape is ordinary. There is a swing for the girl. And an endless train. A cliff-hanging suspense sequence is set at the rails where a damsel in distress is tied. There is a real last minute rescue by the bell-ringer. "Tropical downpour" is created with a watering can on a tree branch.
Advice is given. "Typage!" "The mirror method" = actors imitating the director exactly. "Shoot real life like it is" = the passion in the kissing scene must be real, not simulated. And of course the bell-ringer wants to see the finished film immediately...
A little film made with a truly funny spirit.