|Maria Babanova as Jane and Mark Dobrynin as John Stenway, king of fish oil in a scene inspired by Lubitsch. Photo: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow|
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
The actual duration of the screening was 55'.
Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with subtitles, grand piano: Maud Nelissen, Romano Todesco, 10 Oct 2015
Natalia Noussinova: "A novel subject for Soviet cinema at the start of the 1920s was “Americanism”. It was perceived as the slogan of the new life and as the symbol of the accelerated rhythms of the 20th century (that is, of the cinema), in FEKS’ manifesto Eccentricism, in the writings of Kuleshov, and elsewhere. America determined the spirit and even provided the basis for the subjects of plays and numerous films of the period. Around 1924 Soviet cinema experienced a veritable American invasion onscreen: citizens of the United States would cross the Atlantic and arrive en massein the land of the Bolsheviks, to survive alarming misadventures (The Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks/ Neobychaynie prikluchenia Mistera Vesta v strane bolshevikov, director Lev Kuleshov, 1924), or to desperately seek their fiancées (The Cigarette Girl of Mosseplrom / Papirosnitsa ot Mosselproma, director Yuri Zheliabuzhskii, 1924), or in search of a family, home, and work."
"This last scenario is the case of Hearts and Dollars. Two young Americans, Jane and Harry, arrive in Leningrad in search of their relatives. Jane is rich and pretty, but she is lonely. Her mother has died, her father is constitutionally somnolent, indifferent to everything around him. She craves affection, which she does not find in the Land of the Almighty Dollar. Harry is an engineer, sacked from his factory in New York because he protested against a boss who assaulted a woman worker. He goes to the land of free workers. The relatives whom Jane and Harry are seeking happen to have the same rather common name of Ivanov, and the person tracing them on Jane and Harry’s behalf confuses their addresses. Jane thus becomes the “niece” of the technical designer and Harry the “nephew” of the NEPman. The Soviet Union in the time of NEP (National Economic Policy) is in every respect alert to the dollar. Harry’s “uncle” exerts himself to profit from the nephew whom he takes for a rich capitalist, but throws him out when he realizes he doesn’t have a cent. Jane, on the contrary, is very happy in the family of her poor and honest alse relatives. Once the misunderstanding is explained and the embarrassment overcome, the lives of the young people sort themselves out: Jane finds love in the shape of her false cousin Nikolai Ivanov, while Harry is hired as a construction engineer at the Volkhovstroi electric station."
"Hearts and Dollars opened in the best cinemas in Leningrad – the Velikan, Splendid Palace, Kolizei – and was promoted with tremendous publicity, since it was the first fiction feature of the new studio Kino-Sever, established alongside the Sevzapkino Studios, which would itself give way some years later, after multiple transformations, to the great Leningrad studios, Lenfilm. The film was directed by the celebrated stage director Nikolai Petrov, who at that time was primarily working for the Alexandrinski Theatre, the stronghold of traditional art and a favourite target for the humour of the avant-garde, such as FEKS. However, the absence of sympathy was total and reciprocal. According to Grigori Kozintsev’s memoirs, Petrov and his actors came to disrupt FEKS’ production of The Marriage. The contemporary press reported the discussion of the aims of Soviet cinema which took place at the House of Arts in Leningrad, just before the release of Hearts and Dollars, in which Petrov howled with indignant rage about the fact that the production of films was entrusted to people without any merit and without any plan – even to people like FEKS (no doubt referring to The Adventures of Oktiabrina / Pokhozhdeniya Oktiabriny, directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg, 1924)."
"“I would prefer not to say that Petrov’s film would be the example of his own principles,” was the elegant opening of the sharp review by Piotr Vainshtein (Verkhovtsev) of Hearts and Dollars in the magazine Kino-nedelia. He praised the camerawork of Kozlovskii, the acting of Petrov, who surpassed all the others (even Babanova – and without even a mention of Korchagina-Aleksandrovskaia and Lerskii), and the original idea of including animation in a fiction film. This was a witty parody of the representation of the USSR in the American press, which comes to life in the hands of Charlie, Jane’s ex-fiancé, whom she leaves to go and seek her Soviet fortune. As for Maria Babanova, who was at that time a famous actress in Meyerhold’s theatre, at the summit of her glory, in Hearts and Dollars she is not very conspicuous, probably on account of a role that was too simple and gave her few possibilities to demonstrate her artistic talent."
"Petrov’s film is rather interesting for us from today’s vantage point, at least in terms of the people involved in it who would become better known later. (It is enough to mention Litvak, who had not yet adopted the French style of his Russian first name Anatoli, and who was a jack-of-all-trades on the film – editing, administration, and even a screen appearance as “second clerk on the right”). But at the time, the final verdict of Verkhovtsev’s review was pitiless: “here is another film that is useless to Soviet cinema”. To him the film appeared useless because it was traditional: “when the director tries to say something new, he starts to copy Lubitsch, Victor Janson and the other Western eccentrics”. This reproach is not altogether unjust: the scene with the valets who move in perfect unison is practically copied from Lubitsch’s Die Austernprinzessin (The Oyster Princess, 1919), with Victor Janson. But it is exactly the same kind of approach Petrov himself levelled against FEKS, his major opponents!"
"Yet was this traditionalist Petrov really so retrograde? It was he who in 1920 had co-created, with Nikolai Evreinov and Yuri Annenkov, the political satire theatre Volnaia Komediia; it was he who created the artistic cabaret Balaganchik, and who participated in its show every evening as emcee and actor under the pseudonym “Kolia Peter”, appearing on stage in a Chinese robe, joking with the audience, and directing the “noise orchestra”! After disrupting FEKS’ production of The Marriage, Petrov had immediately produced a parody of this parodic production in his own theatre."
"Could we draw a conclusion, or at least make a supposition from this? It seems that the traditionalists and the innovators at the start of the 1920s were not really so opposed to one another. They often had the same set of ideas, were obsessed by the same themes, and were inspired and dominated by the same artistic influences. Petrov’s comedy is the proof, and an interesting example." – Natalia Noussinova
AA: As Natalia Noussinova remarks above, Ernst Lubitsch's Die Austernprinzessin is an obvious model for Hearts and Dollars, and not only regarding the Victor Janson figure but also the female lead played by Ossi Oswalda for Lubitsch and by Maria Babanova for Nikolai Petrov. The comedy of hyperbole is quite funny with the giant gyms and mirrors.
This print is so fragmented that it is hard to make sense of it on a single viewing. The animation is included, and there are beautiful shots where the art of the cinematography of Nikolai Kozlovsky (Stenka Razin, Sumerki zhenskoi dushi, Sumka dipkuryera... ) can be appreciated.