Monday, October 03, 2011

Amerikanka / [The Jobbing Press]

Американка [L’americana] (Sakhkinmretstvi / Goskinprom Gruzii, Georgia SSR, SU 1930) D: Leo Esakya; SC: Giorgi Mdivani, Viktor Shklovsky, Giorgi Sturua; DP: Mikhail Gal’per, Sergei Zabozlaev; AD: Aleksei Utkin, Shalva Mamaladze; ass. D: Dimitri Abashidze, I. Shioshvili; cast: Zagaria Berishvili (grocery owner), Arkadi Khintibidze (printer), Aleksandr Gromov (printer), Giorgi Mdivani (printer); [announced: 35 mm, 2099 m, 76’ (24 fps); from: Gosfilmofond of Russia]. A video screening due to unreceived film print. Russian intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: John Sweeney, 3 Oct 2011.

Sergei Kapterev (GCM Catalogue): "Amerikanka is one those archival surprises which still await film scholars and film fans. Lately neglected – maybe because it belongs to the genre of the “revolutionary-historical” film, which, with few notable exceptions such as The Battleship Potemkin, has been shunned as part of the discarded Soviet ideology – this film is much more than a half-forgotten monument to a bygone era. It is a stylistically original piece of filmmaking which invites a thorough study and holds more than one delight."

"Subtitled “Episodes from the History of an Underground Printing House of the Bolshevik Central Committee,” Amerikanka tells the story of an underground print shop which operated in Moscow, with the help of Transcaucasian operatives, during the first Russian revolution. The historical grocery-cum-printing house seen in Amerikanka can still be visited in Moscow: after a period of closure caused by post-Soviet fatigue, it has been reopened as a museum. Amerikanka’s screenplay was written by Giorgi Mdivani, who, 50 years later, would write another screenplay based on the same events; Giorgi Sturua, one of the organizers of the underground print shop; and Viktor Shklovsky, a luminary of early Soviet film theory, criticism, and screenwriting, who participated in the revivification of the much criticized Georgian Studios as literary consultant. The film’s director, Leo Esakya, belonged to the younger generation of Georgian film workers whose beliefs and tastes had been formed in the Soviet period. He was trained as a painter and a poet and maintained close contacts with the Left Front of the Arts (Levyi front iskusstv, LEF). Starting in cinema as a screenwriter, in 1928 Esakya directed his first film, On the Back of a Holt Tractor, in which he tackled the complexities of Soviet agricultural policy, using LEF’s model of cinema grounded in actual facts, newspaper material as the basis for the narrative, and nonprofessional actors. LEF’s theories can also be traced in the quasi-documentary stylistic elements of Amerikanka. However, in Esakiya’s second film documentary pretensions are effectively blended with the experiments of metaphoric cinema and conventions of popular entertainment. The symbolic hero of the film is the jobbing press – a small, cost-effective printing machine known in early-20th-century Russia as “Amerikanka” (“American Lady”). Its appearance in the title of the film stresses the significance of the systematic use of inanimate objects for the advancement of the film’s ideological, historical, and dramatic narratives."

"Objects – newspapers, leaflets, signboards, typewriters, printing presses – are singled out and magnified for emphatic and symbolic purposes. They fill the frame, form their own narrative patterns, determine the rhythm, and become substitutes for intertitles. At the same time, they are consistently integrated into the narrative. This device reflected Viktor Shklovsky’s conviction that filmmaking should not be defeated by “things” – as it was defeated in the “baroque” sequences of Eisenstein’s October."

"The art direction by Aleksei Utkin, the past collaborator of Yevgeni Bauer and an expert in historical styles, and the debutant Shalva Mamaladze, as well as the expertise of the veteran of Georgian cinematography Sergei Zabozlaev and Mikhail Gal’per, who would later work in documentary cinema, helped to shape Amerikanka into an ingeniously conceived, meticulously crafted, and, in some respects, unique cinematic work." – Sergei Kapterev

AA: A fascinating, visually striking film still made in the spirit of the heroic age of Soviet revolutionary cinema. There are exciting montage sequences, satirical passages (the personal ads montage), a lot of suspense in the story of the underground work of the rebels (the permanent fear of being revealed), and interesting moments of police detective work (soil analysis to discover where the underground press might be). The final image is of the miniature model of the actual house where the underground press was located. It may now become possible to watch these films soberly after 20 years of the demise of the Soviet Union. Amerikanka and Park Row might be a memorable double bill. Too bad about this movie being screened on video.

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