Monday, October 03, 2011

Chyortovo koleso / [The Devil’s Wheel] – The Lost Fragments

Чёртово колесо (Leningradkino, SU 1926) (fragments) D: Grigori Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg; DP: Andrei Moskvin; 35 mm, ca 200 m, ca 11' (16 fps), col. (tinted); from: Gosfilmofond of Russia. Russian intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 3 Oct 2011.

Peter Bagrov (GCM Catalogue): "The truncated and incomplete film which we now see is not what its directors intended. The Devil’s Wheel was FEKS’ first “grownup” work. Having finally got their hands on a full-length feature and a real budget, Kozintsev and Trauberg set out to demonstrate their maximum potential, with a sophisticated picture involving a complex and tangled plot. A criminal melodrama was combined with a spy story. The action jumped back and forth between Soviet Russia and bourgeois Europe. In fact the whole film was based on contrasts – in narrative, acting, and graphic solutions."

"However, a few months after its release the film was re-edited for censorship reasons. The original film was almost two hours long, while the existing version runs barely an hour. The spy story disappeared completely. The scene of the fight in the restaurant, of which the directors were particularly proud, is lost, as are all the western street episodes with elegant sets by Yevgeni Yenei, the acting of renowned avant-garde vaudeville players Aleksandr Kostomolotsky and Arnold, and much more. The whole construction of the film suffered: the contrast principle was ruined."

"Since the film depot at Detskoe Selo, where the negatives of Leningrad films were stored, was burned down during World War II, there was little hope of finding any primary source nitrate material for FEKS’ pictures. But in 1999 Sergei Gelver, archivist of the St. Petersburg Documentary Film Studio, rescued several reels of unidentified nitrate film which were condemned to be destroyed for fire safety reasons. A decade later it was established that among this material were about 200 metres of unknown footage of The Devil’s Wheel. Here are fragments of episodes long believed lost: a scene in the antique shop (with Liudmila Semyonova’s expressive close-ups), the Norwegian courtroom and side streets built in the studio by Yenei, and even the beginning of the restaurant fight scene – in which the dancer is played by Trauberg’s wife Vera Lande. Fragments of some of the well-known episodes are also rewarding: most appear to be outtakes, and are seen in pristine first-generation state. But what makes this material especially attractive is the tinting, since the number of surviving Soviet tinted films is negligible, and include no works by FEKS."

"So what is this precious material? Were these sequences left out during editing? Or re-editing? Or were they shots excluded from the export version? On one hand there are outtakes, on the other, intertitles and tinting. Most likely what we have is tinting tests. In any case, these 200 metres of newly discovered footage significantly expand our conception of FEKS’ first full-length film." – Peter Bagrov

AA: Not less exciting than the main feature film itself. The colour world includes yellow tinting and sepia toning.

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