Monday, October 03, 2011

Chyortovo koleso / [The Devil's Wheel]

Чёртово колесо (Moryak s “Avrorrii”) [La ruota del diavolo / Il marinaio dell’ “Aurora” / The Sailor from the “Aurora”] (Leningradkino, SU 1926) D: Grigori Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg; SC: Adrian Piotrovsky; DP: Andrei Moskvin; AD: Yevgeni Yenei; ass D: Mikhail Geraltovsky, Sergey Shklyarevsky, Boris Shpis, Vladimir Shmidtgof; cast: Pyotr Sobolievsky (Vanya Shorin), Liudmila Semyonova (Valya), Sergei Gerasimov (Question Man), Emil Gal (Koko, a variety performer), Antonio Tserep (owner of the bar), Nikolai Gorodnichev (house manager), Vera Lande (dancer), Sergei Martinson (conductor-violinist), Yevgeni Kumeiko, Pavel Berezin, Andrei Kostrichkin (raiders), Yanina Zheimo, Tatyana Ventsel (girls from the gang), Viktor Plotnikov (member of the Salvation Army), Aleksandr Kostomolotsky (antiquarian / drum player), Arnold Arnold (editor), Aleksei Kapler (Norwegian hooligan / piano player); orig.: 2650 m (7 rl.); 35 mm, 1147 m (rl. 3 + 6 missing), 50' (20 fps); from: Österreichisches Filmmuseum / Austrian Film Museum, Wien. 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.

David Robinson (GCM Catalogue): "In 1921 Lenin’s New Economic Policy set out to ameliorate the new Soviet Union’s disastrous economic situation by introducing a monetarist system. This made possible importation of films, particularly from the USA and Germany – with Chaplin, Pickford, Fairbanks, Stroheim, Baby Peggy, and the German director Richard Oswald particular favourites with the Russian public. Inevitably there was a painful conflict between the “bourgeois” world that was shown on the screen and the new Soviet artists’ passion to celebrate machines and speed and the new era. In the cinema however the NEP era was abruptly cut short in August 1923 when all private film firms were liquidated to give way to a state monopoly of production and distribution."

"The first FEKS scenario, by Kozintsev and Trauberg, was accepted by Sevzapkino – surprisingly, since this was one of the more conservative of the state units, having inherited a wardrobe and tradition of historical costume pictures. “Our first scenario, The Adventures of Oktyabrina, was a sort of propaganda film-poster; the influence of the propaganda plays and the Rosta windows shows clearly in every moment of the film. … All [the] characters seemed directly descended from the propaganda lorry which entertained the population at the May Day parade. It was all rather disconnected, but galloped along on the screen, full of dizzying abridgements of the story and shock cuts. And when the narrative got stuck, letters would appear on the screen: dancing about in the manner of cartoon films, they would group themselves into words, forming slogans that were then familiar.” (Grigori Kozintsev)"

"Nothing has survived from this, or from the second FEKS film, the 2-reel Michki protiv Yudenicha (The Mishkas against Yudenich), the adventures of two namesakes, a boy and a bear, frustrating the detested White General Yudenich. The film was evidently inspired by – or parodied – Ivan Perestiani’s popular success, the Georgian-made Red Imps, and was done in the full spirit of Eccentricism, with a dizzying range of camera tricks and a circus ring as Yudenich’s headquarters. Five of the seven reels of the first FEKS feature film survive, however. The script of The Devil’s Wheel, still titled The Sailor of the “Aurora”, was offered to them by the recently appointed director of Leningradkino, Adrian Piotrovsky (1898-1939), whose own first script it was. (Some filmographies credit the original story to Veniamin Alexandrovich Kaverin, but in an irritable exchange of correspondence in Kino, each author at the time denied any connection with the other’s work.) Piotrovsky described the film as the “isolated example of the future Soviet melodrama”; and it does mark the arrival of this new element in the work of the Eccentrics. The exposure to recent Hollywood production during the NEP period had shifted official cultural policy to the admission that melodrama was not a method to be scorned. Lunacharsky himself declared, “Our films must not be less seductive or less attracting than those of the bourgeoisie. The melodrama form, treated in an adequate way, is certainly the best that there is in the cinema.”"

"The story centres on Vanya Shorin, a sailor from the Aurora – the ship that launched the salvoes that marked the start of the October Revolution. On shore leave and strolling with shipmates in the park of the House of the People in Petrograd, he meets a young girl, Valya. They linger over the delights of the fairground – the Russian Mountains [roller-coaster], the Devil’s Wheel – and when finally Vanya takes Valya home at dawn her father beats her. Vanya decides to stay with her, while his friends vainly search for him in the streets of the city to prevent him deserting. The young couple find themselves in the Petrograd underworld, and fall into the hands of one of the gangster bands that preyed on the city during the Civil War and NEP eras. Finally however, Vanya is able to expose the band and its chief – a stage magician called “The Question Man” – to the police. He returns to his ship and the judgement of his comrades."

"As well as the new element of melodrama, FEKS had been deeply influenced by Eisenstein’s Strike: Kozintsev told his group, “All that we’re doing is childish nonsense: we must see Strike again and again, until we can understand it and adopt its power for our own.” This did not mean that the principles and practice of Eccentricism were abandoned. The fairground attractions, the fireworks, the ghostly collapsing ruin that houses the gang, the acrobats and gymnasts, bizarre characters like Martinson’s eccentric violinist and Gerasimov’s “Question Man” remain true to their belief in the shock of the strange. “The clash between the realistic material and the eccentric treatment by the FEKS seems to have increased the force of the film. All disparate elements were pulled together by the dramatic, expressive, Germanic photography of their new cameraman, Andrei Moskvin, who was to identify himself with the whole film career of Kozintsev and Trauberg.” (Jay Leyda, Kino)"

"The film is a non-stop onslaught of images; and the persistence throughout of hectic music must have been a thrilling challenge to cinema pianists like the teenage Shostakovich, who, Trauberg maintained, had actually accompanied this film in Leningrad. Liudmila Semyonova, with her touch of Louise Brooks, was to remain with FEKS, though this was to be her only leading role for them. She is however the central female figure in Room’s Bed and Sofa and Ermler’s Fragment of an Empire." – David Robinson

AA: As the earliest surviving Kozintsev - Trauberg feature film The Devil's Wheel is more an exciting collection of evidence of the FEKS aesthetics than a really successful work of art. David Robinson describes the central FEKS attributes above. The Devil's Wheel was so fundamentally truncated that it is impossible to review because the directors' vision did not survive the changes. The print has low contrast.

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