Monday, October 03, 2011

Novyi Vavilon / [New Babylon] – Raisa Garshnek screen test

(Sovkino, Leningrad, SU) (screen test, 1927) D: Grigori Kozintsev; DP: Andrei Moskvin; cast: Raisa Garshnek (Louise Poirier); 35 mm, ca 20 m, ca 1' (16 fps); from: Gosfilmofond of Russia. No intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 3 Oct 2011.

Peter Bagrov (GCM Catalogue): "New Babylon was to establish Yelena Kuzmina as one of the most brilliant and in-demand actresses of the Soviet screen, yet the directors had given her the part rather unwillingly. One of FEKS’ youngest pupils, by 1927, when work began on New Babylon, she had not yet proved herself in any way. She was at first allowed to rehearse the main part of Louise Poirier only as an educational task, playing with the actors already approved – Sobolievsky, Kostrichkin, Zheimo. When the first screen tests were made in the summer of 1927, Kozintsev and Trauberg included Kuzmina among them, but at that point approved the candidature of Liudmila Semyonova, the splendid actress they had discovered for The Devil’s Wheel and who had just finished making Room’s Bed and Sofa."

"Yet they were daunted by Semyonova’s mature (and typical Russian) appearance. Arriving in Paris in February 1928, and meeting French filmmakers, they realized that they needed a heroine (as Trauberg recalled) “of the Nadia Sibirskaïa type”. Nevertheless, on their return – not without the influence of Andrei Moskvin, who enjoyed working with “difficult” faces – they finally consented to the choice of Kuzmina."

"Before that, though, Sergei Bartenev, an assistant director on New Babylon, had spotted a 17-year-old employee of the Sovkino laboratories, Raisa Garshnek, at one of the studio screenings. The screen tests were still in full swing, and Kuzmina recalled in her memoirs how wounded she was to meet a rival at the wardrobe – “a beautiful girl with big radiant eyes”."

"Garshnek’s appearance was quite French. But she was not an actress, and clearly could not have undertaken such a major psychological role in a historical drama. So she was only given a bit part. She recalls: “We had to sit and wait for hours until the director was finished with the previous episodes. My turn never came that day. And the next day I didn’t come myself. I remember that evening: I stayed home and wept. I was facing a great dilemma. Either I continue my work and have a firm piece of bread, or I become an actress: today they offer me something, and tomorrow they don’t, and I’ll have to sit the whole evening and watch others being filmed. Times were hard, it was difficult to get a job… And that was the end of my acting career.”"

"Raisa Garshnek returned to the laboratory, where she continued working till the last days of silent film, and in the 1930s she became a sound engineer. All these years she kept the little reel with her screen test for New Babylon, and only a few months ago, now 101, she handed it over to Gosfilmofond. As far as is known this is the only surviving screen test from the Soviet silent cinema."

"This footage is not of purely archaeological interest. New Babylon may be the most famous of Kozintsev and Trauberg’s pictures, but it certainly is not the most typical. After all, FEKS was an actors’ workshop, and New Babylon is their only film that belonged to the typage-montage school rather than the actors’ one. It is believed that the directors arrived at this new stage gradually – under the influence of The End of St. Petersburg and The General Line. Thus, initially all the personages had names and more-or-less complicated characters (Kuzmina was Louise Poirier; Zheimo, her sister Therese; Sobolievsky, Jean). Later they turned into symbols (The Shop-girl, The Modiste, The Soldier). This revolution happened – so it was generally thought – near the editing stage."

"However, the fact that as early as 1927, just setting to work on New Babylon (and long before the release of the aforementioned Pudovkin and Eisenstein films), Kozintsev and Trauberg considered offering the main part to a non-professional, a typage, permits us to take a totally different view of acting at FEKS." – Peter Bagrov

AA: An important piece of evidence of Kozintsev-Trauberg film-making in the 1920s. Expressions in medium shot. The reel has been very well preserved.

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