Monday, October 07, 2013

Sumka dypkuryera / [The Diplomatic Bag] (2K DCP from a source with the first and the last reels missing)

SUMKA DYPKURYERA / Сумка дипкурєра / [not released in Finland] / [La cartella del corriere diplomatico / The Diplomatic Bag] (VUFKU, Odessa, SU - UkrSSR 1927) D, P: Oleksandr Dovzhenko; SC: Oleksandr Dovzhenko, Moisei Zats, Borys Shcharanskyi, Yurii Yanovskyi; DP: Mykola Kozlovskyi; AD: Heinrich Beisenherz; C: M. Buyukli (segretario d’ambasciata/Embassy Secretary), A. Klymenko (primo corriere diplomatico/first Diplomatic Courier), Heorhii Zelondzhev-Shypov (secondo corriere diplomatico/second Diplomatic Courier), Ida Penzo (Helen Viskovska), Borys Zahorskyi (spia/spy), Sergey Minin (White), H. Skoretskyi (Harry), Ivan Kapralov (Ralph), V. Komaretskyi (capitano della nave/Captain of the ship “Victory”), Oleksandr Dovzhenko (fuochista/stoker), Dmytro Kapka (passeggero/passenger), Konstantin Eggert (marinaio-pugile/sailor-boxer); première: 24.3.1927 (Kyiv), 24.12.1928 (Moscow); orig. l: 1950 m.; surviving print: 1385.5 m.; DCP (from 35 mm), 48' (16 fps); print source: Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Film Centre, Kyiv. Russian intertitles. Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone), with e-titles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter Buchwald, percussions: Frank Bockius, 7 Oct 2013

Ivan Kozlenko: "A Soviet diplomatic courier is killed in Portsmouth. Workers sympathetic to the Soviets get hold of his diplomatic bag. They keep the documents and give them to the sailors of a Soviet ship heading to Leningrad. Intelligence agents move heaven and earth to get the secret documents, with true spy intrigues at every port of call."

"A poster designer at the Kharkiv branch of VUFKU, Oleksandr Dovzhenko (1894-1956) found himself at the Odessa Film Factory almost by accident. Dovzhenko first managed to work with a film crew on Behind the Forest (Za lisom, 1926), directed by Arnold Kordium. He then wrote the script for Vasya the Reformer (Vasia- reformator, 1926); when its director, Faust Lopatynskyi, withdrew during production, Dovzhenko was asked to finish making the film, thanks to the recommendation of his close friend, the writer Yurii Yanovskyi, who had just been appointed the studio’s script supervisor. Vasya the Reformer became a filmmaking masterclass not only for Dovzhenko but for cameraman Danylo Demutskyi, but the final result was rejected by the studio management."

"Determined to devote himself to comedy films, Dovzhenko next directed Love’s Berries (Yahidky kokhannia, 1926), employing the standard gimmicks of American comedies and somewhat unusual absurdist humour, with paradoxical and unmotivated changes of narrative and eruption of extra-plot elements into the fabric of the movie. Love’s Berries was probably the first example of the film comedy genre in Ukrainian cinema."

"His first films were failures, but Dovzhenko was given a last chance to prove his skills with a spy film, The Diplomatic Bag (Sumka dypkuyera, 1927), whose plot was based on a true story, the internationally famous murder in 1926 of Soviet diplomatic courier Theodor Nette, who was shot on a train from Moscow to Riga while on duty. Using his own experience as a diplomat and incorporating Expressionistic elements, Dovzhenko created his first successful movie. He filled it with clichés borrowed from German crime films: fights in compartments and on deck, chasing a steamboat on a motorboat, etc. Unlike Dovzhenko’s later films, populated with allegorical character-symbols and generalized character-types, in The Diplomatic Bag we still find living individuals, with restrained but expressive personalities. Shot by cameraman Mykola Kozlovskyi, who had worked on pre-Revolutionary films, the film abounds in interesting camera angles, night photography, and Expressionistic effects (achieved with the use of optical prisms). Shadows and silhouettes play a significant role as elements amplifying suspense in the Expressionist language of the movie. It was Kozlovskyi who familiarized Dovzhenko with the techniques of composition. The film was a box-office success, and was shown in cinemas for a long time, but today it survives only without its first and last parts." Ivan Kozlenko (The GCM Catalogue)

AA: I saw for the first time this pre-Zvenigora Dovzhenko feature. In its current surviving état without the end and the beginning.

First impressions: this is a wild exercise conducted in reckless abandon. There is no psychology. The characters are stylized caricatures, models, types. The approach is grotesque, expressionistic, and farcical. There is at times a lunatic atmosphere. The film is often experimental, with an emphasis on jokes and visual effects such as crooked mirrors, kaleidoscopic images, and superimpositions. There is a pastiche approach to the espionage plot and the action narrative.

All this is relevant to the theme of seeing unclearly.

The visual quality of the DCP: could this be from a dvd master? The image looks stuffy, and there is a problem with the left side of the image.

The movie inspired Günter A. Buchwald and Frank Bockius to an experimental music performance which underlined the sense of restlessness in the movie.

Images: Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre, Kiev

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