Monday, October 05, 2015

Dva druga, model i podruga / Three Friends and an Invention

Dva druga, model i podruga. Image: Gosfilmofond of Russia.
Два друга, модель и подруга / (Kanitel s mashinkoi / Neobychainye prikliucheniia Akhova i Makhova) [Due amici, il modello e l’amica / Two Friends, a Model, and a Girlfriend; Tira e molla con la macchinetta / Much Ado about a Little Machine; Le avventure straordinarie di Akhov e Makhov / The Extraordinary Adventures of Akhov and Makhov] [The film was not released in Finland] (Sovkino, Moscow – SU 1928) D:  Aleksei Popov; SC: Aleksei Popov, Mikhail Karostin; DP: Aleksandr [Abram] Grinberg, Gleb Troianskii; AD: Viktor Aden; ass D: Mikhail Karostin; C: Sergei Yablokov (Akhov, soap factory worker), Sergei Lavrentiev (Makhov, soap factory worker), Olga Tretiakova (Dasha, factory worker), Nikolai Nirov (Ardalion Matveyevich Medalionov, soap-box dealer), Aleksei Popov (barge captain), Nikolai Romanov (Komsomol member), Murov; rel: 20.1.1928; orig. l: 1815 m; 35 mm, 1788.6 m, 71' (22 fps); titles: RUS; print source: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Mauro Colombis, 5 Oct 2015

Natalia Noussinova (GCM catalog and website: "Aleksei Popov (1892-1961), principally remembered as a theatre director, made his debut in the cinema of Tsarist Russia at about the same time that he joined the Moscow Art Theatre. His first film role was as Alyosha Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov (Bratia Karamazovy, 1915), directed by Viktor Turzhanskii (generally transliterated as “Tourjansky”). The following year he partnered Olga Gzovskaia in one of her most successful films, Boris Sushkevich’s Hurricane (Uragan). In 1917 he signed a contract for six films with Khanzhonkov, but appeared in only four, in all of which he partnered major stars of the day: Zoia Barantsevich (The Annouchka Affair / Annushkino delo, dir. Aleksandr Uralskii), Vera Karalli (Dream and Life / Mechta i zhizn, dir. Uralskii), Olga Rakhmanova (The Secret of the Confession / Taina ispovedi, dir. Uralskii), and S. Kaminskaia (Sleep, Painful Heart / Usni, bespokoinoe serdtse, dir. Boris Chaikovskii). After the October Revolution Popov’s career as a film actor came to an end, and he went on to make his name as a stage director at the Vakhtangov Theatre. At the end of the 1920s however he was given the chance to direct films for Sovkino – now based in the former Khanzhonkov studio, where he had worked as an actor."

"In Two Friends, a Model, and a Girlfriend Popov also played a small role of which he was especially proud, that of the cherry-eating barge captain. He was accompanied by a fine cast: Sergei Yablokov, his ex-student from the Kostroma theatre; Sergei Lavrentiev, from the Theatre of the Revolution; and Olga Tretiakova, a famous actress of Soviet cinema."

"It is natural for a modern audience to see Two Friends as a Soviet precursor of Vigo’s L’Atalante, since a major portion of it takes place during the course of a river trip. One can alternatively recognize it as a parody of the “maritime films” that flooded Soviet cinema in the wake of Battleship Potemkin (compare the sequence with the little victory flag and the hat that proudly appear on the mast of the barge)."

"However, Popov later attributed his inspiration to another source: “The idea of making a comedy became my obsession. At that time everyone was howling ‘There is no Soviet comedy about our daily life!’ As there were no good comedy scenarios either, I and my assistant Mikhail Karostin decided to write one ourselves ... This was just at the time that Buster Keaton’s film Our Hospitality was being shown in Soviet cinemas, to great success, and we adored the humour of this film, which depicted an early train and all the curious events of travel. Besides Keaton, with his incredible talent, it was the atmosphere of droll and bizarre antiquity that stimulated us to make our film. We wanted to make a film about modern people, active and joyful, but putting them in the milieu of a backward province, absurd but at the same time sufficiently sympathetic. It was about two young scientists who make a long journey deep into a province, ending up in a small town, all the while battling for their invention.”"

"Akhov and Makhov’s “invention” is comic in itself: a machine to make soap boxes. But this turns out to threaten the private entrepreneur Ardalion Medalionov, who persecutes his two young competitors and their friend Dasha throughout their journey. Finally the young scientists defend their invention, Akhov wins Dasha’s love, and as for Makhov, as recompense for being left alone he gets the model.When the film came out it gave the censors some problems (“How can it be possible that two men so stupid could be Soviet inventors?”; “How can it be possible that state functionaries could be so bureaucratic?”), but finally it would be rather well received by audiences and the press. The film scenarist Sergei Yermolinskii wrote an account of the film in Pravda, the most official Soviet journal, approving it as a pioneering film, a new type of comedy, with positive heroes instead of the rogues, swindlers, and NEPmen prevalent in Soviet comedies up to that time. Yermolinskii went so far as to say that the film could have been even more satirical and scathing in its social viewpoint."

"Two Friends, though it seems simple and absurd enough, is nevertheless rich in cultural allusions. Akhov and Makhov are clearly imitating Pat and Patachon; the scoundrel Ardalion gallops in on a horse, followed by the intertitle “A cowboy from Texas”. The intertitles are very interesting – there are quotations from the popular Russian song “Dubinushka” by the boatmen of the Volga, and from Aleksandr Blok’s revolutionary poem Dvenadtsat (“The Twelve”). Akhov and Makhov’s box machine irresistibly recalls Rodchenko’s Constructivist three-dimensional intertitles in Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Pravda No. 14 (Goskino, 1922). The open relationship of Lili Brik with her husband Osip Brik and Mayakovsky also seems to be lightly touched upon in the film’s story of two male friends and Dasha – it isn’t by chance that the famous abbreviation of the name Lilia Yurievna Brik, “LyuB...LU”, invented by Mayakovsky, which when pronounced sounds like “I love you”, is reproduced in one of the intertitles, broken in half."

"Popov’s debut as a cinema director was an international success. The film was distributed in several countries, including the United States, where it was shown under the title Three Friends and an Invention, and described as “a film made in the manner of the Russian humorist Gogol”. It inspired other Soviet “river comedies”, and even appears to have been the model for Grigori Aleksandrov’s Volga-Volga.
" – Natalia Noussinova

AA: Three Friends and an Invention belonged to the favourite films of Henry Miller, as he revealed in his essay on L'Age d'or. (The Battle of the Century was on that list, as well).

It is one of the funniest Soviet comedies I have seen. The approach is relaxed and carefree. It is a bucolic satire on Soviet bureaucracy. In the last sequence the friends meet a single non-corrupt official at last, with a fleeting, obligatory image of Lenin in the background, and this party-ex-machine device apparently cleared the film for distribution.

The milieu and the background are rural. There are affectionate images of horses side by side facing opposite directions, expelling flies from each other with their tails. And cattle bathing in the river. One of the officials the friends are about to meet is busy going hunting with a huge pack of hound dogs dashing out of the doorway. Their little son, learning to clean a gun, is surrounded by puppies of the hound dogs.

The river trip is the centerpiece. Before embarking on a real big paddle steamer the friends need to build a steam boat of their own. They travel by the light of the silvery moon, but a cloud is black, hiding the moon.

Both Akhov and Bakhov pine for Dasha, but three is a crowd. No use to ask a waterlily whether "she loves me" or "she loves me not".

The goofy approach to machines and inventions reminds us of Rube Goldberg and Charlie Bowers, but it is all here rather a laid-back and provincial matter.

The clownish villain of the satire is the saboteur, the nemesis of the friends who is always one step ahead. Thanks to him, the adventure of the friends towards the goal of having their invention (an automated machine for creating cartons for a soap factory) officially registered is a veritable obstacle course.

The intertitles are shaky at times but the general visual quality of the print is good.

No comments: