Saturday, October 07, 2017

Podvig vo ldakh / Heroic Deed Among the Ice

Подвиг во льдах (1928). From the website: Советские кино и театральные плакаты 1920-1930-х годов

Подвиг во льдах. Поиски экипажа "Италии". Героический фильм в 7 ч. [A Feat in the Ice. In Search of the Crew of the Italia. A Heroic Film in Seven Acts] / Urotyö Jäämerellä / Exploit on the Ice / Ice-Breaker Krassin / [Feat in the Ice / Impresa tra i ghiacci], D: Sergei Vasiliev, Georgii Vasiliev (USSR 1928), photog: Wilhelm Bluvshtein, Ignatii Vallentei, Evgenii Bogorov, prod: Sovkino (Leningradskaia fabrika), DCP (from 35 mm, 2016 m), 71 min; titles: RUS, source: RGAKFD, Krasnogorsk.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: Soviet Travelogues.
    Grand piano: José Maria Serralde Ruiz.
    Cinemazero, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2017.

Oksana Sarkisova (GCM 2017): "The industrialization campaign in the Soviet Union brought growing attention to the Arctic as a new frontier of symbolic spatial politics. In 1928, international media attention was drawn to the efforts to save Umberto Nobile, a famous Italian airship designer, and his team following the catastrophe on the expedition to the North Pole of the airship Italia. Nobile’s expedition started off from Milan in April 1928; on May 23, the airship left Spitsbergen and headed towards the North Pole. Two days later the Italia crashed; several survivors, including Nobile, set up a red-coloured tent off Foyn Island, in the northeast (the least accessible region of Svalbard), and sent out SOS signals. Several countries participated in the rescue mission. The Soviet Union dispatched several ships, three of them with cameramen on board. The rescue operation became the subject of Georgii and Sergei Vasiliev’s compilation film, Feat in the Ice. Cameraman Evgenii Bogorov worked on board the research vessel Persei, Ignatii Vallentei filmed on the icebreaker Malygin, and Wilhelm Bluvshtein, who also served as the directors’ assistant on the production of the film, was dispatched to the icebreaker Krasin, which ultimately played the central role in the rescue mission. Feat in the Ice combines footage by various cameramen, and interweaves several expeditions into a single heroic narrative."

"The film opens with footage of Georgii Sedov’s 1912 expedition, which, despite its tragic end, is referenced as an early predecessor of Soviet polar exploration. This is followed by a brief mention of Roald Amundsen and Umberto Nobile’s 1926 flight to the North Pole on the airship Norge. Amundsen is greeted by crowds upon arriving in the USSR; an animated map traces the expedition’s itinerary. The rest of Feat in the Ice focuses on the 1928 rescue mission. The tripartite structure of the first part of the film reminds us of a folktale with three heroes: the Persei starts off from Murmansk and gets caught in the ice shortly upon its departure; the Malygin departs from Arkhangelsk and also becomes stranded in the ice, yet continues its search mission with an airplane operated by pilot Mikhail Babushkin. Finally, the Krasin becomes the main hero of the story: it takes off from “the city of Lenin” and, as if guided by the “directing” gesture of Lenin’s monument, cuts across the desert of ice. While its advance is slowed down by propeller blade damage, the icebreaker sends out a Junkers aircraft operated by Boris Chukhnovsky, which identifies several men on the ice but is itself forced down onto an ice floe by thick fog. Flying together with Chukhnovsky, Bluvshtein records the experience of the crew, a polar bear hunt, a “festive” meal, and spectacular icy panoramas as a backdrop."

"The film repeatedly emphasizes the pioneering achievements of the Krasin, which set a record for advancing the farthest north in the Svalbard region. The final reel highlights international media interest in the event – printing presses, radio stations, telegraphs, and crowds of newspaper boys not only circulate reports about the rescue, but also propagate a proud Soviet narrative of pioneering exploits in the Arctic. The survivors who appear on record are radio operator Giuseppe Biagi, technician Natale Cecioni, navigator Alfredo Viglieri, and of course expedition leader Umberto Nobile, among others. Swedish pilot Einar Lundborg, who picked up Nobile from the ice floe but crashed his plane on the return for more survivors, also appears in the film. The Krasin’s rescue mission was unexpectedly extended, as in late July it also offered assistance to the German passenger liner Monte Cervantes with 1,800 passengers on board, when it collided with an iceberg on its journey from Norway’s North Cape to the Svalbard archipelago."

"In the final episodes, the Krasin arrives at Stavanger in Norway, where Soviet Ambassador Alexandra Kollontai, an organized group of Norwegian workers, foreign correspondents, and a group of youth identified as “Norwegian pioneers” visit the ship. The closing scenes show the Krasin carrying on the Soviet mission of mastering the Arctic regions. Feat in the Ice remains an important document of transnational solidarity, the strengthening rhetoric of ideological competition in the Arctic, and the cameramen’s dedicated work in harsh polar conditions.
" Oksana Sarkisova

AA: An Arctic documentary film of high value, an account of the international rescue mission to save the crew of Umberto Nobile in 1928, with a focus on the Soviet contribution.

The film begins with a résumé of previous Arctic explorations, including Sedov and Amundsen. Umberto Nobile dedices to fly "to the place where not even the eagle has landed". Nobile does reach the North Pole with his zeppelin Italia but crashes on his way back with heavy casualties. There is an international rescue mission. (Even Finland participated).

This film focuses on the Soviet contribution. Of the Soviet ships, Persei, Malygin, and Krasin had camera crews, and the film is based on their footage. There are epic tracking shots from the ships, and stunning aerial footage from the airplanes. Exciting moments include hauling airplanes from the ships, and footage of crashed airplanes. Seagulls and ice bears are sighted. The audience squirmed when ice bears were shot, and there was a silence even in the music. Krasin, "the most powerful icebreaker of the world", is observed facing its biggest challenges, trying to cut the heavy ice.

The visual storytelling is mostly classical, but towards the end there is a montage approach as the message of the success of the rescue travels around the world: we see printing presses, newsboys, etc.

There is an escort to Hammerfest, and in Stavanger a meeting with Alexandra Kollontay, the Soviet Ambassador, one of the first women to hold such a post. There is a propaganda moment which weakens the film as propaganda. The film ends in montage style. In the final images the ice is breaking.

The grip on the narrative is not very strong, but the footage is often amazing. Animation is often used on maps to make sense of the voyages.

José Maria Serralde Ruiz provided a heroic musical commentary with references in the beginning to Sergei Rachmaninoff's fifth piano prelude (Прелюдии для фортепиано / Ten Preludes, Op. 23, 1903, No. 5, in G minor) and towards the finale to Dmitri Shostakovich's concertino for two pianos (Концертино для двух фортепиано, соч. 94, 1954).

The visual quality is uneven but often good enough and with full contrast.

The Red Tent (Красная палатка), a fictional account of the voyage, was directed by Mikhail Kalatozov as his last film in 1969 with Peter Finch (Umberto Nobile), Sean Connery (Roald Amundsen), Claudia Cardinale (Valeria), Eduard Martsevich (Malmberg) and Hardy Krüger (Lundborg).

No comments: