Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Garmon / Accordion

Garmon / Accordion. Zoya Fedorova as Marusenka.

Гармонь. Музыкальная комедия / Harmonikka / La fisarmonica.
    Director: Igor’ Savčenko. Year: 1934. Country: URSS
    Scen.: Aleksandr Žarov, Igor’ Savčenko. F.: Evgenij Šnejder, Julij Fogel’man. Scgf.: Valentina Chmelëva. Mus.: Sergej Potockij. Int.: Pëtr Savin (Timoška), Zoja Fëdorova (Marusen’ka), Igor’ Savčenko (il cupo), Nikolaj Jaročkin (il malizioso), Nikolaj Zyrjanov (il ragazzo vestito alla marinara). Prod.: Mežrabpomfilm. 35 mm. D.: 56’. Bn.
    Print from Gosfilmofond of Russia.
    E-subtitles in English and Italian by Sub-Ti Londra.
    Viewed at Sala Scorsese, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Second Utopia: 1934 – the Golden Age of Soviet Sound Film, 27 June 2018

Peter Bagrov (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "In textbooks Garmon’ is often credited as the first Soviet musical. Maybe. ‘An idyll’ would be a more suitable definition. But if it is a musical, it is a very unconventional one indeed. On the other hand, what should one expect from a feature-length adaptation of a short poem? Igor’ Savčenko had a most Garmon’ 163 eclectic artistic background: a native Ukrainian, he was studying with a highbrow professor of acting in Leningrad, and afterwards started his career as the director of a very leftist avant-garde semi-professional Theatre of Young Workers (TRAM) in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. He made two short films in Baku, both were banned. Nevertheless, he was offered a job at Mežrabpomfilm, a company aimed at entertainment and profits (a rather exotic goal in Soviet Russia of the 1930s)."

"The advent of sound called for new genres. And Savčenko suggested a simple story with rhymed dialogue, infiltrated with singing and dancing. The best accordion player in the village is elected secretary of the village Komsomol (Young Communist League). He decides to lead a serious life from then on and buries his accordion in a haystack. Life without music becomes dull, until a kulak, an enemy of the state, appears from his Siberian exile with his own accordion and his own ‘kulak music’. The only way to save the village from his influence, to destroy him, is to exhume the ‘Soviet accordion’…"

"The plot is deliberately silly. But it isn’t just a comedy. It is also a very poetic film, highly influenced by Dovženko. If Dovženko had decided to turn Earth into a comedy, he would have made something like Garmon’. There is a most unusual camera style – Evgenij Šnejder was a refined cinematographer with a taste for eccentric angles and expressionist lighting. To make things even more complicated, Savčenko decided to turn field labor (such as harvesting) into musical numbers – several years later this technique became the core of Ivan Pyriev’s famous collective farm musicals.
Never make such rubbish as Garmon’ again”, said Stalin. Thus began Igor’ Savčenko’s remarkable film career. Not only did he become a versatile film director, he was also a legendary professor of film: among his pupils were Marlen Chuciev and Sergej Paradžanov." Peter Bagrov

AA: Last month in Rochester I saw Jolly Fellows, also often credited as the first Soviet musical. It premiered on 25 December 1934. I am not able to find the premiere date of Accordion but presumably it must have been earlier so it would indeed have to be the first.

In his illuminating introduction Peter Bagrov singled out among other things the contribution of Yevgeni Schneider, one of the best Soviet cinematographers, of for instance Fragment of an Empire. Igor Savchenko in Accordion invented the theme of harvesting as a rewarding motif for a musical: the rhythmical movement, the joy of collective work. That became a motif for the kolkhoz musicals of Ivan Pyriev. In Soviet cinema love was portrayed as pure and chaste, but the passion of the harvest scenes was a way of sublimation of the energy of physical love. Himself influenced by Dovzhenko, Savchenko died young but as a professor of VGIK taught a remarkable generation of talent including Alov, Naumov, Paradzhanov, and Khutsiev (still alive at age 92). None of them became clones of him. (Résumé of Peter's introduction)

In early Soviet sound cinema music was of the essence as we saw yesterday in the Song About Happiness. The composer in Accordion was Sergei Pototsky who also composed By the Bluest of Seas for Boris Barnet. The songs are infectious, with refrains such as "From far away", "The sun goes down to rest", "Sing a song of harvest", "A lovely romantic evening was coming", "No end in sight for our land", and "Polka Komsomolka".

The diabolical kulak seducer (the actor is not credited but he is the director Igor Savchenko himself, revealed Peter) plays tunes such as "A glass of vodka on the table". He is seducing the villagers to drink. He tries to harass the leading lady (at first superbly able to defend herself, making the seducer a laughing stock for all, but then threatened by a whole group of men). He spreads slogans about "down with the Soviet power" and breaks the window of the Komsomol quarters. The hero grabs a gun but then decides: "we don't need to shoot them, quite the opposite".

Instead of the gun, the hero fetches his accordion which he has buried deep into the haystack, having reasoned that serious kolkhoz duties and musical merriment don't mix. But love and joy are indispensable, too.

Soviet films were Troyan horses. Accordion is a propaganda vehicle which portrays the Soviet countryside as full of joy and abundance with slogans such as "big harvests all over the Soviet Union" and "affluent life has come to collective farms". The audience knew otherwise. Meanwhile the crazy humour and the affirmation of life in films like this convey elements and continuities of poetry and subversion.

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