Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Film concert Oblomok imperii / Fragment of an Empire (2018 restoration) Vladimir Deshevov score, premiere of the new arrangement

Oblomok imperii (Fragment of an Empire, SU 1929) by Fridrikh Ermler. Fiodor Nikitin as Filimonov. Photo: San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Orchestra San Marco, conducted by Günter Buchwald. Foto di: Valerio Greco. Teatro Verdi, 9 Oct 2019. Source: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2019 / Flickr.

Обломок империи / Imperiumin sirpale.
SU 1929.
regia/dir: Fridrikh Ermler.
scen: Katerina Vinogradskaya, Fridrikh Ermler, da un’idea di/based on an idea by Katerina Vinogradskaya.
photog: Yevgenii Shneider; asst. Yakov Svetitskii;
esterni/exteriors: Yevgenii Mikhailov;
cam. op. (2nd unit): Gleb Bushtuev.
scg/des: Yevgenii Yenei.
asst dir: Robert Maiman, Viktor Portnov.
mus: Vladimir Deshevov.
prod. mgr: Adolf Minkin.
cast: Fiodor Nikitin (sottufficiale Filimonov/Filimonov, non-commissioned officer), Liudmila Semionova (sua moglie/his wife), Valerii Solovtsov (suo marito, un operatore culturale/her husband, a cultural worker), Yakov Gudkin (soldato dell’Armata Rossa ferito/wounded Red Army soldier), Viacheslav Viskovskii (ex proprietario della fabbrica/former owner of the factory), Lidia Ulman (sua moglie/his wife), Sergei Gerasimov (ufficiale zarista/White officer), Ursula Krug (superiore di Filimonov alla stazione/Filimonov’s employer at the station), Vladimir Stukachenko (l’operaio che dà istruzioni a Filimonov/worker instructing Filimonov), Viktor Portnov (ubriacone/drunkard), Sergei Ponachevnyi (comandante dell’Armata Rossa/Red commander), Boris Feodosiev (ufficiale/officer), Emil Gal (passeggero sul treno/passenger on train), Varvara Miasnikova (controllore/tram conductor), Bella Chernova (signora sul tram/lady in a tram), Yuri Muzykant (uomo sul tram/man in a tram), Piotr Savin (un tizio in fabbrica/guy at the factory), Aleksandr Melnikov (giovane operaio/young factory worker), Vera Bakun (ragazza al bar/girl in the canteen), Rasma Mashkevich.
prod: Sovkino (Leningrad).
uscita/rel: 28.10.1929.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 2239 m [2218 m + 21 m restoration credits] (orig. 2203 m), 109′ (18 fps); did./titles: RUS.
fonte/source: San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Restauro/Restored 2018: EYE Filmmuseum, Gosfilmofond of Russia, San Francisco Silent Film Festival; collab: Cinémathèque suisse; restauro/restoration: Peter Bagrov, Robert Byrne, Annike Kross; a cura di/curated by: Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi.

Original score by: Vladimir Deshevov.
Performed live by: Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone.
Conductor: Günter A. Buchwald.

    Based on the arrangement by Daan van den Hurk.

    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Eventi speciali.
    Orchestra San Marco played at the strength of 16 musicians.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Underlight, 9 Oct 2019.

Peter Bagrov (GCM): "Fragment of an Empire is one of the most canonical works of Soviet silent cinema (it was in fact shown at the Giornate in 2011 as a part of the Canon Revisited series). It is considered Fridrikh Ermler’s key work, and features a legendary performance by Fiodor Nikitin. The sequence in which the main character’s memory returns is often described as a perfect blend of Soviet montage and Method acting. But, as it turned out, for decades we were dealing with a re-edited and abridged version. Even the most famous shot of the film, that of Christ in a gas mask, reproduced in dozens of publications, was absent from all the distribution prints."

"The film tells the story of Filimonov, a non-commissioned officer who has lost his memory because of shell-shock during WWI and who “awakens” ten years later. He finds himself in an unknown city (Leningrad, instead of St. Petersburg) in a new country (the USSR, instead of Russia), the factories now belong to “the people” (whatever that means), and Filimonov’s wife has a new husband."

"Ermler’s intentions were to show the renewal of the country, the accomplishments of Soviet power, and the liberation and rebirth of the people, all through the eyes of a newcomer. But he had a remarkable ability to let the cat out of the bag, to turn propaganda into the most unvarnished exposure of reality. This happened exactly because he was a “Party Artist” and active Communist: Ermler sincerely believed that if everything happening in the country was not necessarily good, it was nonetheless expedient. And thus there was no sense in distorting or decorating reality."

"In Fragment, a man who used to have a world of his own, a house, a wife, finds himself surrounded by faceless members of the Komsomol, in a land of Constructivist blocks which press down on him from all sides. “Where is Petersburg? Who is the master here?” he screams hysterically. But there is no Petersburg any more. There is a new, frightful city-hybrid (part of the film was shot in Kharkov, because there was still relatively little Constructivism on view in Leningrad). And there isn’t a master – only the factory committee. “Poor fellow, he is to learn,” wrote Oswell Blakeston in Close Up in January 1930. “His marvellous face moves through a thousand positions, as quickly as the streets which flash by him from the tram cars. An arch is almost a halo round his head. But the new architecture terrifies him; he runs away. (…) the influence of the revolution (…) has changed the lovely Eisenstein type to the proletarian Menjou. (…) Victory. A new man. Yes, but something else has died.”"

"The famous scene of the protagonist regaining his memory was made under the definite influence of Freud (of whom Ermler was a huge admirer). Its climax was a succession of crosses – a military cross, a cross on a church, a cross at the cemetery. Concluding with a big Crucifix somewhere on the battlefield, and on Christ’s face, a gas mask (which was a citation of a scandalous anti-military drawing by George Grosz, one of the leading graphic artists of German Expressionism and the Neue Sachlichkeit/“New Objectivity”). Fragment of an Empire was widely distributed at the time of its original release, and each country had a censorship of its own. But of the nine versions (and a couple of dozen prints) that were located during this restoration, only two contained the Christ image."

"Numerous public screenings of Fragment in its native country in 1929–1930 proved that both its language and the multi-layered narrative were too complicated for the “masses”. It was decided to make a simplified version of the film – mainly for distribution in the villages. It now appears that what was long known as the “canonical” version of Ermler’s masterpiece is in fact this “village adaptation”."

"But it’s not only the missing shots and scenes that called for a new restoration. The original intertitles, which we are able to see for the first time since the 1930s, are not just remarks and lines of dialogue, but a full-fledged element of montage. They change in size and even in geometrical form, which is not only visually impressive, but determines the intonation. Finally, for the first time, this film has been restored using original nitrate prints; the previous restorations were based on a post-war dupe negative."

"All his life Ermler was highly receptive to music, and his career is marked by fruitful collaborations with some of the leading Soviet composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich and Gavriil Popov. The first of these was with Vladimir Deshevov (1889–1955), an eminent composer of the Russian avant-garde. Fragment of an Empire was one of the very few Soviet silent films with a commissioned orchestral score. However, Deshevov’s music was rarely performed – perhaps because it was anything but optimistic, and emphasized the ambiguity of the film’s ideology: tragedy here is mixed with sarcasm. Whether Ermler realized that or not, he was fascinated by Deshevov’s work, and wrote to him: “I am afraid that people will go to listen to the music, not to watch the film. So be it! I am delighted.”"

"This restoration was based primarily on a 35 mm nitrate print held at the Eye Filmmuseum, supplemented with another nitrate from the Cinémathèque suisse (which contained not only the legendary Christ-with-gas-mask image, but the original Russian intertitles for Acts 2–6 as well). The continuity was checked, and the titles absent from the Swiss print have been reproduced based on the Russian “montage lists” (censorship records) held at Gosfilmofond." Peter Bagrov (GCM)

AA: Premiere of a new arrangement of the original 1929 Vladimir Deshehov score.

I blogged in June about the Film concert Oblomok imperii to the score by Stephen Horne and this same 2018 restoration.

I blogged also about the Canon Revisited screening of Oblomok imperii in Pordenone in 2011 when an Österreichisches Filmmuseum print was viewed.


Tonight was by far the best experience I have had of Fragment of an Empire. The visual quality of the 2018 restoration is excellent. Played live in film concert, the original Vladimir Deshevov score sounds great.

Fragment of an Empire belongs to the films relevant to Le Giornate del Cinema Muto's commitment to the memory of World War One. Anton Kaes has written a book called Shell Shock Cinema about Weimar films, and the title fits this film perfectly, too.

It is a mind trip, a cosmic trip, a visit to another reality. Friedrich Ermler conveys the war psychosis, the amnesia and the traumatic recovery powerfully and eloquently.

For a Bolshevist film Fragment of an Empire is far from one-sided. The Czarist officer (Sergei Gerasimov) and the Bolshevik agitator (Valeri Solovtsov) are mirror images in their denial of life.

When the protagonist Filimonov (Fyodor Nikitin) recovers his memory and finds his wife (Lyudmila Semyonova) whom he has not seen in ten years, she turns out to have remarried. Her new husband is none other than the Bolshevik agitator who preaches feminism and practices chauvinism. "Scratch the Bolshevik and find the Old Russian chauvinist". Ermler's portrait of marriage inferno has touches of Ibsen, Strindberg and Bergman. The marriage is not even free of domestic violence. Perhaps only a card-carrying Communist like Ermler could pull it off to portray the agitator as the creepiest character.

The ideological centerpiece is a dialogue about capitalist competition versus a socialist "fight of the good fight" – a society not based on a zero sum game where winner takes all but a new order in which everybody wins.

If only.

Vladimir Deshevov's avantgardistic score has touches of Futurism. The machine of war, the machinery of heavy industry, and the burgeoning urbanization are reflected in Deshevov's music. It has affinities with Edmund Meisel's Battleship Potemkin score in the industrial touches of its sound but it is proudly original.

Deshevov's music ranks with the greatest vintage silent scores with Camille Saint-Saëns (L'Assassinat du Duc de Guise), Pietro Mascagni (Rapsodia satanica), Armas Järnefelt (Sången om den eldröda blomman), Armas Launis (Häidenvietto Karjalan runomailla), Edmund Meisel (Battleship Potemkin), Richard Strauss (Der Rosenkavalier the instrumental arrangement), Dmitri Shostakovich (The New Babylon) and Maurice Jaubert (Die wunderbare Lüge der Nina Petrowna).

Performed live by Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone, conducted by Günter A. Buchwald and based on the arrangement by Daan van den Hurk, this performance rose to the occasion at the strength of 16 players. It was a rich and atmospheric interpretation, and for instance the horn section played memorably.


AA Facebook capsule:

We heard one of the greatest vintage silent film scores of all times: Vladimir Deshevov's futuristic music to Fragment of an Empire. Performed live by Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone, conducted by Guenter Alfred Buchwald and based on the arrangement by Daan van den Hurk, at the strength of 16 players, a rich and atmospheric interpretation, and for instance the horns were glorious.


Günter A. Buchwald on Facebook, 20 Oct 2019:
Flute, Oboe, Clarinet (Bb) Bassoon, 2 horns, trumpet, trombone, Timpani, Percussion, Piano, Vl 1,2, Viola, V-Cello, Double bass, + Conductor. (16+1) Booking: see my website.

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