Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Lidiya Tridenskaya

Child of the Big City (1914)

Evgeni_Bauer

I’m always excited to see another movie by Evgeni Bauer, who is probably my favorite filmmaker from the period I’m studying (so far, at least). Bauer was more daring than most of his contemporaries, and could see that cinema had the potential to be a new way of telling stories, not dependent on older models like the theater, and he avoided theatrical conventions in bringing his visions to the screen. He also had a taste for unusual content, for stories that one wouldn’t be likely to see in American movies of the time.

 Child of the Big City1

I’m tempted to interpret this movie as a combination of the “Lost Girl” narrative typical of American movies with the “Vamp” that would become a hit with Theda Bara the next year. But, really, it is neither of these, although common elements can be found. Marya (or Mary, the English Intertitles vary) is a poor seamstress who works in a sweatshop but dreams of romance. One day, while window-shopping, she gets picked up by two young gentlemen who take her back to a fancy apartment for dinner and drinks. She, unaccustomed to the alcohol, rapidly gets drunk and accepts a proposition to become the “companion” of Victor, the younger and less grabby of the men. At this point, the story takes a turn as we are told she is “ruining” her new companion (presumably by spending a great deal of money on clothes, nightclubs, and a nice apartment). He begs her to join him in a more modest lifestyle, but she has gained a taste for riches and looks elsewhere for someone who can provide her the life to which she is now accustomed. Oddly, she chooses the butler for this purpose, but maybe butlers made more in Russia in those days. Victor continues to obsess over her as he sinks into poverty and hangs around the door to her apartment. Eventually, he sends up a note begging to speak to her again, and she dismisses him with three rubles. He dies on the spot, and she runs off with her society friends to Maxim’s.

 Child of the Big City2

Although this movie wasn’t quite as daring as some of Bauer’s other work, I found it satisfactorily innovative. There are a number of nicely-framed shots, including overheads and a shot up an elaborate stairwell. I liked a shot where we see Marya window-shopping from inside the store, then the reversal where the two men proposition her from outside, to the stern glare of the shopkeeper looking out at them. I also was impressed when a scene opened on an elaborate (closed) door to a nightclub, allowing us to just glance through a small glass window as a car pulls up outside, then moments later the door opens to reveal the arrival of the dinner party. In the existing print, the tracking shot into the nightclub dancer is cut into awkward jump-cuts, which may be an experiment that didn’t quite work (for me) or it could be a mistake in the restoration. There’s another good tracking shot backward as Marya leads her followers out into the night, but it cuts a bit too quickly to be fully effective. Once again, we also get a good sense of lighting, with practicals that seem to provide actual light on the set, and a great proto-noir shot of Victor in silhouette in front of an over-exposed window. On the whole, Bauer’s cameraman Boris Zavelev avoids “square” set-ups and uses diagonal angles, but where he does shoot straight-on, it’s used to emphasize the lack of choice a character (usually Victor) has in his next move. Many of the sets are heavily decorated with baroque props, emphasizing the conspicuous consumption of the wealthy classes.

Child of the Big City

Alternate Titles: Ditya bolshogo goroda, Дитя большого города, The Girl from the Street, Devushka s ulitsy

Director: Evgeni Bauer

Camera: Boris Zavelev

Starring: Elena P. Smirnova, Michael Salarow, Arsenii Bibikov, Lidiya Tridenskaya

Run Time: 37 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Peasants’ Lot (1912)

Making hay while the sun shines.

Making hay while the sun shines.

While American film makers like D.W. Griffith were making “progressive” films about the hardships of working people in the USA, Russian film innovator Vasily Goncharov did something similar with this movie. It might also be seen as a more sophisticated version of his “16th Century Russian Wedding,” except that there’s no surviving wedding, just a melodramatic story of young Russians in love. This movie once again illustrates the superior artistry and emotional power of Russian film in the pre-revolutionary period.

What's that behind your back, Ivan?

What’s that behind your back, Ivan?

Here, young Petr (Ivan Mosjoukine, who we’ve seen in “Christmas Eve” and “House in Kolomna”) is in love with Masha (Aleksandra Goncharova, from “16th Century Russian Wedding” and “The Brigand Brothers”). They make time together in a haystack, to the approval of his father, and convince her father that they should be wed. While they are planning, a fire destroys the house of Masha’s family, and they sink into poverty as they are forced to sell off their most important possessions, including the cow that brought in most of the family income. Masha goes to the city in search of labor, as many young peasant people did in Russia during the Czarist period. Just as with an American film in which a healthy, honest young woman from the farm seeks her fortune in the city, Masha soon falls into a dangerous and corrupting situation. She becomes a serving-girl to a wealthy man with an automobile and ulterior motives. Back on the farm, her father becomes ill and the family dispatches a letter asking her to send money quickly. She gets it the only way she can see how – by asking the master for it and doing what he asks in return. She delivers the money, and confesses how she got it, and she and her father commiserate over their unfortunate lot. Petr is now married, and Masha turns to another suitor, but they seem to be mooning over one another as they work together in the fields once more. The version I saw ends suddenly with a shot of Masha’s wedding, she not looking happy at all in her finery.

Take that, Murnau!

Take that, Murnau!

As the fortunes of film preservation would have it, that’s all we have of this movie, because the last reel was lost at some point when the Soviets were “preserving” all Czarist-approved movies. It’s hard to imagine a happy ending, but there might have been a clearer lesson. As it is, we get enough of the flavor, at least to see what Goncharov was doing in trying to make a film about the Russian people (idealized though his view of them seemed to be), rather than Russian high culture like Pushkin and Tolstoy. Especially noteworthy here was the camerawork of Louis Forestier, the Paris-born cinematographer (he also shot “The Brigand Brothers” and “Queen of Spades”). He’s very interested in what the camera shows, what it does not, and when and how to reveal things. In one shot, a critical feature is blocked by Ivan Mosjoukine’s gangly frame in the middle of the shot, until he turns and sees it in the distance, and suddenly that becomes the center-point of the action. In another, a pan begins with two characters seemingly in a harsh street environment, then slowly revealing another direction for them to walk off towards the front plaza of the rich man’s house. The scene where Masha first arrives in the city is highly reminiscent of the farmer couple’s entrance to the city in “Sunrise,” except where F.W. Murnau had to build an elaborate crane and expensive street-set, Forestier gets the same effect with real streets and streetcars, without even needing a close up to achieve it.

Speaking of which, Fritzi Kramer, over at “Movies Silently,” says that this movie “aches for close-ups.” There aren’t any. There aren’t any Intertitles either, and although I had to watch it twice to be sure I caught everything, I don’t regard either of these as weaknesses. We maintain a distance from our subjects in part because they are more archetypes than individuals, but more importantly because it seems like the respectful distance they would ask of us. They are not prudes, these Russian peasants, but they don’t just let any stranger into their intimate worlds. The lack of Intertitles in a semi-literate world also seems highly appropriate. Each outdoor shot takes beautiful advantage of the countryside, and the indoor spaces are always at a pleasing angle, rather than the square “stages” of a Biograph production of the time. Overall, I found it as affecting as the best of Griffith’s melodramas, and better shot than any of them.

Alternate Titles: Krest’ianskaia Dolia, Крестьянская доля

Director: Vasily Goncharov

Camera: Louis Forestier

Starring: Ivan Mosjoukine, Alexandra Goncharova, Pyotr Chardinin, Lidiya Tridenskaya

Run Time: 35 Min (surviving)

You can watch it for free: here.

Christmas Eve (1913)

Christmas Eve

Alternate Titles: The Night Before Christmas, Ночь пе́ред Рождество́м, Noch pered Rozhdestvom

Thanks to the Devil, everyone will have a merry Christmas this year! This movie by Ladislaw Starevich shows that, in addition to a talented animator, he was a clever director of live action as well. The plot is based on a story by Nikolai Gogol, so once again Russian filmmakers draw on “high” cultural sources, but in this case, the result is rather more Earthy humor than we were getting from our Pushkin fare. The Devil meets up with a witch and goes for a ride on her broomstick, then a series of men come to visit her, each in sequence hiding in a sack to avoid detection by the others. Meanwhile, the witch’s son, apparently a straight-laced lad who is also the town blacksmith, calls on the woman he hopes to marry, a vain creature who demands that he procure the Tsaritsa’s shoes as a wedding gift. Our poor smith heads back home, where he finds all the sacks. He takes one with him to a man “who knows all the devils” and apparently dines by use of telekinesis. The man sees the Devil in his sack and tells him he doesn’t have far to go to find him. Befuddled, the smith returns to the road, where the Devil escapes from his sack and agrees to fly the smith to St Petersburg. Once there, the Devil shrinks down and hides in his pocket, then gives him some presentable clothes for his audience with Potemkin. Potemkin agrees to let him have the shoes and he returns to his village, beating the Devil for good measure and offering, along with the gifts, to let the father of the bride beat him. The fickle girl has lost interest in the shoes, but agrees to marry him anyway.

 Christmas Eve1

This is probably the best comedy I’ve seen among the Russian movies I’ve watched so far. Starevich is much more comfortable moving the camera and giving closer views than either Goncharov or Drankov, although he’s no Bauer. He relies more on effects than almost anyone I’ve seen from this period, outside of Méliès. In addition to multiple flying scenes, we get the Devil shrinking, the dumplings flying from the pot into the wise man’s mouth, and a few appearances and disappearances as well. Also, the Devil at one point “steals the moon,” which appears to be an actually working practical light, which he holds as if it were quite hot (which I would expect it to be!). There’s also a curious illuminated prop, which is part of a caroling procession. Finally, in the role of the Devil we get the famous Ivan Mosjoukine, one of the best actors of the period. He puts his all into the role of the degenerated man-beast, hopping about with monkey-like frolics. There’s lots to be enjoyed here, and although Starevich probably relied on the audience’s familiarity with the story, not knowing it beforehand won’t get in the way of watching it.

Director: Ladislaw Starevich

Camera: Ladislaw Starevich

Starring: Ivan Mosjoukine, Olga Obolenskaya, Lidiya Tridenskaya, Alexander Kheruvimov, Petr Lopukhin

Run Time: 41 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

A Sixteenth-Century Russian Wedding (1909)

16th Century Russian Wedding

Alternate Titles: Русская свадьба XVI столетия, Russkaya svadba XVI stoletiya

This short film is a simple historical reenactment. It was produced, as was “Drama in a Gypsy Camp,” by the up-and-coming Alexander Khanzhonkov, who seems to have had a taste in Russian-national themed movies. He retained Vladimir Siversen, the director/cameraman, to shoot this picture, but handed the reins of directing over to Vasily Goncharov. This was probably wise, Siversen seemed to find both directing and cranking the film a bit overwhelming in the last outing, but here the camerawork is consistent and Goncharov seems to have been comfortable keeping the actors in line (liner notes tell us he relied on assistance from Pyotr Chardynin, who plays the father of the groom, in this). The entire movie is shot on the same stage, with only slight changes in decoration and costume to signal the difference between the bride’s room and the groom’s. The wedding hall is decorated with an elaborately-painted backdrop like something out of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” but for the most part the art is fairly restrained. All of the actors are shown full-frame, nobody’s feet are cut off, and with considerable headroom, making them appear quite small and indistinguishable on the screen. You’d never recognize any of these actors if you saw them in a different costume. The costumes emphasize the fact that this is an upper-class wedding, not a peasant affair, although some of the dancers at the wedding have more austere clothes, once again a comment on the presumed class of movie-goers in Czarist Russia.

Director: Vasily Goncharov

Camera: Vladimir Siversen

Starring: Alexandra Goncharova, Andrej Gromov, Pyotr Chardynin, Pavel Biryukov, Vasili Stepanov, Lidiya Tridenskaya

Run Time: 8 Min, 25 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.