Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: S. Rassatov

Best Production Design 1915

Set design can be overlooked as an important element in constructing an illusion, but when it’s done badly, you notice immediately. Filmmakers coming from a theatrical tradition suddenly had the power to create much more convincing stages for their players to act on – but also suffered from the fact that the conventional stage doesn’t look as good on screen as in person. Audiences became more demanding, and the cost and skill involved in making a movie set went up correspondingly.

In 1915, a high bar was already place for production designers, and the movies nominated for best production design reflect this. “Young Romance,” in addition to taking advantage of the natural scenery of a Long Island resort, used set design to show the parallels and contrasts in the two leads’ paths and highlight their meeting. Evgeni Bauer, himself a former set designer, contributed two movies to our list. In “Daydreams,” we get a sense of an urban Russian bourgeoisie from long ago, both from outdoor and indoor shots, while “Children of the Age” shows a more decadent, or glamorous, variation on the theme by emphasizing garden parties and romantic rendezvous. In “The Cheat,” we see a similar world in an American context, often by night and with long shadows. Finally, “Alias Jimmy Valentine” shows us fascinating labyrinthine bank vaults and decaying urban tenements.

The nominees for Best Production Design for 1915 are…

  1. Young Romance
  2. Daydreams
  3. Children of the Age
  4. The Cheat
  5. Alias Jimmy Valentine

And the winner is…”Children of the Age!”

Children of the AgeBauer’s unique eye for mise-en-scène gives us a fascinating world of contrasts: from the simple home of the working man to the backlit greenhouse where his wife and her future lover meet. While the others were all worth celebrating, this was finally my favorite.

Children of the Age (1915)

I stumbled across this Evgeni Bauer film while looking for media on “Child of the Big City” – someone has uploaded an Italian translation to Wikimedia Commons with the wrong title in English and Russian! Lucky for me, because it means I get to watch more Bauer.

 Children of the Age1

This is a shorter movie than would be considered “feature-length” today, although at the time it would have counted as long enough to take seriously. Like many of Bauer’s films, it explores the conflict of class and intimate relationships. This time, we get Vera Kholodnaia (later in “A Life for a Life” and “The Woman Who Invented Love”), later to be known as “The Queen of the Screen” in Russia, as the starring victim. She plays a lower-middle class housewife whose husband (Ivan Gorskij) has a job as a bank clerk and who has a very small baby at home. They can afford a maid, showing us that they aren’t truly working class, but their apartment is small and Vera has to sew and do other household chores. One day while she is shopping in a fascinatingly Russian-looking shopping mall, she runs into an old school friend who apparently has married up or come into an inheritance, because she can afford a chauffeured car. She gives Vera a ride home and they talk of old times. The husband returns, and eyes the car suspiciously, then agrees to meet the friend and his wife at a garden party.

 Children of the Age

At the garden party, a libertine older man (Arsenii Bibikov, who we saw before in “Child of the Big City” and “The Peasants’ Lot”) takes notice of Vera and finagles an introduction. He gives her champagne and begins a flirtation, to which Vera is politely responsive. Probably she’s flattered at the attention, but we have no sense that she means to cross the line, and as soon as her husband arrives, she leaves with him. Arsenii is not satisfied, however, and encourages the friend to bring her around more often. Vera does begin to come along to more “society” events, while the husband waits at home in a gloomy room, his worst suspicions haunting him. Arsenii then comes up with the expedient of having the husband fired from his job. Now the situation is increasingly grim, and Vera, who continues to resist any improprieties, is becoming dependent upon Arsenii. Finally, he manages to trap her in his car, and gives her a long, sustained kiss before the fade-out. Vera returns home disheveled with a look of shock on her face, and begins mechanically to pack her things. Evidently she’s going away for the weekend, over her husband’s protestations. While she’s away, he gets summoned for what he seems to hope is a job interview. Turns out it’s Arsenii, who offers him money to leave his wife. The husband responds by trying to kill Arsenii, and it requires two burly servants to throw him out. During this distraction, Vera and the friend have returned to her house and made off with the baby. The husband writes a goodbye note and shoots himself.

Children of the Age2As with “Twilight of a Woman’s Soul” and other Bauer melodramas, we get something different to what we expect in a Western movie here. The husband may seem to be the “leading man,” but he’s utterly helpless and ineffective throughout the film. Vera is the real star, and even though she ultimately loses, her battle between the temptation to aspire towards a classier life and remain loyal to her vows is a dramatic journey that gives her considerable work to demonstrate each emotion as she feels it. The version I found of this had no Intertitles, although I suspect that there were some originally which were not preserved. The movie works well enough despite this, and it is largely due to Vera’s performance, combined with Bauer’s direction and the typically excellent camerawork of Boris Zavelev. Interestingly, where he usually avoids 90-degree angles, a lot of the scenes in Vera’s apartment are shot dead-on, as if to emphasize the cramped space and lack of opportunity it offers. Some of the shots in the garden party also are framed at 90-degrees to the wall, but with the actors off-center, and the table at this party juts into the middle of the screen like a dock at a bay, making it hard to see the individuals seated there, even as we see the chaos of their merriment. There are a lot of close-ups in this movie as well, even for a Bauer film, suggesting the importance of intimacy with the characters. Bauer’s usually cluttered sets are reserved for the more up-scale locations, while the apartment is appropriately spare.

In all, this was a satisfying view, although I wish the Intertitles had been preserved and I hope to see it in higher definition someday.

Alternate Titles: Deti Veka, Дети века, Children of the Century

Director: Evgeni Bauer

Camera: Boris Zavlev

Starring: Vera Kholodnaia, Ivan Gorskij, Arsenii Bibikov, S. Rassatov

Run Time: 37 Min, 30 seconds

You can watch it for free: here (no music), or here (with music).

1002nd Ruse (1915)

The_1002nd_Ruse_(1915)

Alternate Title: Tysycha vtoraya khitrost

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later; there was bound to be one film by Evgeni Bauer that disappointed me. After all, he set such a high standard with movies like “After Death” and “Silent Witnesses,” not all of his work could be so great. Still, when you love a film maker, it hurts to run across a miss in his list of hits. This movie is an attempt at comedy which didn’t even elicit a chuckle from me. Apparently, it’s based on a stage play, and I’d be willing to guess that it could work better with dialogue. The plot is simply that an old man reads the book “1001 Feminine Ruses” and spends the rest of the movie congratulating himself on being one up on his wife – until, of course, she invents a new one. It’s the sort of comedy that I’m not crazy about in general, since there are no sympathetic characters and everyone is basically nasty to one another, but I find that “situational” humor like this is especially weak in silent viewing. The movie is mercifully short, and Bauer still shows a degree of cinematic competence, but there’s nothing really brilliant here. He makes use of a keyhole matte to establish the husband’s spying, and there’s some nice exterior footage of a Russian city (Petrograd? Moscow? I’m not sure), but most of the shots are basic square stages and the camera never moves.

Director: Evgeni Bauer

Starring: Lina Bauer, S. Rassatov, Sergei Kvastnitskii

Run Time: 14 Min, 30 secs

You can watch it for free: here.