Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Vladimir Siversen

Rusalka (1910)


Alternate Titles: Русалка, The Mermaid

Since this is an English-language blog, I usually privilege the English translation of titles, but in this case there were (at least) two other movies called “The Mermaid” in 1910, so it seems best to stick with the Russian for clarity. I found this the best of the Goncharov movies I’ve seen so far. It resembles “A Sixteenth-Century Russian Wedding,” except that it actually has a plot. We still get the large cast, a simulated wedding night, nicely painted backdrops, and stylized period costumes. But we also get a story from Pushkin, as well. The story is of a young prince, who abandons a miller’s daughter in order to marry another woman, closer to his station. The first girl drowns herself in the river, but then the prince cannot seem to shake her image. On the wedding night, he leaves his bride after seeing apparitions. He returns to the mill, and we see many women emerge and return to the water. Then the miller appears, apparently driven mad by his daughter’s death, but also strangely gesturing about the women who come from the water. The prince follows the apparitions into the water, and next we see his body, surrounded by sirens beneath the waves. The final scene looks very much like a borrowing from Méliès, with shells and seaweed all around.


Director: Vasily Goncharov

Camera: Vladimir Siversen

Starring: Vasily Stepanov, Alexadrandra Goncharova, Andrej Gromov

Run Time: 9 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.

Drama in a Gypsy Camp near Moscow (1908)

Drama in a Gypsy Camp Near Moscow

Alternate Title: Drama v tabore podmoskovnykh tsygan

This very short Russian movie came out shortly after “Stenka Razin,” and was produced by Drankov’s major future competitor, Alexander Khanzhokov. It in no way compares. Where “Stenka Razin” is based on a song familiar to audiences, this one seems to have been improvised on the spot. Where the first movie is grand and operatic, this comes off as silly. It claims to have been made in an actual gypsy camp and to be performed exclusively by gypsies, but this authenticity doesn’t help its rushed awkwardness. The one thing I will say for it is that, shot entirely outside in fields and on a cliffside, it has some of the feel of an early American Western, in that it shows off the countryside better than the characters. The story is of an attempt of a gypsy man to woo his intended love. When she resists, he pulls out a knife and stabs her. Then he becomes remorseful and hurls himself from a cliff. The camera is generally placed quite far from the action, and there are only a few setups. There is actually one pan which follows the two characters through the camp, allowing us a good view of all the sleeping gypsies as they sneak off for a rendezvous, but this actually also undermines the “realism” because we can see what look like tourists walking through the wood in the background, making it all too clear that it is actually day. Another “blooper” occurs when we see an ostensibly dead body move in reaction to the people crowding around it. Film making was very new, of course, and the rules were not yet established, so it is interesting to see how the director attempted to create a story, but evidently this movie was a financial failure even with Russian audiences of the day, who were already accustomed to more sophisticated fair from France and other points in Europe.

Director: Vladimir Siversen

Camera: Vladimir Siversen

Run Time: 2 Min, 18 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.