Red Dawn

Flicker Alley’s “Landmarks of Early Soviet Film” is a box set of eight remastered titles from the Soviet cinema’s most exuberantly experimental period comprised of two fiction films by Lev Kuleshov, “The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks” (1924) and “By the Law” (1926), Boris Barnet’s freewheeling comedy “The House on Trubnaya Square” (1928) and a particularly good print of Seregi Eisenstein’s rarely seen celebration of milk separation technology, “Old and New,” along with four documentaries: Dziga Vertov’s “Stride, Soviet!” (1926), Esfir Shub’s “Fall of the Romanov Dynasty” (1927), Viktor Turin’s “Turksib” (1930) and Mikhail Kalatozov’s “Salt for Sanetia” (1930). Look here for my New York Times review.

No startling revelations here, but it’s always good to have another film by the mysteriously neglected Barnet in circulation. David Shepherd released a double feature DVD of Barnet’s brilliant and unclassifiable “Outskirts” (1933) and the engaging comedy “Girl with a Hatbox” (1927) way back in 2004, and three years ago Flicker Alley released the mock American serial, “Miss Mend” (1926), which Barnet co-directed with the equally overlooked Fedor Ozep.

Otherwise, that’s it — still no sign of his masterpiece, “By the Bluest of Seas” (1936), apart from a version with French subtitles released on the discount label Bach Films (home to several other hard-to-find Russian classics, including Trauberg and Kozintsev’s “The New Babylon” and Abram Room’s “The Ghost That Never Returns”). For those who speak Russian (which lets me out), there’s an incredible trove of several hundred largely unsubtitled films on Mosfilm’s You Tube channel. You know there are some hidden masterworks in there: what we need are some cinematic Stakhanovites to start digging them out.

48 comments to Red Dawn

  • 25 years ago I saw Barnet’s Girl With a Hatbox and The House on Trubnaya Street at Telluride and they were a revelation. Dave’s piece explains why– instead of the bullying of montage you had an ironist who actually was interested in people, a Soviet Billy Wilder. Likewise discovering Fedor Ozep/Fyodor Otsep revealed someone who insisted on maintaining 19th century Russian literature’s interest in psychology while dabbling with 20th century Soviet film techniques– perhaps never entirely successfully, but fascinating nonetheless in films such as The Yellow Ticket, The Living Corpse, and The Murderer Dmitri Karamasoff. I wrote a long piece on Ozep’s long-ago fame and subsequent disappearance from film history books (a Communist plot, of a sort) for NitrateVille last year:

    http://www.nitrateville.com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=7438

    This collection is a great start toward rediscovering this other, less doctrinaire, more humanist side of Soviet film, as is David Shepard’s earlier (pre-partnership with Flicker Alley) release of Barnet’s The Girl With a Hatbox and Outskirts and of Abram Room’s Bed and Sofa. (For the sake of completeness, there’s also an Editions Filmmuseum region-free DVD of The Living Corpse coming this year.)

  • Also over at Bach Films — Barnet’s “Bountiful Summer” (“Un ete genereux” in French) and “A Good Lad” (“Un brave garcon”), in addition to films also available with English subs. Neither of these is quite the same level as “Bluest of Seas” or “House on Trubnaya Street”, but are worth checking out if one is a Barnet fan (and unafraid of French subtitles).

    “Good Lad” is a remarkable little film, shown widely to troops but banned on the home front — it is part musical, part comedy, part romance, part action film — and praises cooperation with Western allies against Hitler. Some pictures and more comments at: http://rozmon.blogspot.com/2007/12/watched-november-26-december-2-2007.html

    As I recall, “Bountiful Summer” is a partly inspirational, but also humorous (and musical) look at collective farming (and the joy of tractors). It’s considerably more fun than it sounds. No screen captures for this, alas.

  • Jonah

    Edition Filmmuseum is working on a Barnet set that I understand will include THE GIRL WITH THE HATBOX, THE HOUSE ON TRUBNAYA, and BY THE BLUEST OF SEAS. I’m curious if they will be using the same b&w, sound version of the latter that circulates on 35mm and video; not only was the film shot in color but, like most Soviet films of the transition era, it was prepared in silent and sound versions.

  • Alex

    To what extent does the 1960s and 1970s upsurge of memory-and-stream-of-conciousness associative editing associated with Renais (Hiroshima, Muriel) and contunuing with such seeming derviatives as Anderson’s This Sporting Life, Lunet’s Pawnbroker, Lester’s Petulia, and Roeg’s Bad Timing constitute a wave of “neo-Montage” and to what extent is it a distinct phenomena from works of Soviet montage and their inspirations?

    My intuition is that the latter has more to do with cinematic incorporations of devices from psychological (literary) fiction than with the Soviet precedent. But then again, Eisensatein accepted Upton Sinclair’s invitation to the U.S. in order to do a Joycean turn on Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.

  • dan

    Jonah, you made me very happy. Do you know when are they planning to release it?

  • “what extent is it [neo-montage] a distinct phenomena from works of Soviet montage and their inspirations?”

    It seems to me that Eisenstien’s and Vertov’s montage has a didactic function. Both wrote at one time or another that their respective montage practices were the application of the Marxian dialectic to film.

  • John Edmond

    Was BY THE BLUEST OF SEAS really shot in colour, or is that just a self-sustaining myth? I know the first Soviet colour film – Ekk’s NIGHTINGALE – was also released in 1936, and so it is technically possible. But does anybody have any good source for why BLUEST OF SEAS is also considered to have been a colour film? Leyda who saw BLUEST OF SEAS in Russia at the time of its original release doesn’t describe it as being in colour, something which at the time would have been a big deal (furthermore, Kino’s appendix notes whether a film was shot in colour – and no such note is included for BLUEST OF SEAS). Nor does somebody like Eisenschitz who’s working off Kushnirov’s Zhizn’ i fil’my Borisa Barneta (The Life and Films of Boris Barnet, 1977) mention BLUEST OF SEAS as originally being in colour.

  • I can happily offer a correction regarding “By the Bluest of Seas”. To quote from my latest Cinema Scope DVD column: ‘I haven’t yet succeeded in persuading Ruscico to send me any of its new Hyperkino releases, two-disc sets with “educational” annotations and subtitles in many languages, which I’ve discussed in a previous column (Cinema Scope 44) and in an article I published about a year ago at Moving Image Source called “The Mosaic Approach.” But their edition of Boris Barnet’s luscious and glorious “By the Bluest of Seas” (1935) reached me via Il Cinema Ritrovato’s DVD award nominations, and it’s well worth having. Still to come on this label are some more Barnet releases, including an edition of his masterpiece “Okraina” (1933), with annotation by Bernard Eisenschitz, which is very likely to improve on the version currently available from Image Entertainment.’

    The only catch here is that the Ruscico label has just about the most user- unfriendly website (Ruscico.com) for non-Russian-speakers in existence. But I can assure you that they do have “By the Bluest of Seas” with English subtitles, because I already own a copy.

  • P.S. I once asked Eisenschitz about the reported color version of “By the Bluest of Seas,” and according to him, no such version ever existed. It would be interesting to be proven wrong about this, but if memory serves,
    that’s what he told me.

  • Jonah

    That’s good news about the Ruscico edition. The Hyperkino idea is a great one, but a little clumsy in practice. Sets typically include one disc with the film, unadulterated; and another with the “hypertext” annotations. One imagines that they could author a single disc that would permit viewers to toggle the Hyperkino option on and off. The English text is often unidiomatic, too. On the other hand, gift horses etc. (The Ruscico website _is_ bizarre: a link that reads “english” takes you to … a Russian version of their home page.)

    Re. the Edition Filmmuseum set: I don’t know when it’s coming out, as it’s been listed as “forthcoming” for a little while. But I’ve never known them to announce something and not produce it in time.

    Everyone who visits this blog should own a copy of Filmmuseum’s MAX DAVIDSON COMEDIES set. I ordered mine from an English-friendly German website, http://www.grooves-inc.com/, that frequently offers free international shipping.

  • Stephen Bowie

    Also, it’s worth noting that some of the Mosfilm Youtube uploads (supposedly over 100) do have English subtitles; they’re stored as closed captions so make sure you click on the “CC” button, when there is one, on the toolbar below the video. I’ve been too underwhelmed by the image quality to actually watch any of these, even though I now have a device which will pipe Youtube videos onto my plasma TV.

  • I always found that color version of By the Bluest of Seas dubious– did the Soviets have a color process at all then? Nobody else really did besides Hollywood (and England when they borrowed Technicolor), other than hand-tinting, that I know of; Agfacolor didn’t appear until the same year (and didn’t get to Russia until after WWII). I suspect someone misunderstood that reference to color in the title…

    And here’s another question– where’s a DVD of Kalatozov’s The Letter That Was Never Sent, which seems to me comfortably the best of his films I’ve seen (and certainly the most influential, on Stalker, Apocalypse Now, The Lord of the Rings, etc.?)

  • Gregg Rickman

    Mike Gebert’s Ozep research is extremely interesting and well worth a look.

    Alex, Paramount contracted Eisenstein and it was for them that he worked up a scenario for AMERICAN TRAGEDY (available in a couple of books). Paramount let him go, and had Sternberg do as apolitical a film as possible from the material, for which Dreiser sued the studio. Pro-Eisenstein commentary, even at the time, has always been very critical of Sternberg for this. Upton Sinclair then contracted Eisenstein and his team (Alexandrov and Tisse) to make QUE VIVA MEXICO. After that project flamed out and Sinclair abandoned Eisenstein, Sternberg was (I recall reading somewhere) the only Hollywood figure to send Eisenstein some badly needed cash to help him out. It’s a fascinating story, actually. Both directors (Comrade Montage and Mr Mise-en-scene) had a wary relationship and probably influenced each other; watch SCARLET EMPRESS and IVAN THE TERRIBLE PART ONE back-to-back sometime.

    Alex’s question about the possible relationship between 1920s Soviet montage and the editing experiments of the 1960s/70s is a profound one. I would draw a link instead between the attempts to express the inner life of characters like the boy in 1920sFrench films like VISAGES D’ENFANTS (Feyder) or Moujoukin/Kean in KEAN (Volkoff) through rapid subjective cutting, and the films by Resnais and Roeg made fifty yearsor more later. I however have no idea if 1960s/70s filmmakers were familiar with their predecessors. Resnais might be; Hitchcock (PSYCHO’s shower scene, a subjective experience shown as experienced through rapid cutting) probably was.

    I have an International Publishers edition of Ivor Montagu’s book “With Eisenstein in Hollywood” which covers this period. International was a East Berlin [I believe] publisher with a distinctive book design (interesting paper that was fun to thumb through, in a size slightly larger than American pocketbooks). I also have a socialist take on Mark Twain which they published back in the day. Well into the 1980s there were CP front bookstores scattered across Southern California where you could get International and other pro-Soviet bloc books… which I guess balanced out the John Birch publications for sale at one of the local supermarkets. Those markets had a whole paperback rack dedicated to books about welfare cheats, the theat of communism, and an item called “It’s Very Simple,” with a design of black and white hands handshaking, which was all about how great either apartheid or American segregation was (or boht). And then I used to read Ramparts at the stall in another supermarket. The 1960s comprised a more complex era than is commonly remembered.

    Has everyone here seen Guy Maddin’s THE HEART OF THE WORLD? Great takeoff on the utopian spirit of Kino.

    Jonah, I agree with you about the Max Davidson set. Great stuff; many rare McCarey items for auteurists, great comedy for the buffs.

  • Stephen Bowie

    Criterion has THE LETTER NEVER SENT on its Hulu channel now, which is one of their greater crimes of recent memory — that’s a film so visually dazzling that any company that gains the rights to it is under a moral obligation to issue a Blu-ray immediately.

  • Jonathan, that’s great news about the Ruscico edition of “By the Bluest of Seas.” They’ve put out some interesting stuff in their “hyper-kino” format, including Kuleshov’s very interesting “The Great Consoler” and “The Engineer Prite’s Project.” Best of all, of course, would be an Edition Filmmuseum release.

    I think it’s time to put the rumor about “By the Bluest of Seas” being in color to rest. We had a discussion about it a couple of years ago, after Jonathan described it as “Barnet’s first color feature” in a blurb, and no one could come up with any evidence for that being the case. The standard film histories continue to list Nickolai Ekk’s “Nightingale” (1936) as the first Soviet color film, and that’s how Sovkino publicized it in the US, as evidenced by Frank Nugent’s New York Times review. Nugent rather surprisingly finds “the Russian color process is more successful than Hollywood’s Technicolor in dealing with flesh tones,” but “in general, it is all too obvious that the Russian color-film still is in an experimental state. It is sharply defined one minute, blurred the next, and garish and somber by unexpected turns.”

  • Maddin’s Heart of the World is indeed an hilarious and touching paean to Soviet cinema tropes, made under the early influence of Maddin’s new manic editing style.

    Intermediate examples of “montage for exploration of inner life” include Hitchcock, of course (Gregg mentions Psycho), and, surprisingly or perhaps unsurprisingly, Russ Meyer.

  • Alex

    x359594,

    I don’t think the dialectical aspect of Eisenstein’s montage is particualryly “didactic.” Although it IS congenial to didactic uses, this sort of Soviet montage seems to me (from my recollection of Eisentein’s film writing) to draw on dialectical conceptions in the belief that they are appropriate to the expression of dialectical — contraditory, dramatic, conflictual, mutually transformative– aspects of social reality, not to propagandize “the dialectic” with mass viewers. (That dialectical spins on flim theory and technique might have been used to ingratiate cinematic commissars, though, is a distinct possibility.)

    Gregg Rickman,

    My intention in noting Eisenstein’s Dreiser project was not to detail its course but to stress Joycean characterization of it (from commentators on the screenpalay and , as I recall, Esienstein himnslef) and, thus, Eisenstein’s possible association of “Soviet montage” –however removed from psychological fiction in its origins–from the “memory/stream-of-consciousness” thrusts of the type of “montage” prominent from “Hiroshima mon Amour” through Roeg’s “Bad Timing.”

    BTW, it’s not clear to me that Eisenstein’s montage has much to do with the “Kuleshov effect,”
    though, sure, the two overlap,the meanings of images, like words, being routinely contextual.

  • Barry Putterman

    Should we be making a distinction between entire films structured on the interior life ideas such as the Resnais films and examples of individual moments from films, such as the PSYCHO example, which switch to that mode in order to obtain a particular effect? I would imagine that there are numerous moments of Meyeresque interiority (whatever THAT means) to be found in American film history. One from the Irving Lerner version of STUDS LONIGAN sticks out in my memory like a sore thumb.

    Today I would say that the Russian style of montage can most often be seen in television commercials. Which is not EXACTLY the application of the Marxian dialectic to film.

  • As Dave Kehr says, Nikolai Ekk’s GRUNYA KORNAKOVA (NIGHTINGALE, 1936) is considered the first Soviet colour feature. Gosfilmofond restored it in the 1980s, we screened it soon after in Helsinki, and Frank Nugent’s comments seem valid in my recollection.

  • Alex

    Barry Putterman,

    I sgree that weshould make the suggestion you suggest, but, as i recall all the examples I mentioned — Anderson’s This Sporting Life, Lumet’s Pawnbroker, Lester’s Petulia and Roeg’s Bad Timing, as well as Renais (Hiroshima, Muriel, etc.) are entirely structured within character subjectivity — or close to it.

    Were we to look, this subjectivist — and temporally long-leashed– approach might appear to come in forms set off from omniscient directorial voice (as in some literary narratives build entirely from character points-of-view and clearly differentiated points of view –The Sound and the Fury )to ones orchestrated across POV’s by means of the “free” or “first- person indirect” of Flaubert, James, and that large swath of modern fiction beloved by James Wood. I guess most films that stay close to characters POVs yet move lightly among characters are engaged in cinematic analogs to the “free indirect,” though stretches or fixed by alternating points of view are used within “interview” structures like those of most of Welles’ Kane and Siodmak’s The Killers.

  • Thanks, Dave, for correcting my own parroting of the same error that I corrected in my post — which is now corrected in my blurb as well (in case some readers of this blog wonder where it went), at least on my web site. It will likely persist on the Reader’s web site, unless someone decides to fix it there as well. For the record, I perpetrated this error more than a couple of years ago; it was in early 2004.

  • Barry Putterman

    Indeed Alex, all of the examples that YOU mentioned are structured within character subjectivity. And if this web site were structured within your own subjectivity, I would have never had cause to bring that matter up.

  • It’s interesting how long POV takes don’t work, or comes across solely as gimmicks, as in Lady in the Lake, and the opening sequence of Mamoulian’s Hyde.

  • Oliver_C

    Was Kathryn Bigelow any more successful with Strange Days ?

  • Alex

    D. K. Holm,

    Good point about long POV shots — at least ones in the conventional sense of short from the isual perspective of a characterer.

    Actually, I was misusing the term, thinking also of sequences shot in ways that simply stress the perspective of a character, as when the characters movements are following to draw us into her perspective and closeups of the character evokinge her state of mind are commononplace. I guess this sort of oblique approximation of strick POV is to the Formal POV shot what the “first person indirect” in literature is to the first person and strict stream of consiousness (free of “he” and “she,” as well as, for the most part, “I.”).

    On Barry P’s point about the confinement today of most Soviet-like montage to advertising, I’d note that the most common uses of elaborate editing today areprobably for action sequences like the fast edited gunfights in THE WILD BUNCH and the slow motion and finely detailed shots of mayhem in sequences like the typical shoot outs, explosions and collapses (the bidge collapse in Pellington’s THE MOTHMAN PROPHIE). To what extent, if any, these very Elaborate uses of editing are technically very similar to Soviet “montage,” I’m not at all sure –though one could take a look and compare.

  • Barry Putterman

    Alex, I certainly agree regarding the elaborate editing in present day action sequences. What I was trying to get at in terms of TV advertising is that most commercials today are not trying to sell you on the qualities inherant in the product but rather the “idea” of the product or the interior feeling that owning the product is supposed to provide. And so the montage of images in the commercials are more designed to express what that idea or feeling is rather than what your comparative gas mileage will be or how clean your kitchen table will look.

  • Jonah

    I apologize for perpetuating the false rumor about a color version of BY THE BLUEST OF SEAS. Now I wonder, too, if the story of a silent version of the film is accurate. I do know that the Soviet studios, at least in the “republics,” were still making silent films as of 1935 (an example is Medvedkin’s HAPPINESS), so it stands to reason that a film made the following year might be produced in a silent version for distribution in those venues that had not yet been converted to sound.

  • Alex

    A good example of a kind of “free indirect” that sticks close to characters yet both stays clear of sustained, strict POV is the sequence early in VERTIGO where the Stewart characyter trails Carlotta tracking along with Stewart’s movements, sometimes from behind, sometime from close to Stewart, sometimes from Stewart’s (strict, mobile) POV.

    (THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF WHAT A FRENCH CrITIC/COMMENTATOR/THEORIST OF HITCHCOCK WHOSE NAME NOW ESCAPES ME –Lacan?–CALLED “THE SPOT.”)

    Are there sequences like the one from vertigo alluded to above that jump between the perspectives of two characters (maybe in the great stalking sequences of De Palma intermittently brilliant BODY DOUBLE).

  • Steve Elworth

    I am so happy that so many of these Soviet films are coming out on DVD. Obviously, we need more Barnet and we need early sound films of Dovzhenko, Vertov, Kozinetsev-Trauberg and Potemkin and other more unknown. I do think that the films of Resnais, Godard and early Makavejev contained many currents Soviet Montage and the New Novel. Resnais’s first two features were scripted by writers of the New Novel. Neither MURIEL or LA GUERRE EST FINIE are as centered on individual consciousness. The return to Eisenstein and the discovery of Vertov after May 68 lead to the translation of more Soviet Writings including those of the Neo-Formalists which lead to the important Soviet issue of SCREEN early in their theoretical period. Annette Michelson who spent parts of the 50s and 60s in Paris started important classes at NYU which lead to a new interest in Soviet Montage tn younger generations that lead to her edition of Vertov’s writings in English and the crucial ARTFORUM issue of Jan. 1973, Eisenstein/Brakhage analyzing two crucial exemplars of montage theory and practice. These all lead to the release of more films and the continuation of practice and theory.

  • MDL

    While praising Mikhail Kalatozov’s ‘The Cranes Are Flying’ a Time magazine film critic once sarcastically noted that the Stalinist films could be summed up as: “Boy meets tractor. Boy loses tractor. Boy gets tractor.” It makes you wonder if he had seen some of the better films in the period. [Although it does provide a good laugh].

  • Steve Elworth

    It also makes you think that he never saw THE CRANES ARE FLYING which is a thaw fil par excellence and gets the narrative really wrong.

  • Peter Henne

    Surely there is some crime film with a POV long take by a detective or witness of the crime (or the action that is proof of it), which is POV because that is the optimal/only available view, and long because unfolding in real time is needed to disclose sufficient evidence to the audience.

    Maybe I’m remembering the camera set-ups incorrectly, but John Williams watching Ray Milland come back for the key in DIAL M FOR MURDER almost makes it.

    Also, once Milland gives up his charade at the end, the camera follows him about the room in a single take that is plausibly taken from Grace Kelly’s POV, until Milland addresses Kelly, who as it turns out is occupying a position in off-screen space not the same as the camera’s. His nodding to her happens at the very end of the shot, and up to that moment it feels like the camera could have been her POV. Scrutiny of him by her is to be expected (which is probably why Hitchcock avoided literal POV while allowing us to suspect for a good while we were sharing her vantage point anyway).

  • Johan Andreasson

    A film that’s often been praised here is DARK PASSAGE. Maybe the long POV sequence is a bit of a gimmick, but it’s done in a much more entertaining and innovative way than in LADY IN THE LAKE. The whole film has a sort of offbeat, almost surreal quality, and you have to admire the courage of not showing Bogart’s face for more than half an hour.

  • Alex

    Yeah, the long POV in DARK PASSAGE works better than the use of POV in LADY IN THE LAKE — though LADY IN THE LAKE is a failure I always enjoy.

  • The experimental “poetic documentaries” of people like Stan Brakhage and Bruce Baillie are full of montage.

    So are many 1980’s British music videos.

    It would be interesting to read a systematic study of Soviet montage / Hollywood montage sequences /Resnais & friends /Brakhage, Baillie, Mekas & friends / music videos, and see what the differences and commonalities are among the five groups.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Steve Elsworth, I love the intellectual history you provide (in your post of October 10, 8:50 p.m.) of the (re)transmission of the genuine Soviet article to the west in the 1970s. Screen’s translations of 1920s Russian formalist texts are still impressive (and as I recall later Screen nemesis David Bordwell wrote on them in Screen at the time). Alex, I believe you’re correct; Sergei did know his Joyce (and kept up with developments in western art generally). Mike, “montage” is a phrase tossed around casually by many good folk; it’s come to mean anything rapidly edited, which is far from what Eisenstein had in mind. The definitional slippage started early; referring to Hollywood editing specialist Slavko Vorkapich (responsible for remarkably edited sequences in many studio productions), someone once wrote in a ’30s screenplay “The camera Vorkapiches around the room.”

    Peter, I’d recommend Dan Sallitt’s impressive essay on point of view in Hitchcock, at http://www.panix.com/%7Esallitt/intrarealism.html

  • Steve Elworth

    Gregg. Bordwell published “Eisenstein’s Epistemological Shift.” in SCREEN and he and Kristin Thompson’s groundbreaking analysis of Ozu in which his editing was seen as significant for the first time was also published in SCREEN. Annette Michelson wrote about Eisenstein reading Joyce reading Marx’s Capital about Eisenstein’s dream film of Capital under the style of Joyce was serialized in the earliest issues of OCTOBER.

  • Peter Henne

    Thanks, Gregg. Finally, after asking Dan how I could access his article, in a February 2006 a_film_by discussion over POV, at last I get to read it. It makes stunning insight into Hitchcock, as you say. I feel like my DIAL M FOR MURDER example of Hitchcock deflating what looked like a good candidate for POV brings me back to some observations I made in that discussion: “Sometimes, the difference between objective and subjective is made solely by elegant camerawork that is above and beyond the normal degree of ‘professional quality.’ My point is that the more effortless the camera movement is, the less I am able to attach it to ‘point of view’ in any sense… Hitchcock [is]
    dangling the possibility of point of view in front of the audience, only to exert his directorial vision over it with supreme camera technique.”

    I believe Dan’s point about Hitchcock POV shots not including a psychological aspect is relevant for which POV long takes work in films in general. I think in most cases we want a film to take advantage of doing more than each of us can do and get outside of a single body, and perhaps also give a taste of, but not be confined to, a character’s limited comprehension. There is something sensually thrilling about going outside like this on film, that isn’t equivalent to whether or not to go with POV in a novel. In some special cases, a thrill almost like this one and subjectivity can work in combination, such as a convict escaping from prison. Witnessing a bizarre or enigmatic event, or having a spotting on a crime that will become the main focus of the narrative, can also provide the opportunity for the camera dwelling for a long while. Yet emotional engagement by the observing character would be narrow because of the utter strangeness of what’s witnessed (they feel awe but little else), or more important task of registering what’s viewed as “objectively” as can be done. Anyway, just some thoughts, nothing like a theory about POV shot lengths.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Peter, Dan didnt get his essay posted on-line until 2008, which he commemorated with some further interesting discussion at his website: http://www.panix.com/~sallitt/blog/2008_01_01_archive.html

    Having just reread this discussion I find Dan’s comments there on early cinema (in the transitional period of the teens) to be very stimulating.

    Steve, I used to enjoy reading the stack of back issues of October at my school library… which has unfortunately been closed for some years now while it’s rebuilt. I’m sure it’s being rebuilt on new media lines, and no magazines or books at all will be available, just terminals where they can be looked at but not touched (dystopian joke). October did and still does run a surprising amount of film commentary. And Screen, in the 70s, did run a lot of very interesting translations of rare material, as you’ve outlined; it wasn’t the monolith (“SLAB”) auteurists hated and feared so much at the time. I recall being afraid to leave a copy of Screen near my bed, in case I should wake to find a pod in my likeness. (Nostalgic joke, given that humanities cutbacks in both the US and Britain have eliminated any ground for humanists and post-humanists to fight over.)

  • Bruce Baillie’s film Castro Street (1966) is a 10 minute poetic documentary about an industrial area in a California city, its trains and gas plants.

    Like many of Stan Brakhage’s early films, this is a poetic documentary in the Dziga Vertov tradition:

    As in Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera, we see urban areas, often with two or more images superimposed on screen – and often linked to camera movement.

    Complex mirroring effects occur – in Vertov these were shop windows, in Brakhage’s Wonder Ring these were elevated train windows, here in Baillie machinery is filmed as it reflects and distorts in complex chrome covered industrial objects. Baillie tracks along over the surface, causing the reflection to slowly ripple and bulge in different curved regions of his chrome mirror.

    Towards the end, Baillie includes text from signs, etc., also like Vertov.

  • Thanks for the kind words, Gregg and Peter! Bringing the conversation back to the amazing Mr. Barnet: I too have come to feel that he is one of the greatest of filmmakers (and under incredibly adverse circumstances – if he could create such a body of work with Stalin looking over his shoulder, what might he have accomplished otherwise?). But I think we should follow Eisenschitz’s lead and look to Barnet’s late period as the peak of his career. Films like ALYONKA, WHISTLE STOP, and THE OLD JOCKEY (the last only a late film by release date) seem to me even more accomplished and brilliant than OKRAINA and BY THE BLUEST OF SEAS. Sadly, in one of Barnet’s suicide notes, he said that he had lost the ability to make good films, and with it the will to live. Maybe better criticism could have saved him…though depression isn’t that simple, I guess.

  • As far as I can tell, these late films (Like the wonderful Alyonka) aren’t available even as unsubbed Russian DVDs.

  • Alex

    Dan Sallit,

    Great piece! What do you think of the possibility of interpreting and analyzing (a) the conventional POV shot, (b) your “physical proximity” to the camera and (c) the technique characterized by when the “camera tracks in from a long shot characterized by a sense of the normal or everyday to a closeup of some object or event which yields to us by inference some larger conclusion or piece of information” by analogy to the broader concept of “point of view” in literary iction and such techniques as the “first person indirect” and the “free indirect”? Certainly, Hitchcock is often in the busienss of presenting psychologically dense narrative, however much he often does concurrently “play the audience” as much represent protagonist psycho drama.

  • Alex – it’s quite true that Hitchcock is often sharp and detailed in his observations about people. But he generally makes these observations without recourse to point-of-view subjectivity, it seems to me. One could perhaps analogize his films to video games, which require both designers to create an elaborate alternate universe, and programming intelligence to move the player through it.

    It’s hard for me to find good literary parallels to Hitchcock’s intrarealism. In a way, intrarealism is trying to restore our primitive confusion between a photograph and the real world; the goal seems to be the illusion of a direct relationship to the film universe. Whereas creating a universe in literature is so effortful that our attention tends to be drawn to the writer making the effort. Both first-person and third-person writing seem to me to have more person-hood in them than does a photograph.

  • ” I don’t think the dialectical aspect of Eisenstein’s montage is particualryly “didactic.” Although it IS congenial to didactic uses, this sort of Soviet montage seems to me (from my recollection of Eisentein’s film writing) to draw on dialectical conceptions in the belief that they are appropriate to the expression of dialectical — contraditory, dramatic, conflictual, mutually transformative– aspects of social reality, not to propagandize “the dialectic” with mass viewers.”

    No, it’s not to propagandize the dialectic with mass viewers but it’s didactic in intention, namely to bring the viewer to the awareness of social reality or historical reality.

    Somewhere Annette Michaelson wrote about Eisenstein’s plans for a film version of “Capital” (I think it was in an issue of “October”) and that’s what suggested to me that his use montage (and Vertov’s too) had a didactic intent.

  • “International was a East Berlin [I believe] publisher with a distinctive book design (interesting paper that was fun to thumb through, in a size slightly larger than American pocketbooks).”

    Gregg, International Publishers was (and is) the official imprint of the Communist Party USA. I think the printing plant was located in the UK (though it may have been in the old GDR.

    By the way, Sterberg’s version of “An American Tragedy” may be depoliticized in relation to the one planned by Eisenstein, but it’s certainly far more political than Stevens’ version as a comparison of the factory scenes will show. Also, Sternberg’s sympathies lie more with the proletarian Roberta Alden than they do with the bourgeois Sondra Finchley.

  • Gregg Rickman

    X, I agree about Sternberg’s take on AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY. It’s funny, but while at the time Sternberg was frequently targeted by overtly political critics (John Grierson and Harry Alan Potamkin, and also Ivor Montagu as I recall) in retrospect his films seem intensely to do with the politics of everyday life, and interpersonal relationships.

    The fact that the doings of the characters in the foreground are often mapped against a spy thriller or other overtly political background (Russian Revolution — THE LAST COMMAND, Chinese unrest — SHANGHAI EXPRESS) and also that Sternberg claimed there was no meaning to his creations (screen them upside down; there is no Morocco in MOROCCO) shouldn’t distract us from this… although it always does.

  • Patrick Henry

    There is an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents called “No Pain” (1959, directed by Norman Lloyd) which I think fits in with the discussion about POV shots. It has Brian Keith playing a wealthy, once-active man now confined to an iron lung. Close-ups of Keith looking variously disturbed, anxious or with a kind of remembered lustfulness are intercut with POV shots of his sexy wife (Joanna Moore) who wears a bikini, seen in a small mirror set at an angle which he can look up into and, let’s say, be “teased” by her. It’s a most interesting episode, showing Lloyd an adept student of Hitchcock, with situation seeming like an extreme version of REAR WINDOW, sort of REAR WINDOW “meets” NO EXIT (certainly true for the Keith character).