Boris Barnet, Fedor Ozep, “Miss Mend”

PDVD_143

It’s only a few years old, but Flicker Alley has already become one of the outstanding labels in the DVD business. Founded by Jeffery Masino in 2002, the company brings together the resources of David Shepard’s Blackhawk Films and Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange’s Lobster Films of Paris, and has come to specialize in ravishing editions of silent films.  The inventory ventures far beyond the established classics, with discoveries such as Reginald Barker’s 1915 “The Italian” and King Vidor’s recently rediscovered 1926 “Bardelys the Magnificent.”  The company’s latest release is “Miss Mend,” a two-disc edition (taken from the original camera negative) of Boris Barnet and Fedor Ozep’s rousing 1926 attempt to adapt the pace and pleasures of an American action serial to the ideological imperatives and formal inventiveness of the nascent Soviet cinema.  Both Barnet and Ozep, who went their separate ways after this early collaboration, are major filmmakers whose talents have been consistently and unfairly overshadowed by the montage theorists.  Perhaps this release will prompt an adventurous distributor to bring out Ozep’s 1931 “Der Morder Dimitri Karamasoff,” a brilliant reconfiguration of “The Brothers Karamazov” made in Germany, as well as Barnet’s indescribably beautiful “By the Bluest of Seas,” a lyrical masterpiece of 1936 that has so far surfaced only in a budget edition with French subtitles.

Here’s my review of “Miss Mend” from the New York Times.

290 comments to Boris Barnet, Fedor Ozep, “Miss Mend”

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    I had a shock some three weeks ago when I got a terse e-mail from Tag Gallagher: “Robin Wood is dying.” So the news of his death was not the surprise it could have been… I remember reading the introduction to his Hawks book shortly after its publication in the Cinema World Series, and marvelling at how simple and convincing his praise of entertainment as art and art as entertainment managed to be — so lucidly expressing vague thoughts and feelings I had been mulling over for years.

    A great loss indeed.

  • dan

    Glenn, that’s pretty cool, i never knew that. Haneke is also what you call “an existential pessimist”, so i wonder why Wood wrote in favour of Haneke while dissmissing Cronenberg. It can’t the only reason he objected those films…

  • Jim Gerow

    I think Wood’s objection to Cronenberg had a lot to do with what he saw as Cronenberg’s discomfort or disgust with the body and sexuality.

    I’m rereading his long essay on McCarey in “Sexual Politics & Narrative Film.” I love this description of THE AWFUL TRUTH: “Here, in this comedy of remarriage, instead of a child, the couple have a dog. It has been suggested that, in the context of “screwball” comedy, this was merely a necessary convenience; the presence of a child would have introduced emotional complications quite incompatible with the genre. I think it equally arguable that McCarey understood that the substitution of a dog would leave the couple free to renegotiate their relationship without external pressure; they reunite, not “for the sake of the children,” but because that is what they both really want.”

  • Kent Jones

    Glenn, I believe that Gary Giddins is writing the notes for the Criterion edition of MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW.

    One film that Robin Wood adored was BEFORE SUNRISE. He and Rick Linklater became friendly, and RICK told me that every time he made a new movie he would talk to Robin Wood about it, and that he would inevitably say something like, “Well, it’s very good, but it’s not BEFORE SUNRISE.”

    Junko, this is the passage I had in mind. It’s at the beginning of the book, and it’s called “A Personal Note”: “About a year ago I nearly died. I woke up one morning gasping, terrified, unable to breathe. A remarkably swift and efficient ambulance arrived, an oxygen mask was pushed over my face, and I was carted off to hospital where I was diagnosed (inaccurately, as it turned out) with a ‘perforated intestine’ and told I might not survive the necessary operation. I was by this time fully conscious, able to sign the waiver that absolved the surgeons of responsibility, and wheeled off toward the operating theatre thinking, ‘Well then, I suppose this is it.’ But what immediately came into my mind was the work of Howard Hawks and specifically the way his heroes confront death (actually, in ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS, and potentially in RIO BRAVO, where only one minor sympathetic character gets killed).

    “I felt completely calm, and like to think I was smiling (though I probably wasn’t). My partner for the past twenty-five years, Richard Lippe, walking beside me, was far more upset than I was. Writing this book is a labour of love and gratitude. I dedicate it to Richard, and to the memory of Howard Hawks.”

    I was taken aback by this passage the first time I read it. Professions of love for the cinema are a dime a dozen, but this is something else – an admission of belief in the power of art, to provide a sustaining model of grace.

    I’m also thinking of a piece that Wood wrote for a book from the early 70s called FAVORITE MOVIES. Most of the piece is about SANSHO THE BAILIFF, but it’s his description of two scenes – from BITTER VICTORY and WILD RIVER – that really affected me.

    Edo, Hou probably brought up “liu-pai” because Peggy Chiao reminded him to. Funny – I’m remember the time Paul Willemen and I sat together watching GOOD MEN GOOD WOMEN, and looking at each other in amazement after the lights came up.

    Nicolas, I think that there’s too much classifying before scrutinizing. Durgnat was a great taxonomist, but he made it into something like a devotional act, classifying and re-classifying until some kind of cross-hathed portrait of the movie miraculously emerged.

  • alex hicks

    Robin Wood’s “Hidden in plain sight: Robin Wood on Michael Haneke’s Cache” (Art Forum. FindArticles.com. 19 Dec, 2009. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_5_44/ai_n26731916/) is a fine appreciation of what seems to me a masterpiece, or close to it.

    I’d apply the criticism of Haneke read at this site to the, to me, odious “Piano Teacher” and the unwittingly laughable “Funny Games,” but Wood seems to me spot on RE “Cache,” and both “Cache” and Wood’s essay on Haneke has wet my appetite for some more Haneke fare.

    I look forward to “White Ribbon,” especially after reading Haneke’s historically savvy and astute word in Stuart Klawan’s inquiry into Haneke as historian in the October 30 number of the NY Times.

  • Tony Wiliams

    MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW was one of Robin’s favorite films. I remember the time he showed it at Warwick University when most of the class decided to be absent since it was “not cool” (I speak in terms of later slang). Clearly disappointed at the lack of attendance, he said, “Well, they’ve all failed.” He did not mean that he was going to flunk the whole class since petty mindedness and pique were never part of his qualities. Rather, he regretted their lack of open-mindedness and inability to appreciate a really remarkable film. Thus, in this instance, the class was “not good”: enough in the Hawksian sense of the term.
    Finally, Joseph, I’d like to commend you on such a touching obituary that I’ve forwarded to Richard.

  • Kent Jones

    Tony, I think he would have been heartened to know that at the packed screening in Telluride this year, where Alexander Payne had programmed it, the audience was stunned, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the lights came up.

  • Kent: Re the “Tomorrow” notes: “I was misinformed.” Or I misread. Or maybe I really am losing my mind. But thanks for the correction.

  • I’m still trying to assimilate the news about Robin Wood. I can echo Joseph McBride in saying that Wood and Sarris were my long-distance mentors, along with, in my case, Raymond Durgnat and William S. Pechter. In fact, I recall with pleasure Joe’s loving parody of film critic writing styles in an old issue of American Film, with its in reality enlightening precis of Wood’s aesthetic, that criticism of film is criticism of life. Recently, I had just been re-reading the first version of Hitchcock’s Films as inspiration for a project of my own, and was reminded again of Wood’s beautiful critical prose style. I, too, am in the curious position of reading that book as my first director-survey book (my favorite literary genre), which is to start off one’s critical explorations with a bar raised unknowingly high. Late in life his style tended to be highly “parenthetical,” and I would read his news essays twice, first skipping all the parenthetical asides, and then again straight through with the asides as they came. There are so many wonderful Wood essays, from Sansho the Bailiff in Favorite Movies to his work on 70s horror films, his defense of Year of the Dragon, his championing of Canadian director William D. MacGillivray, and his later essays on teen sex comedies and to Richard Linklater and his work, but one essay that always pops into my mind is his analysis of Klute in Film Comment, an essay that underscores why we loved “seventies films” at their best then and now. One significant feature of Wood’s career for me, one that looking back on my younger self it is embarrassing to admit now, is that he “liberalized” me about gay rights, he helped erase unthinking youthful prejudice. I am grateful for that. Some day his career will be recognized for what it is, the very model of the 20th century critical-intellectual journey towards self-discovery and values through art.

  • Sorry about the italics; I keep messing them up … I wish there was a preview feature on this page.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I’ve read many film critics.

    I don’t think there are any I’ve reread as much as Robin Wood.

  • Blake Lucas

    “I remember reading the introduction to his Hawks book shortly after its publication in the Cinema World Series, and marvelling at how simple and convincing his praise of entertainment as art and art as entertainment managed to be — so lucidly expressing vague thoughts and feelings I had been mulling over for years.”

    Yes, this was so important to me too–and I’m sure to many others. I remember a great example he used–Mozart, hardly the least artists I believe we would all agree–and that those beautiful serenades were written to be played while aristocrats wandered around at parties. They certainly didn’t have less art for that.

    The BFI book on RIO BRAVO some of us have mentioned was the most recent work of Robin Wood I read–as I said he loves that film and I don’t think he could write bady on it; he more or less implies in the last pages that if he had a favorite movie over time this was it.

    So I probably should have added that I too treasure RIO BRAVO, much as Chance says “Stumpy, you’re a treasure” and kisses the old man on th head. This was its 50th anniversary, prompting me to watch it again only a few weeks ago and enjoy it as much as I ever have. So maybe poetically an appropriate time for Wood to leave us.

    That “art v. entertainment” argument Wood made so eloquently was partly inspired by his great love of Hawks and of this specific film, I believe. And Hawks, as we all know, created his body of work out of popular genres, having magnificent range in his mastery of them.

    Read back through what Wood said about this and you’ll see why Jean-Pierre and I and I believe many others here don’t like the term “art film,” no matter how Bordwell or someone else might mean it. In fact it’s interesting this came up right before the news of Wood’s death. He too knew those distinctions were made by others but knew it wasn’t the way to go in his own work.

  • Blake Lucas

    “Mozart…hardly the least of artists…”

    “I don’t think he could write badly on it…”

    “kisses the old man on the head…”

    Sorry for those glitches.

    But I’ll add that it’s evident that Tony and others were personal friends, and in some cases closes ones at one time or another, of Robin Wood.
    I only knew his work, though introduced myself and expressed appreciation for his writing when he showed and lectured on SISTERS one time in the
    1970s.

    But to those who had a personal relationship with him, I’d like to give my heartfelt condolences.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Since several posts have mentioned Robin’s work on Hawks here, I’d like to add a piece of historical information. It appeared in the CINEMA ONE series after great opposition by then- SIGHT AND SOUND editor Penelope Houston who felt that the series should be exclusively devoted to great art film directors and not a popular entertainer such as Hawks. I felt that she never forgave Robin for getting that monograph included in the series nor for his opposition to the ideology of Sight and Sound. So, it was not exactly coincidental that she decided to write a rare book review at the time Spoto’s THE DARK SIDE OF GENIUS appeared to get back at Robin in the same way as Spoto criticized him (he later did this with Dan Auiler) in his book “The Art of Alfred Hitchcock.” Robin was far above this type of backbiting.

  • Indeed, Tony; Robin goes so far to thank Penelope Huston in the introduction to “Hitchcock’s Film’s Revisited,” thusly: “I submitted the article [on 'Psycho'] to Sight and Sound, and it was rejected by Penelope Huston, who informed me in a very courteous letter that I had failed to grasp that the film was intended as a joke. I wish to thank her now for both the courtesy and the rejection.” It is also in that volume in which he refers to Spoto’s book as “extremely unpleasant but…very useful,” giving Spoto more credit than, likely, Spoto would give to Wood.

  • Ms. Houston may have been peeved at Robin Wood for his comments on her essay “Figures in the Carpet,” which he attacks in his introduction to Hitchcock’s Films. Wood was a great polemicist with a finely honed sense of exasperation in the face of short sightedness, conventional thinking, and received opinion. His review of an Oxford Press history of cinema in Film Comment is a masterpiece of vitriol. One occasionally almost pities his “victims,” mere children who, having thrown a snowball, are greeted with an avalanche, except that his cause was always to refute their victimization of film history and thought.

    Wood has been bibliographed in Olof Hedling’s book, and in a section of my otherwise moribund website Cinemonkey.com http://www.cinemonkey.com/reviews/robinwood/robinwood.html

  • Gabe Klinger

    Kent and Glenn, I can tell you, having just previewed the disc of MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW, that Gary Giddens is interviewed for a supplemental feature, but didn’t supply liner notes. Those are by Tag Gallagher and Bertrand Tavernier. Wood’s “Leo McCarey and ‘Family Values'” is excerpted in the booklet. There’s also a video interview with Peter Bogdanovich in which he says most of the things you usually hear from him about McCarey. To tie this to the Jerry Lewis thread from two posts back, it was apparently Lewis who facilitated for Bogdanovich to see MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (in nitrate!) for the first time.

  • It’s “The Figure in the Carpet,” by the way. Sheesh.

  • Great Robin Wood Quotes At the tail end of his dismantling of Houston and call for close readings as an antidote to dilettantism, in Hitchcock’s Films, Wood quotes Spenser’s “For of the soul the body form doth take; / And soul is form and doth the body make,” and goes on to write, “If we can’t find the ‘soul’ of a work of art expressed in its body, informing and giving life to every limb, then we may be pretty sure it is not worth looking for.”

  • dan

    does that mean Jerry Lewis actually had in his privat library a nitrate copy of MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW, or did he just used his special connections to arrange a screening?…

  • Larry Gross

    Thanks Dave, and many contributors for this magnificent appreciation of Robin Wood. I recall being astonished by the Hitchcock book more than 40 years aga and the early mimeographed page pieces entitled “Who the Hell is Howard Hawks.” Wood’s voice, his lucidity, and the coherence and completeness of his vision of those films and film makers he wrote about, set a standard that has rarely even been approached by most film criticism. Glenn Kenny’s quote of Godard on Welles gets it absolutely right. Condolences to Robin’s friends.

  • Steve Elworth

    i assume that the jerry bogdanovich nitrate Make way story is that as a major Paramount star he had the rank to arrange the screening.

  • Gabe Klinger

    Dan, it’s the latter. According to Bogdanovich on the MAKE WAY DVD, he saw something like 85 Paramount films thanks to Lewis’s clout.

  • Mike Grost

    This is sad news about Robin Wood.
    My condolences to all his friends.

  • Peter Henne

    I remember discussing Robin Wood’s 1989 introduction to “Hitchcock’s Films” in the mid-’90s with a friend, a film editor turned bookseller, and how stirred we both were by Wood’s incisive critiques of deconstruction and postmodernism. There didn’t seem to be many thorough-going replies to these thoughts at the time, not of the type that was both rigorous and stepping past the jargon-massage game, and Wood’s essay was something we felt at home with, something protective by its eloquence and conviction. His death reminded me that, as time has passed and more (including numerous here) have come out critiquing those entrenched viewpoints, I had begun to take that essay for granted. I believe Wood sometimes goes over the top: lining up Lacan with Hitler (and Jerry Falwell) to make any critical point is just completely counterproductive. I’m not sure how to yoke aesthetics to revolutionary Marxism, but I like the slant on revolutionary in his effort, and I believe that ultimately great art on the whole (not just looking at single instances) coincides with human freedom and decency. Nevertheless, the introduction seems like one of those benchmark essays in admonishing a dominant ideology. Wood makes remarks that are as ringing to me as they were then:

    “Semiotics offered to lead us to the Promised Land. As far as I can see we are still in the wilderness…”

    “You can, of course, deconstruct the deconstruction, then deconstruct the deconstruction of the deconstruction: the babushka-doll of contemporary aesthetics.” (both from p. 28)

    “… a critique of Postmodernism *and the situation that has produced it* (my emphasis) is urgently needed. A civilization gets, by and large, the art that it deserves.” (p. 49)

    (For the record, Wood references Andrew Britton in that last quote, and I don’t wish to dredge up the Battle over Britton we just had here. In my opinion, Wood speaks for himself perfectly well here.)

    That introduction helped me keep some sanity when so many new film books seemed to be dodging out of the tough problems of film form and critical interpretation, and today that essay, whatever excesses it might possibly have, looks foundational for CONTINUING auteurism in the face of “arrived truths” in the postmodern orbit. Somebody needed to kick out the rotten beam holding up that wobbly plank, and Wood did it brilliantly.

  • Joseph McBride

    D. K, thanks for the comment on my parody of film critics, including my friend Robin, and for getting what I was trying to do with that piece (in which I envisioned what modern critics would have had to say about THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY if they’d been around to write about it in 1903). I found his work immensely stimulating even when I disagreed with him, as I did to some degree with his piece on Ford in Film Comment. But that piece offers many brilliant insights into the later Ford and what Robin saw as his flight from America, although Robin, I felt, seriously underestimated 7 WOMEN. The piece helped focus Mike Wilmington and me when we wrote our chapter defending the film for our then-in-progress Cinema Two book JOHN FORD, which we published in Film Comment as a response to Robin, who told me we had changed his mind on the film. Another instance of his rare generosity and openmindedness as a critic. Would that all film critics were of a comparable intellectual adventurousness and inquisitiveness. It was equally fascinating watching Robin argue with himself as his view of Hitchcock evolved. His work reminds us that films change as we change, and that we should always be alert to new discoveries that make works of art seem to be living entities. D. K.’s point about Robin writing about life through the medium of film is, I think, key to his greatness. He was not just an aesthete but a man of letters and one of the most important cultural commentators of our troubled age.

  • Steve Elworth

    Joseph, thanks for your kind words on a critic open to change and whose frequent revisions are worth reading for his development and intellectual growth. I do not think anyone has brought up his Hitchcock Auto-Critique in Film Comment when Frenzy came out, Lost in the Wood by George Kaplan. David Bordwell has put up on his blog a very moving and well thought treatment of Wood’s moral seriousness.

  • Joseph McBride

    Here is what D. K. calls my “loving parody” of Robin Wood from American Film in 1976, part of my spoof of what modern film critics might have written if they had reviewed THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY in 1903:

    The Passion of Edwin S. Porter

    In the course of an otherwise unremarkable Dime Novel, BUCK TAYLOR, THE SADDLE KING, one of the characters ofFers what I consider an eloquent statement on the central problem of human life today: “We lead a wild life, get hard knocks, rough usage, and our lives are in constant peril, and the settling of a difficulty is an appeal to revolver or knife, but after all we are not as black as we are painted.” One must, as Buck Taylor might say, lay one’s cards squarely on the table. I see no purpose in art which does not attempt to offer a means of facing the appalling void which comprises human existence today. One need not be a Western outlaw or his victim to respond to this theme in THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY.

    As I sit writing this essay, a recording of Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite is playing on my Edison gramophone, and I can see my students aimlessly walking in the schoolyard; just months ago, men, women, and children were being annihilated in the Boer War, yet life goes on casually in England, as if no war had occurred. So, too, must the railroad line in THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY continue to operate after the fearful toll exacted by the outlaws. The majority of my fellow critics have taken this picture as a mere nostalgic romance. One can study what the phrase “cultural disintegration” means in the total absence of serious values when confronted by a review which concludes that “the paraphernalia of an anonymous gunfight, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing, seem to have been assembled merely for the delectation of juvenile fantasists of all ages. . . .” (John Bissell Tyler, The Times). Such dilettantish notions of art, typical of film criticism in Great Britain, are utterly alien to THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, with its courageous scrutiny of what it means to be alive today.

    Robin Wooden

  • That is brilliant, Joseph ! I am going to hunt up that old issue of AMERICAN FILM in some mouldy, abandoned museum of 20th Century cinema magazines !!! (Otherwise known as my office.)

  • Joseph McBride

    Thanks, Adrian, I am glad you enjoyed. I had a lot of fun writing the piece and used it as a covert polemic for what I did and didn’t like in modern film criticism (Robin taking the top of the mountain, as always).

  • Steve Elworth

    Thank you Joseph and it is particularly interesting to read or re-read it after reading David Bordwell’s tribute where he discusses the importance of order and disorder in Wood’s criticism.

  • Joseph McBride

    Brilliant piece by David Bordwell, a tribute that captures the essence of Robin’s contribution to criticism and to our culture.

  • Gregg Rickman

    I’ve been out of town and am only just now catching up with a week’s worth of davekehr.com. Very sorry to hear of Robin Wood’s passing, and I share the esteem we all have for him. Many of you have written some very eloquent tributes. I was thinking Wood should have, like Manny Farber, a Library of America volume, but of course he wasn’t an American!

    A few weeks ago I screened MOOLAADE and was pleased to note. in the supplementary interview on the DVD, a copy of the first edition of Wood’s “Hitchcock” on the shelf behind where the great Sembene was talking. Perhaps Sembene’s own office? It would be fitting that one great humanist would have another one’s book in his home library.

  • Alex Hicks

    What a difficult, if inspiring, model for criticism Wood must be! Reading him, I get no sense of any even slightly mannered rhetoric, only of a sustained and well integrated flow of insights. Sarris readed similarly, but seems somewhat mannered by a strain for an epigrammatic precision.

  • Miguel Marías

    It’s a strange impression to learn of the death of someone you never met or even exchanged an e-mal with but whom you had been attentively reading and admiring for almost 50 years (since the first issues of “Movie” magazine). I felt I knew somehow personally Robin Wood, and certainly I owed him a lot. So I feel a sense of loss, of grief, akin to what I felt when John Ford or Roberto Rossellini or Henri Langlois passed away.
    But their work will remain.
    Miguel Marías

  • Kent Jones

    Peter, I love your turn of phrase, “the jargon-massage game.” It brings back lots of comically tinged memories of hapless Cinema Studies students who thought that they had unlocked the secrets of the universe.

    Gabe, thanks for the clarification on who did what on the MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW disc. GK, I stand corrected.

  • Simon Wood

    I am Robin Wood’s son. Just googling around I ended up here. Very touching to see so much warmth and kind comments. Robin had a great life and will be missed by many. I am extremely proud that he was my father. He was quite ill for a while and he went out peacefully at home with his beloved cats and good friends around him. His legacy in print will no doubt live on for a long time. Cheers to all!

    Simon Wood.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Thank you, Simon. We all miss him so much and so,too, does his beloved cat Nikki.

  • Many thanks for your words, Simon.

  • Giuliano Vivaldi

    Have come to this Barnet link late but thanks very much for bringing to attention this excellent Soviet director. As someone mentioned there is a very good book printed for a retrospective of Barnet at the Locarno Festival in 1985 (in French) and a number of dispersed articles here and there but woefully little given Barnet’s stature. My feeling is that Barnet is so little written about because he practically left no writings of his own unlike Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Vertov, Dovzhenko, Kozintsev etc. I would say that there are many great films of Barnet- Miss Mend, Girl with a Hatbox, The House on Trubnaya Square, Outskirts, By the Bluest of Seas, THe Old Jockey, Alyonka, Once at Night, and even his very last films which the Soviet critic didn’t think much of have flashes of brilliance – Whistlestop and Generous Summer have flashes of brilliance. Nearly all the films are available in Russian but my great regret is not having yet been able to watch Moscow in October – the film that Barnet made for the tenth anniversary of the Revolution but was considered less successful than Eisenstein’s October or Pudovkin’s The End of Saint Petersburg. Barnet’s Icebreaker/ Thaw(?) (Ledolom)was a collectivisation film in the vein of Dovzhenko’s Earth and not without interest either. Let’s hope that these lesser known Barnet films will begin to earn the reputation that they have always deserved.

    http://www.giuvivrussianfilm.blogspot.com