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Awake In The Dark
What you're watching these days on the Big Screen and the Small Screen.


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Old August 15th, 2005, 09:38 AM   #1
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Silent Russian Films.

I saw the following:

The End of St. Petersburg / Deserter (1927)
Ivan the Terrible: Part 1 (1944)
Ivan the Terrible: Part 2 (1946)
Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Alexander Nevsky (1938)
Storm Over Asia (1928)
October (1927)
Earth / The End of St. Petersburg / Chess Fever: Triple Feature (1925)
Arsenal (1928)
Strike (1925)

and have tons of questions about everything.

first i only understood potemkin, ivan & nevsky because it was accessible. but all the rest of the film, as much as i've tried to rewatch i just have no idea what's going on. can ya'll fill in the history of why what da dillio is going on? it's great filmmaking for a country in such poverty but i dunno what the purpose is. i've listened to some of the commentaries but without any historic background it's very difficult. why is there a strike/revolution? what's the deal with october? why did st. petesburg end with the rising of peasants over .gov?

i luv the imagery of the soldiers cross the backlit war-torn skies =).
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Old August 15th, 2005, 10:50 AM   #2
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Revolution
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Old August 15th, 2005, 11:00 AM   #3
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A bit of historical backround:
this isn't too extensive just very general, and I make no claims to expertise.
Russia at the time of the revolution was much like France at the time of their revolution in 1789. Roughly 3% (mostly heredetary aristocracy) of the population was living in comfort and had control over the remaining 97%. Sefdom had only been outlawed in the middle late 19th century, roughly two centuries after it happened in western Europe. A huge percentage of the population was living below subsistence. World War I was a conflict that the Tsarist rejime could ill afford, and it the economic ands social stress it put on Russian society created an environment ripe for revolution.
Here are some dates:
http://www.barnsdle.demon.co.uk/russ/datesr.html

One historical note I will add is that after roughly three decades of communist rule, things were not very much better for most of the Soviet population. One key indicator of this fact is that the Nazis were initially welcomed as liberators when they invaded the Ukrane. This changed, of course, when the SS arrived.

Last year for a college history course I wrote a paper about the German offensive on the Russain front. (I actually made a short documentary as well, but it is very poor) if you are interested in reading the paper I will be happy to email it to you, or anyone else. I did get an "A" on it so the quality isn't too bad. It is, however, a depressing read.
hope that helps, somewhat.
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Old August 15th, 2005, 04:28 PM   #4
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October and Arsenal are two of my favorite films!
Along with Dziga Vertov's Man With A Movie Camera (1929), which I just recently bought. The first two films were very much made for an audience very much in the historical know, so generalized, expository filmmaking was deemed unnecessary (thankfully).
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Old August 15th, 2005, 09:00 PM   #5
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shawn,

what do all of the symbols mean? i had googled a bit on the Russian Rev last year when i was watching these films but they are no help in the context of the films themselves because there is so much symbolism in the films that i have no idea they showed.
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Old August 15th, 2005, 10:50 PM   #6
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Count me in as a die-hard fan of Dovshenko. "Earth" is one of my favorite films of all time. Somewhere around here, we've got a big thread about Lev Kuhleshov. Somebody should dig it up.
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Old August 15th, 2005, 10:57 PM   #7
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out of the ones i saw, i probably love nevsky the best because of the clear/linear narrative and the epic nature of the mythology/story.
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Old August 16th, 2005, 12:54 AM   #8
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Russian Film!! Great, why didn't I think of this. Thanks Yi.

To add to what Michael said, the last Tsar (Czar) of Russia Nicholas II committed the men of Russia to a war he could not afford: in terms of money or human capital (I know that's a dry way to phrase it, sorry). This led to widespread poverty (End of St. Petersberg) and the women saw their husbands and sons (as young as 14-16 at the end) go to war and not come back (see Ballad of a Soldier).

Nicholas ' advisers had warned against his course of action, but you know how rulers think - they know best. This led to an uprising against Tsarism and in his attempt to escape, Nicholas gave over power to Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich who himself abdicated. The Provisional government took over but not for long as they wanted to continue the status quo. The Bolshevik uprising took place and then things started to settle down a bit (I use the word settle for convenience). Any more info would take forever for me to give properly.

The Tsar abdicated in March and the Bolsheviks took over in October - hence the significance of October.

What I'll do is give some notes about the films I saw and their place in the scheme of things in subsequent posts - I want to check my notes and break the info down to smaller chunks.

Very very cool idea for a thread!!
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Old August 16th, 2005, 01:22 AM   #9
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I found that old Kuleshov thread:

http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showthread.php?t=21930

Some good reading there.

(Alain! Where are ya? This is *your* topic!)
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Old August 16th, 2005, 09:24 AM   #10
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if it helps, russian films are symbolic in only the loosest sense--

the russians were not interested in the symbolic meanings contained within images in the frame, they were far more interested in how the meaning was created in the space between frames, e.g. in the collision of objects to create a third space of meaning. the whole point of montage is not to create meaning through the symbols in the frame per se, but to create meaning in the synthesis of opposites, in its most basic form A + B = C, C being the point of interest in which meaning arises.

an example would be from potemkin--you could understand the scary rasputin-esque clergyman during the on-ship rebellion sequence as somehow symbolic (in the classical sense) of the filmmaker's anti-institutional religious views, but that classical symbolic understanding contains far less meaning than say, the juxtaposition of the close-up of his tapping cross with the slashing close-up of the sword or with the mounting tension of the rebellion itself.

the "meaning" of the film isn't located in objects (or close-ups, etc.) but in the sensations that the collision of these objects creates--the objects themselves tend to be selected for their purely visual texture rather than their symbolic meaning. hence, the swan belt buckle close-up in the massacre of innocents scene. it has little inherently symbolic value in itself but its placement in the film contributes to the sensation of tension, the devaluation of human life, dramatic suspense, etc.

the russian filmmakers were deeply intellectual in their search for an (inherently) anti-intellectual, sense-based cinema.

"chess fever" is an enjoyable film, but to see kuleshov's experiment in action, check out "by the law"--which is maybe less entertaining but more like a reflection of his cinematic experimentations.
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Old August 16th, 2005, 10:14 AM   #11
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Meryem, you have described the "Kuleshov Effect" perfectly. And I've always thought "By The Law" was wonderfully entertaining, in a particularly brutal kind of way.

Put simply, the Kuleshov experiment is that you take a close-up of a man's expressionless face. Just a blank stare into the camera, showing no emotion. Now, intercut that expression against another shot of something delightful, say a beautiful woman smiling. This shot has an impact on the original man's expressionless face -- by the nature of the cut, it's no longer expressionless, because you assign a relationship between those two shots. The man's face doesn't seem expressionless anymore relative to the beautiful woman. His face hasn't changed; but you assign meaning to it: he is feeling warm regard, is quietly pleased, or fondly contemplative, or whatever the context of the situation calls for.

Take the exact same shot of the man's expressionless face -- no change there. But intercut it with a shot of a crying child. Now a whole new meaning is created: he now appears helpless, or perhaps deeply concerned, or dispassionately disinterested -- depending entirely on the context.

These new meanings are not created in frame, but rather in between frames as Meryem points out. The Kuhleshov experiment dictates that you can create an entirely new context based on the relationships between separate elements, without actually changing those elements. The man's expressionless face does not change, but the emotion the viewer assigns to that face changes, relative to the context of the surrounding shots.

I think the old story goes that audiences who first saw the Kuleshov Effect in his film workshops had insisted that the man in those shots had a different expression for each of those different sequences, until he showed them how it was really just one shot used in a variety of different ways.
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Old August 16th, 2005, 11:19 AM   #12
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Here is a link to how Kubrick may have used this effect when HAL was edited in 2001.

http://www.ambiguous.org/robin/word/kuleshov.html

I sometimes wonder how much the artist put into works and how much outsiders viewing thier work put into the work for them. I often think of pretenscious galley types staring at blobs of color and formless paintings hanging in galleries and claiming they understand the true essence the artist was trying to convey.

In the back of my mind I always wonder if some 6 year old kid did the design in fingerpainting class. Hey, I'm a pessimist.

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Old August 16th, 2005, 12:00 PM   #13
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Can anyone suggest a good source rental for DVD editions of some of these films? I love silents, there is so much imagination in them, every time i watch one I learn something.

Sean,
What follows is poorly written, but hopeully the gist of the idea will be clear:

Just because an artist does not intentionally include an element in her work, does not mean that, they did not, on some level, perhaps, a level beyond their own understanding, actually include it.
The human subconcious is a mysterious and barely understood thing. Most people, myself included, have, at best, a minimal knowledge of how their own brain works, and if there is one human endevor that the subconcious is involved in it is the creation of art.
Also, if we don't examine art and try to derive meaning from it we do the artist a disservice, just as we do when we get the "wrong" meaning- which is of course, subjective; but, better we think about it and get it "wrong" than not think about it at all.
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Old August 16th, 2005, 12:25 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Gibbons
Can anyone suggest a good source rental for DVD editions of some of these films?
Netflix is your friend!

www.netflix.com
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Old August 18th, 2005, 02:57 PM   #15
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Netflix is definitely your friend, and is how I've been able to view these works, one after the next.

Wow, fantastic to see appreciation of filmmaking of this kind on this forum.

Dovchenko is tops, without a doubt my favorite post revolutionary filmmaker.
Some of the film language these guys were exploring is still ahead of it's time.
Nothing like ideology to drive an artform (or any other human endeavor for that matter).

To answer your question, Yi, for the sake of plugging into some of what has already been said here, I have no idea what some of the symbolism means, or what they were/are intended to mean, or to what the references are, more often than not....However, in purely cinematographic terms, these films are STARTLINGLY magnificent and without peer. The dvd of Arsenal, the one I watched via Netflix, offers a good, scholarly commentary track that will aid in understanding political as well as artistic historical context.

For PRE-revolutionary Russian cinema, I would highly recommend the films of Evgenni Bauer, however "bourgeois" they may be ;-] .
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