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Landmarks of Early Soviet Film

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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(Sep 20, 2011)
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4-DVD Collection: 8 Groundbreaking Films
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Editorial Reviews

During the 1920s, Soviet documentary and fiction films were financed by the State and their fledgling directors converted their lives from theater, engineering, painting and journalism to the practice and theory of a revolutionary cinema devoted to showing the achievements and aspirations of the new Socialist society. Each of the eight seminal feature-length films in this remarkable set repays several viewings; all are new to DVD. They are Sergei M. Eisenstein s last silent and seldom seen Old and New (1929), which attempts to bring visual poetry to the collectivization of agriculture; Dziga Vertov s Stride, Soviet (1926), which transformed a commissioned work of Soviet achievements in Moscow into a highly experimental film; Victor Turin s Turksib (1930), a stirring chronicle of the building of the Turkestan-Siberian railway, and an inspiration to the British and American documentary film movements of the 1930s; Esther Shub s Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (1927), culled from pre-Soviet Russian newsreels gathered from Europe and America; Boris Barnet s The House on Trubnaya (1928), often described as the best Soviet silent comedy ever; Lev Kuleshov s The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924), filled with stunts and comedy, along with the same director s By the Law (1926), a tense drama set in Alaska based upon a short story by Jack London; and Mikhail Kalatozov s Salt for Svanetia (1930), which explores the Caucasus region of Svanetia, a remote, mountainous area where the Ushkul tribe still lived in a stone-age culture. These films are presented with original Russian intertitles with English subtitles (optional on 4 of the films) except Turksib and The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty which have full-screen English intertitles; all have musical scores new for these editions by Robert Israel, Eric Beheim, Alexander Rannie or Zoran Borisavljevic. Grateful thanks are offered the Harvard Film Archive for access to several of its original 35mm prints.

Special Features

20 Page Booklet - MONTAGE UPRISING: A COLLECTION OF SOVIET SILENTS A History of Early Soviet Film: A compelling and comprehensive film essay by Maxim Pozdorovkin and Ana Olenina, drawing on the material in these films to discus the rise and fall of early Soviet film and its importance in world cinema. Maxim Pozdorovkin is a filmmaker and media curator based in New York City. He is currently completing a feature film about the prolifera­tion of the AK-47 machine gun and a PhD dissertation at Harvard University on the con­nections between information technology and documentary film. Maxim's first documentary feature, CAPITAL, has screened at film festi­vals and museums around the world, and has been broadcast internationally. Ana Olenina is a film historian, specializing in early 20th century visual culture. She is completing a PhD dissertation at Harvard University, in which she examines intersec­tions between experimental psychology and Modernist conceptions of gesture and affect. Maxim Pozdorovkin and Ana Olenina have previously collaborated on Flicker Alley's release of the Soviet serial, Miss Mend.

Product Details

  • Actors: Boris Barnet
  • Directors: Boris Barnet, Sergei M. Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, Lev Kuleshov, Mikhail Kalatozov
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Black & White, Full Screen, NTSC, Silent
  • Language: Russian
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Rated:
    Parents Strongly Cautioned
  • Studio: Flicker Alley
  • DVD Release Date: September 20, 2011
  • Run Time: 595 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B005C7FWZE
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #72,907 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. on October 22, 2011
This is a good set, but ... though it pains me to criticize Flicker Alley, and always taking into account the possibility that my copy might be in some way flawed or defective (please do correct me if I'm wrong!), the version of BY THE LAW that is included in this box is so mutilated as to be unwatchable. I'm not talking about the natural damage prints of this film will necessarily have suffered, nor about a poor restoration or transfer or any of the other, expected flaws to be found on a DVD of early film. BY THE LAW is cropped here to be missing what looks like nearly a quarter of the frame on the left, and if I'm not mistaken a little on the right as well--MR. WEST, by contrast, looks fine. When there is a stunningly beautiful DVD of BY THE LAW available from Edition Filmmuseum (region 2), which contains not only the full, uncropped frame but at a far better resolution and with deeper blacks and better detail, I can't understand why so poor a version of this essential film should have been included in an otherwise praiseworthy collection. Perhaps the German print used for the Region 2 disc was unavailable to Flicker Alley, or was too expensive to license or convert--or who knows. There are manifold difficulties and compromises in any publishing venture, particularly in the home-video world. In this case, however, omitting BY THE LAW would have been the better decision. So: beware.
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For anyone looking beyond the big three of Soviet Cinema (Dovzhenko, Pudovkin, Eisenstein), this set is a gold mine of cinematic creativity. You get the opportunity to view documentaries (THE FALL OF THE ROMANOV DYNASTY, TURKSIB, SALT FOR SVANETIA), comedies (THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF MR WEST IN THE LAND OF THE BOLSHEVIKS, THE HOUSE ON TRUBNAYA), and an unexpected drama (BY THE LAW) based on a short story by Jack London. One of the big three does make an appearance here. Sergei Eisenstein's last silent film OLD AND NEW (originally THE GENERAL LINE) extols the virtues of collective farming through the classic manipulation of his montage editing. Editing also plays an important part in Dziga Vertov's STRIDE SOVIET! which did not please the powers that be at the time with its creative inventiveness just like his highly charged documentary LIVING RUSSIA OR THE MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA.

The quality of the images in this set is a marked improvement over the old VHS versions although one reviewer complained about the framing of BY THE LAW. While it does look cropped compared to the other movies (possibly soundtrack issues), I had no problem with it as I haven't seen the Region 2 version. It does illustrate the issue of different versions of silent movies being made available for home video. The Eisenstein and Vertov offerings are what you expect when you think of 1920s Soviet cinema but the comedies are completely unexpected. What they lack in sublety is made up for by their visual creativity. All of these films come with brand new scores and there's even a little booklet to help explain Soviet montage. First class all the way. Thanks again to David Shepard and Flicker Alley for making these available. An invaluable set for anyone interestd in editing techniques and how thwy can influence a film.
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Back in film school, we watched almost all of these works in history and theory and documentary classes. If you're looking for the primary building blocks of film grammar, this set is an invaluable tool. That's not to say that these films are dry exercises in the theory of montage and nothing else: they're still enchanting and fresh and entertaining after nearly 90 years.

"The foundation of film art is editing." --Pudovkin. While Eisenstein is the best known early theorist of montage, each of the filmmakers represented here had his (or her) own notions of how to render action and character and space and emotion through editing. With a scissors and a pastepot and nothing else-- no Moviola, no AVID-- these storytellers edited these masterworks. All are worthy of study, but I think my two favorites stand out.

Lev Kuleshov's "By The Law" is a compelling interpretation of a Jack London story about a troupe of gold miners and their descent into madness. At the ends of the earth, they make their own law. When I saw "There Will Be Blood" a few years ago, parts of it reminded me of this film.

Sergei Eisenstein's "Old & New" (known when I first saw it as "The General Line") is a paean to the collectivization and mechanization of farming. Sound sexy? No? Well, when thick-ankled farm girl Marfa Lapkina fantasizes about tractors and milking machines, you'll get hot under the collar. The milking machine dream is almost a parody of an orgasmic release-- must be seen to be believed. Oh Marfa, where are you now??

Interested in film history and good storytelling? This collection is essential.
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