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Miss Mend, an action-packed adventure serial in three feature-length episodes, was produced in Russia with the goal of rivaling, and possibly even surpassing, the most entertaining American movies of the 1920s. Instead of the avant-garde works of Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, Russian audiences were enchanted by fast-moving American films starring serial queens like Pearl White, swashbuckling heroes like Douglas Fairbanks, and comedians from the Keystone Cops to Lloyd, Keaton and Chaplin. Miss Mend meets them all head-on and hardly stops for breath. It features beautiful location photography, impressive stunt scenes; horse, car and boat chases, radio towers, jazz bands and even a spectacular train wreck, interspersed with visual references to German film classics like Nosferatu, Caligari and Dr. Mabuse, The film s heroine, Vivian Mend, is an elegant urban professional who earns her own living and raises a child without the help of any man. But the film, partially set in an imagined America where everything is new and progressive (from technology to social relations and lifestyles) also includes a few more-than-pointed comments on labor relations, racism, excessive wealth, gratuitous violence and even rape. Based upon a 1923 pulp novel allegedly written by an American, 'Jim Dollar' (actually the nom-de-plume of a Russian woman, Marietta Shaginian), the film adaptation is directed by Fedor Ozep and Boris Barnet, each at the start of long and distinguished filmmaking careers. Although it responded to an official call for a new art that could win over mass audiences, Miss Mend was condemned by the Soviet press of the time as ideologically lightweight and a prime example of shameless 'Western-style' entertainment. It was nonetheless a huge popular success and after more than eighty years, it remains as exhilarating as it is fascinating. Mastered in high definition from superb 35mm film elements, this English-titled edition of Miss Mend is accompanied by a newly-recorded large-orchestra score by Robert Israel. Soviet culture specialists Ana Olenina and Maxim Pozdorovkin wrote the new English titles as well as an included booklet, Miss Mend and Soviet Americanism and made a bonus 25-minute documentary, Miss Mend: A Whirlwind Vision of An Imagined America. The Music Behind Miss Mend: The Invisible Orchestra is a behind-the-scenes look at one of Robert Israel's recording sessions in the Czech Republic. This edition was produced by David Shepard and Jeffery Masino, with digital restoration and editing carried out by Eric Lange of Lobster Films, Paris.
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Top Customer Reviews
Flicker Alley & Co. have done their usual fine job in bringing another silent offering to us. The film, transferred from 35mm material, looks very good especially considering its obscurity (it was panned by Soviet critics for incorporating the very things it was poking fun at although the masses loved it). I may have run across it in a reference book but if I did, I don't recall it so I am delighted to become acquainted with another title that I'm unfamiliar with. The movie has been given new English intertitles and is accompanied by another fine score from Robert Israel. Part of the fun for me is listening for the classical music and popular music of the day quotations that he uses. While I can't imagine people lining up to buy the DVD (even silent film enthusiasts), it is like all Flicker Alley offerings, a quality release worthy of our time and the extra cost. Just don't expect BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN or MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA or even THE PERILS OF PAULINE. This 2 DVD set also comes with a 15 page booklet that gives you the complete lowdown on the film and "Soviet Americanism".
This film is notable for its depiction of 1920s America through a Soviet lens. More than one-half of the film unfolds in a U.S. replicated in Russia, a land of worker unrest, virulent racism and power-mad capitalists looking to destroy the Soviet workers' paradise. Interestingly, all of "Miss Mend's" protagonists are Americans, including the eponymous heroine, Vivian Mend, a typist for a company who ends up siding with striking workers at the film's start. She comes to the attention of a four rival suitors: brawny reporter Barnet (played by former boxer and co-director Boris Barnet); the slightly peevish photographer Vogel; buffoonish Tom Hopkins, a clerk at the company where Miss Mend works; and Engineer Johnson, a character who is not all that he seems.
All of the actors do a commendable job handling the numerous chases and fight scenes the plotline demands of them. The character who registers the most is the central villain, Chiche. Hovering somewhere between Dr. Caligari and Dr. Mabuse, the twisted and seemingly leprous Chiche intends to use a terrifying bacteriological weapon to destroy the Soviet Union, and is not above killing children to achieve his ends.
Such dark material is intermixed with much lighter fare, and presents the film with its underlying problem: a largely inconsistent tone. Reviewers of the period complained that the film attempted too much all at once, striving to be farcical, exciting and critical in equal measures. An example of this is the marked contrast between two scenes dealing with race. One scene involving an African American worker's murder coolly dismissed by the police is handled with striking sensitively. This is followed up by a later scene in which a newly disrobed Tom Hopkins covers his body in soot and then bounds along a bustling avenue dressed in only his undergarments. The reason for his bizarre decision is not fully explained and does not fully qualify as a critique of the use of blackface in American cinema.
Despite such missteps, Miss Mend is always engaging and improves as it moves along. It makes a fascinating companion piece to Fritz Lang's "Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler" from 1922. Both epics deal with master criminals using economic leverage to succeed in their diabolical schemes, but Lang's work contains a depth of characterization and mastery of technique that the Russian film does not quite match. It does feature some splendid footage of Leningrad's streets and waterfront locations.
As has been the case in earlier releases, Flicker Alley does a consummate job with its restoration and inclusion of accompanying materials, including two documentaries (one placing "Miss Mend" within a historical context, the other on the recording sessions of Israel's music) and a fifteen-page booklet. Robert Israel again proves himself to be one of the titans of silent film composing with an excpetional score that alternates between jaunty orchestral pieces and moody organ compositions. For connoisseurs of pulpy serials of the 1920s and anyone interested in Soviet films produced in the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Miss Mend is well worth the investment. I imagine it is a film that offers ample rewards upon subsequent viewings.
The Soviet authorities didn't like the film because they thought it was too American in its sensational theme and pace, but it was very popular with Russian filmgoers. As mentioned in the press release "Though you'll find no tractors, capitalist oppression, or revolution, the film does manage a few jokes at the American characters' expense."
Miss Mend: A Whirlwind Vision of an Imagined America - A brand new, 25-minute documentary exploring the creative forces and cultural influences behind Miss Mend
Creating The Music of Miss Mend: Go behind the scenes of Robert Israel's brilliant new score in a new, 15-minute documentary featuring the actual Miss Mend recording sessions
Miss Mend and Soviet Americanism - A new booklet essay by historians Ana Olenina and Maxim Pozdorovkin
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