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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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"Miss Mend" has the perfect balance of all the elements needed to make an entertaining movie: action, drama and suspense keeping up a constant fast pace, satire and irresistible humour thrown in at the best and often most unpredictable moments, all with the consistently brilliant photography of beautiful scenery, city and streetscapes and impressive portrait shots of the main stars, who radiate a distinct quality of strong character and individuality. It is also full of "Americanisms" - with the leading characters actually being American, and obviously imitating American film styles, but with a fun sense of irony and satire so that nothing about Miss Mend can be taken seriously, and therefore can be enjoyed by audiences on both sides of the former `iron curtain'.
Teaming up with a reporter (Boris Barnet who also wrote and co-directed Miss Mend) and photographer Fogel, Miss Mend finds herself caught up in a complicated conspiracy, the murder of a powerful businessman, and a plot to use biological warfare. There are car chases, trains and fist fights, but also some darker moments involving Miss Mend's nephew whom she takes care of by herself since the murder of her sister, as well as her ill-fated romance with a man who turns out to be the enemy she is after. While the overall effect is that "Miss Mend" is not at all a typical American film or serial, it is obvious that it doesn't really pretend or intend to be, and therein perhaps lies its success.
Adding to all these winning qualities is the picture quality of this Flicker Alley DVD which is exceptionally good throughout, and is brilliantly supported by a superb orchestral score by Robert Israel. A booklet of informative notes adds the finishing touch. For me personally, "Miss Mend" takes an important place in my silent Soviet film section, and it would surely be of great interest to many serious cinema aficionados as well.
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".
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