Hanging Tree

There was a bit of a gold rush theme at Hippfest this year, with Nell Shipman’s THE GRUB STAKE and Lev Kuleshov’s BY THE LAW, both set in Alaska / Yukon respectively.

Kuleshov’s vaunted “effect” is in play, but he also has physiognomical miracles to work with in his actors, particularly Aleksandra Khokhlova (no sniggering), a kind of horsey skeleton, and vein-popping Vladimir Fogel (bit of a bulging blood-vessel theme too, since HANDS OF ORLAC was also screened). The screen is at all times full of either blasting weather conditions or straining thespians projecting their conniptions at us with every muscle. Marvelous.

The live music was by guitarist R.M. Hubbert, and was one of Hippfest’s few incomplete successes — it was very lovely and dreamy, but not very responsive to the film. While Kuleshov and his team wrestled with the elements to produce cabin fever, “Hubby” strummed lovingly as if set on soothing our nerves, making the experience considerably more restful than you would expect, given the film’s subject matter. it was a bold experiment, and it’s testimony to the music’s beauty that it didn’t induce a kind of cabin fever of its own, consisting as it did of the same bit played over and over for ninety minutes — I could have listened to it for ninety more, but it didn’t do much for the story.

That story derives from Jack London, a surprise choice for Soviet adaptation on the face of it (though he was an ardent socialist). Kuleshov’s visualisation of it is beyond reproach, but his few changes to the narrative are either propagandistic or just bizarre — so odd that I suspect a propaganda intent even if I can’t figure out what it was. We were all quite struck by the film’s ending, in which (spoiler!) a character returns from the dead. Is he a ghost, the manifestation of guilty consciences, or did he just not die properly in the first place? I turned to London’s source story, The Unexpected, for answers — and no such incident occurs.

Well, I can’t see the Soviets adding a ghost where none existed, the psychological approach seems at odds with the film’s very externalized approach (apoplectic actors, rainstorms and floods, stunningly rendered, which suggest real, life-threatening natural events rather than Lear-like symbols), and so we’re left with the executed man simply not being dead. I guess London’s downbeat, dying fall of an ending wouldn’t have played in the Urals. Ironically, though, the one thing that could have explained the bizarre surprise twist would have been retaining London’s original title. It certainly was unexpected.

Images via Brandon and thunderb.

Advertisements

3 Responses to “Hanging Tree”

  1. I didn’t snigger. I was sipping coffee and nearly fried my monitor, tho.

  2. Loved “By The Law”… it prompted a Russian film obsession that petered out when I got to the early-1930’s “shock worker” propaganda stuff.

    Unrelated: just learned that the premiere episode of the rebooted “Mystery Science Theater 3000” will be REPTILICUS.

  3. That’s EXTREMELY unrelated but extremely exciting! Fiona’s jaw just dropped like a Danish dinosaur’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: