Archive for Kuleshov

Hanging Tree

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 29, 2017 by dcairns

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.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Dying Is Easy

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2015 by dcairns

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KEAN (1924), directed by Volkoff, starring Mosjoukine. Very lavish, and with the stylish lighting effects and ripe symbolism I expected of its director. It’s a hopeless farrago of Edmund Kean’s real life, omitting or distorting or downright negating nearly every salient fact about its subject, but it does capture a vivid spirit of excess and debauchery. Regardless of willful historical inaccuracy, it’s a striking film.

Mosjoukine, a great actor, isn’t really able to suggest Edmund Kean the great actor, since all his Kean does on stage is strut about and flirt blatantly with female members of the audience. His poor Juliet never gets a look in, as he’s too busy making goog-goo eyes through a gauzy veil at the Danish ambassador’s wife. She’s played by Nathalie Lissenko, the real-life Mrs. Mosjoukine, who’s very good — less showy than her hubby. She clearly understood screen acting, whereas arguably he only understood, or was only interested in, Great Acting. It’s either ironic or extremely apt that his face was used by Lev Kuleshov to demonstrate that montage could create the effect of emotion on an actor’s face without any performance at all.

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It’s offstage that Mosjoukine/Kean comes alive, dancing the hornpipe in a furious montage sequence, knocking back rum and flaming punch, which forms a brazier ardente to create some of the aforementioned dramatic lighting.

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He never gets to collapse on stage while playing Othello with his son (he doesn’t even have a son in this), nor does he say “Dying is easy; comedy is hard,” but expires in the suburbs, quoting Shakespeare to the end. A brief special effect shows his hand skeletonizing as he experiences the early signs of death — like Mrs. Bates skull seeping through the skin of Norman’s face at the end of PSYCHO.

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It’s very subtle, because his hand is so pale. You may have to trust me on this one.

A further hideous irony — Mosjoukine’s stardom was handicapped by sound (truncating a possible Hollywood career) and by unsuccessful plastic surgery back in Europe which is said to have robbed his face of character and limited his expressivity. He ended up needing Comrade Kuleshov to help with his performances. He died of tuberculosis in 1939.