The discovery of early Russian cinema in recent years has focused on its highly individual characteristics and its hitherto neglected major artists. Relatively little attention has so far been paid to the public image of the industry as a whole — how it appeared to the filmgoer in the Moscow or Petrograd street. This program includes two short items as well as a major film by Bauer in an effort to redress the balance.
Antosha Ruined by a Corset (1916) is one of the 24 Antosha shorts made by the Czech-born comedian Anton Feriner for the Lucifer company between 1915-18. As David Robinson has noted, these made him the most popular Russian comic, with titles in the series like Antosha Sherlock Holmes, Antosha Speculator, Antosha and the Black Hand — many of them topical, others satirical, and like the one seen here, risqué. Robinson traces the influence of French comedy, which would have helped form Russian taste for over a decade.
Khanzhankov explained in a 1937 interview what he wanted to achieve with A Life for a Life. “I wanted to stagger the cinema world with a production of great artistic worth, which would immediately place our firm’s reputation at its rightful level... From a whole range of scenarios offered to him, Bauer, our chief director, selected a dramatization of the French novel by Georges Ohnet. All the studio’s technical resources were mobilized for the production, and the main roles were allocated among the best actors in our company... We had no more than one month to spend on the production and all departments set to work at a feverish pace. Bauer liked this sort of urgent ‘spontaneous’ work and even finished it a few days ahead of the deadline.” [Silent Witnesses, ed. Tsivian et al, London/Pordenone: 1989]
Khanzhankov’s hopes were realized. The Russian film press hailed A Life for a Life as an “artistic treasure” and “a film that deserves a place alongside the best foreign productions,” although Bauer’s taste for columns was also gently mocked, and it was hinted that perhaps he was trying too hard to imitate foreign models. But all hopes of building on this achievement were swept away in the following year; and in 1919 the most-admired star of Russian cinema, Vera Kholodnaia, died in Odessa. Her vast funeral marked the end of on era.
ANTOSHA RUINED BY A CORSET (Antoshu korset pogubil)Director/screenplay: Eduard Puchal’skii. Production Company: Lucifer Film Studio. Released January 26, 1916. Cast: Anton Fertner (Antosha).
A LIFE FOR A LIFE (Zhiznt zo zhizn’) Alternate titles: A Tear for Every Drop of Blood (Za kozhduiu slezu po kople krovi) or The Rival Sisters (Sestry sopernitsy).Director/Screenplay: Evgeni Bauer. Based on the novel Serge Panine by Georges Ohnet. Photography: Boris Zavelev. Production Company: Khanzhankov. Released May 10, 1916. Cast: Ol’ga Rakhmanova (Khromovo, a millionairess). Lidiia Koreneva (Musia, her daughter). Vera Kholodnaia (Nata, her adopted daughter). Vitol’d Polonskii (Prince Bartinskii). Ivan Perestiani (Zhurov, a merchant).
THE FUNERAL OF VERA KHOLODNAIA. Newsreel coverage of the funeral which took place in Odessa in 1919.
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