December 1, 2017

Tonight's Kino Slang screenings (hereare dedicated to an ineradicable man, Alfredo Mendes, the protagonist of A CAÇA AO COELHO COM PAU (THE RABBIT HUNTERS, 2007, Pedro Costa), who died last month in Lisbon. We don't know much about him, save for what is told and how it's told in the two short movies TARRAFAL and A CAÇA AO COELHO COM PAUmomentous sounds and images of Alfredo, engulfed by his intensity and bitterness, the jutting out irony of a knockabout and the agitation of a man on the lam; his presence in contrast to the serenity of Ventura makes each shot testy, a live wire—that, and that "He drove a pickup truck delivering papos-secos."



Below is a "testimony" to the films TARRAFAL and THE RABBIT HUNTERS that I wrote in 2011, initiated by Craig Keller for the Colossal Youth dvd booklet as released by Masters of Cinema/Eureka. 

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Limbo Film(s) 


We cannot accept cinema's death. Not so long as Ventura lives and breathes—and looks off like all those who sing to themselves, yet to the entire world (...Bach, ...Oharu, all the nameless exiles). Not so long as Alberto Ze plays with his knife innocently, then suddenly stakes his expulsion letter against a wood post for all to see. Not so long as fathers die, rabbits escape death, and Alfredo wakes at daybreak to tell about it. Not so long as mothers laugh while telling stories of back home, and suddenly become grave about an evil which passes if one is too accepting. Yes, so long as a few trees remain, there's a soup kitchen to skim, several cats, and the people are willing, a film can be made, and the cinema is not dead. Its lines are catastrophic.


"You narrate in order not to die or because you're dead already," (Serge Daney). Thus we have Tarrafal and The Rabbit Hunters, which respectively strike out, each with its own slash—one supernatural, one social—the "or" of that aphorism. That is their militancy. These short films, made with the inhabitants of a housing project—two former masons, a parolee, a mother, a cafeteria cook—narrate. That is their power. Taking advantage of the fluency he gained with the people of the neighborhood, and the fluency the neighborhood people gained with the cinema during the two year shoot of Colossal Youth, Pedro Costa makes these films, or as Bernard Eisenschitz distinguished, "this film(s)", in a mere two weeks, for two separate omnibus films.


30 years after Jacques Tati, in his César award acceptance speech, urged distributors and film people to support short films, the short film still basically remains in limbo, still disrespected and unaccepted as cinema's life-blood. The proof: the egregious non-reception of these Costa and company films, the richest short film(s) in a half-century.


It's as if Costa wanted to test the limits of the short films' trenchancy, as if he wanted to sharpen one short with another perpetually through a total, vigorous, concentrated combination of the supernatural, the militant, the local, and the poetic, with oral history and field recording (the song at the end of The Rabbit Hunters), true reverse-shots (across both films), narration, and montage. Even the title, like a scar, Tarrafala reference to the Portuguese-established "Camp of Slow Death" in Cape Verde, a prison camp for political prisoners opposing Salazar from 1936-54is montaged over this contemporary story in Lisbon of a young man's expulsion from Portugal and deportation to an island he never knew, the beating to death of Alfredo by racists, and Ventura’s "lot of departed spirits that walk with me..."


 As if this concentration weren't enough, Costa plays a cat's game (concretely: compare the cats in each film) with the very idea of an international omnibus film contribution (often products of a vague and alienated cultural initiative) for which this film(s) were made. Not in the negative, but in the positive. He has found another vein to tap for cinematic resonance: by separating and multiplying the film(s) into two different omnibuses, the film(s) repeat, differ, multiply and regard each other for all time...


This enormous and brief film(s) have an inexhaustible amount to teach us about the editor's stiletto; as Colossal Youth does about the overall epic, as Ne change rien does about the microphone.


Someday Tarrafal and The Rabbit Hunters may emerge as the greatest film(s) ever made on the reverse-shot, formally and thematically. Again, it took two films, crossing each other, with we the public hovering between them, to achieve this.


Costa and the inhabitants have not placed pennies on the eyes of the dead, they've place a film(s). Our theoretical limbo as viewers between this film(s), the very real stateless limbo of the young Alberto Ze, the made-real limbo of a dead man in the film: wheels within wheels within wheels… To take another Walshian idea: a discreet REGENERATION of deposed mass heroes. 



 Andy Rector 
July 13, 2011 




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Thieves Highway

November 21, 2017



KINO SLANG​
at the
Echo Park Film Center

Friday 
December 1, 2017
Doors at 7:30pm
$5 Suggested Donation


Echo Park Film Center 
1200 North Alvarado St. 
Los Angeles, CA. 90026 






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CINEMA THE INCESSANT

"‎Lack one lacks both, and the unseen is proved by the seen, 
 Till that becomes unseen and receives proof in its turn." 
Walt Whitman


THE SINGING STREET  (​T​he Teachers of Norton Park School, Edinburgh, 195​1,​ 17 min​​​) 

A collection of children's street games filmed in the streets of Edinburgh accompanied by traditional children's songs. Said its makers: "Not meant for education or entertainment but belonging to the art of play. Shot in six Easter days of boisterous weather, the cast, mostly girls, numbering sixty." 

IL VIANDANTE ​- ​THE WAYFARER​  (Jean-Marie Straub,​ ​Danièle Huillet,​ ​2001, ​5 min​​)​ 

A woman in Sicily tells her grown son the story of a past roll in the hay with a striker disappeared. 

A CAÇA AO COELHO COM PAU - THE RABBIT HUNTERS  (Pedro Costa, 2007​, 23 min​) 

In the housing projects of Lisbon all are in mourning. What has happened? Old Alfredo, a Cape Verdean immigrant and laborer, follows Ventura, the same, through the staircases, hallways, rec​​ rooms, and soup kitchens of the Casal da Boba tenements​,​ remembering their lives and the lives of others, their misfortunes, and anger. One of them confesses to having already been beaten to death​ in a field​. They cross paths with a young man about to be deported from the country he was born in. Who escapes? 

THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN  (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1960​, 58 min) 
Crime, nuclear science, and the State profitably conspire against humanity in a top-secret experiment to render human life invisible. A world-historical cheapie by Edgar G. Ulmer where the diabolical plot exposes a hustle like any other: run on blackmail, theft, and forced labor. Safe-cracker Joey Faust is broken out of prison by former military man Major Paul Krenner only to be used in a scheme to create an invisible army. The Major's experiments are​ ​unwillingly carried out by Dr. Peter Ulof, for his "soul", which is to say his daughter, is being held captive by the Major. The result of this ​slavery: nuclear catastrophe. If this film were an essay on humanity—and it is if you ignore the richness of its characters and sparse sets used to portray a naked and desperate world—it may have been called "On Annihilation." 


Program Total Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes 
Doors: 7:30pm 
$5 suggested donation. 

Special Thanks to Charlotte Garson, Chloe Reyes, and Pedro Costa.


"Kino Slang" is a regular series of cinema screenings programmed by Andy Rector at the Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles. It continues the cinematographic and historical excavations, proceedings by montage and association, silent alarms and naked dawns of this eleven-year-old blog.








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October 27, 2017

Jacques Rivette on THE SOUTHERNER (Jean Renoir, 1945)
What follows is an English translation (not in the least meant to be definitive) of the second half of an article on Jean Renoir's THE SOUTHERNER (1945) written by a 22-year-old Jacques Rivette at La Gazette du Cinéma in 1950.  In the years 1945-1950, Parisians were seeing one, sometimes two new American Renoir films a year, catching up on what was missed during the Nazi Occupation, and re-seeing the pre-war French films in a changed landscape. Renoir's work was being reassessed at-large, with his American films often superficially dismissed as concessions to Hollywood mores (or as "dilutions of his French films"). The first half of Rivette's article is thus a bold defense of the American Renoirs, noting certain continuities with Renoir's past ("his silent contempt for all rules"), but more importantly elucidating the total evolution and worldly change evident in the new work (when this article was written Renoir was in India researching for THE RIVER and, not incidentally, gone from Hollywood in these years of the blacklist's wake). Rivette makes both sage practical points ("One forgets that if Renoir had remained in France, the failure of THE RULES OF THE GAME would have forced him to accept lesser scripts than those he shot on the other side of the Atlantic") and massive, cosmic statements... Then come the excerpted paragraphs below, and with their vertiginous use of the semi-colon, these were some of the first where, of a small American Renoir film made independently in the dust, the entire universe would be evoked...



(...)

Renoir's American films mark a definite victory for innocence; it is no longer a question of voluptuously submitting to the world of appearances, and of abandoning oneself to the object and all concreteness, to an almost animist intoxication, into a world before sin, where things are, without the intervention of a value judgment; a simpler, more clairvoyant look now judges the universe, reflects it, and gives each thing its true value, rather than the pantheistic metamorphosis of the past. Renoir has left the realm of pure existence; things are now something; love is hence lucid; the mind, free and clear.

...Renoir acquired (this restraint and modesty) through maturity—and perhaps through contact with these calm, direct men, and marked equally by the Protestantism that he encountered through Swamp Water and The Southerner. In such an existence, a few gestures embody all the passions, the pains, the hopes, the simplicity, the rigor of attitudes and the words, all constituting a sober ceremonial. Direct and frank, these men hide nothing and each express their feelings, their calm, and sometimes even their coldness, granting their gestures a great sobriety, that which often comes with the repose of heart and spirit, to the point of complete immobility; whether it's the episode of the grandmother swaying obstinately in her rocking chair on the platform of the caravan, or the young fallen woman, lying on the ground, grabbing the soil in her nervous hands, or even this splendid fight, refined, rigorous and yet beautifully alive—this valorization of the gesture and attitudes, by their sobriety, therefore their intensity, and the often precise planting of the characters in the frame of the screen, impose the impression of a certain "theatricalization" (and the very existence of these men is "theatrical", these men constantly engaged in a struggle with nature, who define themselves and find meaning and value only in their conflict with the external world: man exists only through action, the act, he is an actor); an impression heightened by the nakedness, the rigor of the natural settings, and the leitmotif of the porch, these few wooden steps, the peristyle of the domestic temple, where one comes to sit side by side; at the intersection of the house and the fields, they are the knot of the decor. Here man is at the center of his universe, he comes to rest there, to confide in it and, like Antaeus, regains strength in the most intimate contact with all that justifies his life.




To speak of a banal and flatly edifying "script", to regret "the absence of dramatic progression", all that is flatly absurd. Man in the midst of the world, of his seasons and his whims, is the subject of The Southerner. It proves once again that the word "script" has no meaning, that there is no "script" and never will be; a film is people walking, embracing, drinking, bumping into each other; men who act before our eyes, and oblige us to accompany them in their actions, to share their lives, to participate in the thousand little incidents that make up an existence, and which interest us henceforth equally; here Renoir joins Flaherty; their purpose is the same even if by opposite paths; one puts the actors in touch with the concrete realities of their "role", forcing them to live this feigned existence for its capture by the camera; the other considers men—his occasional performers—as actors, and has them play their lives, instead of simply living it in front of the lens, reconstructing each of their customary gestures with a view precisely to its inscription on the film; —both realize this subtle mixture of artifice and reality is necessary for an expressive transcription of the world; otherwise we obtain only an impersonal, bloodless copy, from which all the weight of the concrete, which was the living justification, has escaped—without being replaced by structures which will justify it in this other universe, of which they are the foundations, and where nothing is of existence except through them, and will give by artifice the same total, the same weight of the concrete and undeniable evidence, as the basic reality.


To return to The Southerner: —what is good is that all these beautiful thoughts come to you afterwards; one does not think at the moment that one sees, one marches on; it is only through a twitch of the eye, an eye long distorted by this ugly game, that we notice shot changes and camera movements without actually being able to give them more importance than these things deserve. This total, immediate adhesion, this innocence of the spectator finally found, along with the impossibility of speaking of this film directly, and the obligation that it places on us to discourse only about him—such are still the most immediate proofs of the total success of Jean Renoir.




Jacques Rivette, La Gazette du Cinéma, nº 2, juin 1950
Translation: Andy Rector 
Many thanks to Miguel Armas







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THE SOUTHERNER will screen on 16mm this Saturday October 28th, 8pm, at the Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles on a double feature with Luis Buñuel's THE YOUNG ONE (1960), as part of the series "Kino Slang presents".


October 10, 2017





KINO SLANG
at the 
Echo Park Film Center
presents







THE SOUTHERNER (1945, Jean Renoir)

THE YOUNG ONE (1960, Luis Buñuel) 


Saturday,
October 28th, 2017
Doors at 7:30pm
$5 Suggested Donation

Echo Park Film Center
1200 North Alvarado St.
Los Angeles, CA. 90026








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THE SOUTHERNER (a.k.a. Hold Autumn in Your Hands)

U.S.A. 1945. 16mm print. 92 minutes. Direction: Jean Renoir. Script: Jean Renoir, William Faulkner (uncredited), from the novel Hold Autumn in Your Hands. Adaptation: Hugo Butler. Production: Producing Artists, Inc. Producer: Daivd, Loew, Robert Hakim. Cinematography: Lucien Androit. Sets: Eugene Lourie. Editor: Gregg Tallas. Music: Werner Janssen. Cast: Zachary Scott, Betty Field, J. Carroll Naish, Beulah Bondi, Jay Gilpin, Jean Vanderwilt, Paul Burns, Chalres Kemper, Norman Lloyd, Percy Kilbride, Rex. Premiered April 30, 1945.


"A young farm-hand, sick of working for other men, attempts to go it alone. He clears a patch of waste-land, having to fight against the malice of his neighbor, and his small son falls seriously ill. Finally he succeeds in growing a good crop of cotton, but it is ruined by a storm. He does not give in but tries to start again. This is only a vague outline of the story, the real theme of which is the malnutrition of the farm-workers." ― Jean Renoir







THE YOUNG ONE (La Joven)

Mexico/U.S.A.1960. 95 minutes. Direction: Luis Buñuel. Script and Dialogue: Luis Buñuel, H.B. Addis (Hugo Butler), based on the short story "Travelling Man" by Peter Mathiesen. Cinematography: Gabriel Figueroa. Music: "Sinner Man" written and sung by Leon Bibb. Editing: Luis Buñuel and Carlos Savage. Sets: Jesus Bracho. Cast: Bernie Hamilton, Zachary Scott, Key Meersman, Graham Denton, Claudio Brook. 



One of the two American films directed by the great Buñuel (and one of his favorites), this seething tale of racism, flesh, and survival amid the wilds of an untamed South Carolina island was hailed as an "unsung masterpiece, one of the most authentic and pungent of all the films set in the American South” (Jonathan Rosenbaum). Tensions simmer between a black jazz musician on the run from a lynch mob and a white supremacist game warden who lusts after the island’s only other inhabitant: a 14-year-old girl. If this sounds lurid or symbolic, consider that "​for ​Buñuel​, the true adventure lies in the ​human conscience" (Bazin), in other words, not in the three Es -- existentialism, exploitation or entertainment -- but in brutal analysis.  



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Further notes and articles on these films and this screening will soon be posted.


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Program total running time: 3 hours
There will be no introductions.
Doors open at 7:30pm, film at 8pm.
$5 Suggested Donation.
Program Notes will be provided at the door.

Special Thanks to Dino Everett, Chloe Reyes, and Jean Rouverol-Butler.

"Kino Slang" is a regular series of cinema screenings at the Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles. It continues the cinematographic investigations, historical excavations, proceedings by montage and association, silent alarms and naked dawns of this eleven-year-old blog.


October 6, 2017

Films that weren't, Buñuel / Renoir: Los Angeles


"...I spent two years in Hollywood from 1944 to 1946." — Luis Buñuel *

"Buñuel and Man Ray planned a scenario, THE SEWER OF LOS ANGELES, whose action took place on a mountain of excrement close to a highway and a dust desert. The scheme was abortive; but later Man Ray managed to collaborate on a Surrealist film DREAMS THAT MONEY CAN BUY." (Francisco Aranda)





"Dudley Nichols and (Jean Renoir) were considering a new version of LES BAS FONDS (THE LOWER DEPTHS). It was to be set in Los Angeles, based on the contrast between the modern buildings and the crumbling houses of the Victorian era. This, too, never saw the light of day. Dudley did not understand why."  — Jean Renoir, Ma vie et mes films





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* 1940: "Every last person believes that America will enter the war next year and I hope to be at a distance from it. I can see myself defending the American flag in Hong Kong or resting for a few years in a concentration camp, and of course I'm getting out of here." L.B.

July 28, 2017

We are very pleased to add another text here expressly written in support of last night's "Kino Slang" program at the Echo Park Film Center, "Several Militant Films: Hitchcock, Barnet, Monteiro". Its author is Bruno Andrade, Brazilian critic and editor of the journal FOCO
and long-time friend of this blog (his own blog, o signo do dragãowe dialogued with for many years, roughly 2007-2015). Below, Andrade dives into João César Monteiro’s WHAT SHALL I DO WITH THIS SWORD? (1975) and comes up with a startling fugue of ideas. His text goes alongside the translation by Dmitry Martov of Evgenii Margolit's essay on Boris Barnet's A GOOD LAD (hereand Bill Krohn's essay on Hitchcock's AVENTURE MALGACHE (herein the endeavor to give non-summary attention to these films.

Along the Great Wall
by Bruno Andrade






It should come as no surprise that João César Monteiro’s What Shall I Do with This Sword? was programmed with a 1942 Boris Barnet musical comedy about a downed French pilot who falls in love with a Russian partisan, and a 1944 Alfred Hitchcock war-effort short that reflects upon the Resistance against the Axis powers during World War II. Product of an extremely volatile creative and social turmoil, Monteiro’s 1975 film works as a kind of great synaptic rift between past and present, document and representation, intervention and reflection. What Hitchcock and Barnet – what Murnau himself – did in the form of spectacle is done here by Monteiro in the form of documental inscription – and is closer in that respect to what filmmakers like Glauber Rocha and Santiago Álvarez were doing in films like Di Cavalcanti (1977) and 79 Springtimes of Ho Chi Minh (1969), but with a meditative quality that appeals to the films of Monteiro’s countrymen Fernando Lopes, Manoel de Oliveira and António Reis.


The film begins its inquiry – about the situation of economic and social distress in Portugal during the aftermath of some maneuvers by NATO ships in the Tagus River from late January to early February 1975 (i.e. less than a year after the Carnation Revolution) – by establishing a fairly blunt intertextual structure: the interference of American imperialism is directly associated with the arrival of Murnau’s Nosferatu, the vampire, in the city of Wisborg (the famous scene where actor Max Schreck is seen carrying a coffin in the emptied entrance of a pier plays as an analogy to the arrival of American sailors on land). Later on we follow a pursuit of American sailors in the red-light district while Billie Holiday’s I Cover The Waterfront plays on the soundtrack (I cover the waterfront / I'm watching the sea / Will the one I love / Be coming back to me?).





To achieve this mixture of debauchery and committed testimony, Monteiro seeks less to merge past and present than to put them on a collision course, and it is by shock, by abbreviation, by montage, in short, that the profound reality of a country manifests itself through the very construction of a film: colonialism, in all its stages, both its face and its shadows, is violently stripped bare on the film surface itself. For what is shown to us is a country that represses its own colonialist past while being exploited by a country with a very active imperialist inclination. Much like the people we see in the film (a verbose prostitute who tells us about her sexual experiences with a priest, some Alentejo peasants, a couple of dockworkers, an old revolutionary who gives a long anti-fascist speech), we are constantly bewildered by the immediate disorder of such a situation. But the film itself lays out this disorder in a way that feels very much like the product of a culture that needs to be shaken up. By questioning each step of his own inquiry – i.e. the scenes where we listen to the life experiences of two black immigrants from former Portuguese colonies –, Monteiro establishes an unsparing invocation of Portugal’s past and present situation.








From the time we see, in the film’s first post-credits shot, a perfectly symmetrical and balanced composition of an old cannon atop Castelo de São Jorge targeting a NATO ship right down to the last shot of the film, where we face a shot of a peeling wall brutally ravaged by the passage of time, What Shall I Do with This Sword? avoids the guileful device of coercion through an opinionated testimony of its author. It does so by working less as an interventionist or a confrontational document than as an accurate testimony of some facts from a convulsive present. Monteiro contemplates, in such a situation, the possibility of exposing dialectically the conventions and the contradictions, the order and the despair of a whole society, projecting all of its memory into a kind of chaotic mythology (Nosferatu on one hand, Siegfried on the other; Billie Holliday’s music and Richard Wagner’s Siegfried's Funeral March on the soundtrack). The chaos, the contingent disorder of the present ends up unsteadily outlined by this richly textured assortment of icons, but such a resort has an inevitable consequence: it destabilizes all previous order. The disjunctive procedures of such an editing ploy, which scrutinizes directly and indirectly all that is narrated to us by speech, all that is articulated by language and cultural reflexes, cannot but lead us, spectators, to the scaffold: it is us, in our conditions as spectators, who are being summoned in the end. One cannot walk away from a film like What Shall I Do with This Sword?, or a film like Branca de Neve, unscathed: we leave them no longer as spectators, but as witnesses.


It is said that a book that demolishes everything but does not destroy itself has exasperated us in vain. The work of João César Monteiro, here and elsewhere (the last shot of Come and Go, the whole of Branca de Neve), has not been disappointing in that respect. From the moment, near the end, when Margarida Gil asks the film title’s question to its last moments, What Shall I Do with This Sword? seems to take an almost epic ascent, with the winds of Dovzhenko’s cinema blowing into Portugal’s seas, the peasants demonstrating through their marches the fearsome action of gravity upon earth. The image of a freighter cutting the ocean, seen under the effect of a diaphanous sea air that looms until it completely obliterates the image, could inspire in us the most romanticized feelings of a once lost grandeur now recovered by the magnitude of a new order, that of the immutable and eternal values of sacrosanct Western civilization. Monteiro would already be a great filmmaker for evoking such greatness in a film that until then not only seemed unable to accommodate it but also seemed to insidiously and deliberately reject it; he would be an even greater filmmaker by doing so with such an extreme scarcity of material means. But the truth is that Monteiro is more than a great filmmaker. As a man, as a witness – in other words, as a citizen with responsibilities –, Monteiro is capable of evoking this glorious past, haughtily and ironically at the same time, and then of discarding it, making this the main political point of his film. 








At the very end the camera zooms in on a depleted wall where the Marx and Engels phrase “Proletarians of all countries, unite” can be read. There’s a cut that brings us closer to that last word; a camera movement follows, which takes us off of it and leaves us only with the stripped wall, empty, not carrying any inscription. But that is not true: we’ve seen this wall before, at the beginning of the film. It carried the name of the film’s crew, the laboratory where film was processed and the film’s production office. These people that got together and worked together in the film we just saw were already occupying a place on this wall. This wall, the empty spot on it, points to the necessity of a new space, a space at no time previously explored. This space could only arise at the moment when everything is already said and done, the moment past the point of no return, past the risk of any retreat. This space is a void, the “after” that comes at the end of all stories, of all the possible tensions between history and civilization, a wall where nothing has yet been written, where it is still possible to inscribe something. Let us not be surprised, therefore, that Monteiro made a film from this “next instant”, from this wall still without inscriptions.

It’s title is What Shall I Do with This Sword?





July 18, 2017

The following text originally appeared in Евгений Марголит, "Живые и мертвое. Заметки к истории советского кино 1920-1960-х годов" — Evgenii Margolit's The Living and the Dead: Notes on the History of Soviet Cinema of the 1920s-1960s (St. Petersburg, Seans, 2012).  
It was recommended and translated from the Russian by Dmitry Martov (great thanks to him) on the occasion of the upcoming July 27th, 2017 screening of Boris Barnet's Новгородцы (also known as A GOOD LAD) — to be shown alongside Hitchcock's AVENTURE MALGACHE and Monteiro's WHAT SHALL I DO WITH THIS SWORD?  as part of "Kino Slang" at the Echo Park Film Center, in Los Angeles.



"Slavnyy Malyy" 
(A Good Lad, Boris Barnet, 1942)
by Evgenii Margolit





For historians of the Soviet era in general and of Soviet cinema in particular, the present time has one undeniable advantage: we are dealing with a system that has completed its formation, and the entire network of previously latent, secret meanings and connections, of which the creators were unconscious, is now spread before our eyes, where global traditions at their origin could lead to phenomena which were, in the past, partly or completely ignored.

The template for Soviet films about the [Great Patriotic] War which unites THE CRANES ARE FLYING (
Kalatozov, 1957) and IVAN’S CHILDHOOD (Tarkovskii, 1962), FATE OF A MAN (Bondarchuk, 1959) and TRIAL ON THE ROAD (A. German, 1971), ONLY OLD MEN ARE GOING TO BATTLE (Bykov, 1973) and TORPEDO BOMBERS (Aranovich, 1983) manifests itself for the first time in a 1942 film by Boris Barnet that is not merely unknown but is, in a manner of speaking, the most unknown of his films, with even its exact title being a mystery until recently: according to the official papers it was NOVGORODTSY (MEN OF NOVGOROD) but during the opening credits the viewers would read with amused disbelief the title SLAVNYY MALYY (A GOOD LAD).

This film was completely forgotten as soon as its fate — or rather lack thereof — had been sealed. No documents have yet been found explaining why it was banned; and the surviving documents testify the following: no global objectives were set before Barnet; everybody clearly understood that no masterpiece could be created in the absence of a more or less proper script (there was a libretto by Petr Pavlenko titled “The Avengers” which, according to some testimonies, war correspondent Aleksei Kapler was trying to turn into a screenplay but he was soon purged); and the film that Barnet was eventually able to produce was met quite charitably.

Indeed, the lack of a script’s strong foundation would never be a fatal hindrance for Barnet, what with his irrepressible imagination as a director. He said on several occasions that to direct a weak script is, in a way, easier: the director’s prowess would be more apparent, and there would be fewer complaints. So A GOOD LAD turned out to be a modest, unpretentious film, sticking to its genre.

However, Barnet turned the subject of the partisan movement into a comedy. Did the ban have anything to do with his choice of the genre? On the one hand, the Russian official criticism certainly did not favor war comedies, but on the other hand, there had been precedents, and in the same year, 1942, Gerbert Rappaport made VOZDUSHNYI IZVOZCHIK (TAXI TO HEAVEN) and Konstantin Yudin directed ANTOSHA RYBKIN. Another thing was probably more important: the author of A GOOD LAD populated his film with characters who were fundamentally no different from the lovable and touching oddballs of [Barnet’s 1940 film] THE OLD JOCKEY. Actually, the plot thickens only when two completely eccentric characters appear in the midst of the squadron: a French aviator and an opera singer. The Frenchman is played by Viktor Dobrovolskiy who here looks somewhat similar to young Jean Marais; he is an actor from Leningrad, later based in Kiev, who became popular after PETER THE FIRST (Petrov, 1937) (where he played the parts of the officer Yaguzhinsky and runaway debtor Fed’ka). The role of the opera singer is performed by Nikolay Bogolyubov, and it is incredibly interesting to observe how Barnet yet again plays in a comical fashion with the monumental typecasting of his Kol’ka Kadkin from OUTSKIRTS (Barnet, 1933), whose trademark roles by this time were “the Great Citizen” and “the First Red Army officer”. This was the triumph of an auteur cinema logic, which was not very typical for Soviet wartime cinema. It is not a coincidence that, for example, SEKRETAR RAYKOMA (WE WILL COME BACK) by Ivan Pyryev, made during the same year and based around the same subject of the partisan movement, had nothing in common with Pyryev’s comedies: this was rather a partisan western, with a completely different cinematic universe, with the actors and archetypes being completely different.

A GOOD LAD, on the contrary, is a very moving and very humane, genuinely auteur gesture: when facing imminent danger, the first thing to be saved should be the spring of one’s loins — one’s world. Barnet searches for a narrative provision whereby this world can survive, and hides it in an almost fairy-tale forest, so remarkably shot by the cinematographer Sergei Ivanov, far from open spaces where the enemy is rampant. Thus emerges another half-ark, half-haunted island, so typical in Barnet’s cinema. A sanctuary of harmony, which from film to film becomes more and more fortuitous and exotic: from the crowded house on Trubnaya Square, through the prewar Russian province, to the island of the eccentrics “by the bluest of the seas”.



In this respect, Barnet is an artist-demiurge to the nearly the same degree as those artists to whom this term is usually applied. His model of the world is just as fortuitous and individual as that of, let’s say, Eisenstein’s. However, the nature of their models is fundamentally different. Montage cinema is imbued with the pathos of life-building: it is a sort of display of creative will, which re-creates reality based on new principles; a sort of campaigning for the advantages of this way of life. If you will, conjuring reality by demonstrating its future. Whereas for Barnet the most important thing is the self-propulsion of life, whose festive spontaneity he is trying to evoke with all available artistic devices. For such a world, any purpose prescribed from the outside is a catastrophe, a restriction to the abundance of life; in other words, a depravity. The director first and foremost strives to uncover in his characters their natural belonging to this spontaneity.

For this reason Barnet’s cinema at its core knows only two genres: idyll and tragedy, since, given such a complete degree of fusion between a character and the world, all other transitional genres drop out as unessential. A conflict in Barnet’s films is either flat-out false, serving as a foil to the sought-after harmony, or total — tragical, because the incongruity between an individual and the world is in itself already catastrophic [1].

This is one of the reasons why the blatantly fortuitous world of Barnet’s guerrilla fighters, led by a young woman (lovely ingenue-comеdienne Ekaterina Sipavina from the Lenfilm acting school), who sing romantic songs by Tchaikovsky and satirical stanzas composed by Nikita Bogoslovsky, nevertheless does not irritate us with its contrivedness. For the record, A GOOD LAD proved itself to be the precursor of the war musical comedy genre. Particularly if one takes into consideration the fact that both Semyon Timoshenko, the creator of HEAVENLY SLUG (1945), and Mikhail Zharov, who directed A NOISY HOUSEHOLD (1946) right after the war, in 1942 were also stationed in Alma-Ata and, therefore, could have witnessed Barnet at work.

However, in their films, made under completely different circumstances, the comic universe engulfs the plot entirely. In A GOOD LAD things are much more complicated. Apart from the idyllic partisan forest, there also exists the tragic universe beyond the forest’s bounds. These two universes, closed on themselves with heightened genre definitiveness and finality, oppose one another and define each other through this opposition. In the forest reigns early autumn, with its sun shining through the luxuriantly yellow foliage. But around the forest is a pre-winter season, with its bare wastelands, where under heavy skies and wind skeletal trees are stripped of their leaves and burned down huts stand still. During some of the shots the viewer is startled: we’re seeing the landscapes from IVAN’S CHILDHOOD.

To be sure, in Soviet wartime cinema this kind of opposition between the tragic and the idyllic is encountered quite frequently. However, as a rule, it is arranged temporally: the tragedy of war descends upon the pre-war idyll. (The most representative example is THEY FOUGHT FOR THEIR COUNTRY, again dedicated to the guerrilla subject. In this film the protagonist literally changes: a peace-loving person is transformed into a forbidding warrior, a soldier).

In Barnet’s wartime filmography, however, the characters remain immutable in their essence: they are profoundly civilian. They are intrinsically unable to live by the wartime laws, which are alien to them. In A GOOD LAD the partisans are not primarily fighting or avenging — they are simply living in the forest. Their primary mission is preservation of life’s vividness. The opposition between the two universes turns out to be the opposition between the element of vivid life and the element of war (which is intent upon conquering, dismembering and destroying life).

But it is exactly on this opposition that the whole paradigm of the Soviet cinema about the Great Patriotic War is built thereafter. One can effortlessly spot it in, for example, the very complex world of Aleksei German’s TRIAL ON THE ROAD that separates with the same precision the universes of war (stone cold snowfield) and life (forest). The same principle takes shape in the war films of Leonid Bykov, in which the protagonist organizes his own “combat unit”, right up to a musical ensemble. And is it a coincidence that the idea of IVAN’S CHILDHOOD came to Tarkovsky only when he envisioned Ivan’s dreams — the blatantly idyllic world?

Obviously, such an artistic template of the cinematic universe fundamentally contradicts the official sovereign template, because for the ideology of the state the immediate goal was “the final and decisive battle”, wherefrom the vision of war-as-a-festival, war-as-a-parade emerged, eventually transforming into the vision of war-as-a-competition between two military state-machines (from the defense films of 1930s through epic docudramas of 1940s to the LIBERATION film series [1970-1971] as well as the endless number of Stierlitziana films [2]).

Therefore, A GOOD LAD turns out to be the earliest exposition of the Soviet war cinema. The starting point of the plot is yet to come: in this film two universes, foreign to each other and at odds with each other, remain as if frozen before the collision. Here is where the lack of screenplay manifests itself: a flimsy storyline, proposed by the author of a libretto, is merely a substitute for the actual plot. For this reason, in A GOOD LAD the convergence of these universes has not yet taken place (although by this time there already existed the cinenovella A PRICELESS HEAD — perhaps the best segment in all of the FIGHTING FILM COLLECTION (BOYEVOY KINOSBORNIK). This collision was to occur eventually in the last of Barnet’s wartime films — in the truly unknown (even today!) masterpiece of war cinema DARK IS THE NIGHT.




1.This concept defining Barnet’s creative work was first proposed by Khrisanf Khersonsky during the post-screening discussion of Barnet’s DARK IS THE NIGHT at Moscow’s Dom Kino in May 1945.

2.Spy films inspired by the very popular TV series "17 Moments of Spring"(1972) about the Soviet spy who was operating in Nazi Germany under the name Max Otto von Stierlitz . (Translator’s Note)









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