Thursday, 17 February 2011

Yefim Dzigan: We Are From Kronstadt - Мы из Кронштадта (1936)

We from Kronstadt (1936)

Directed by Yefim Dzigan
Music by Nikolai Kryukov
Featuring Vasili Zaichikov, Grigori Bushuyev, and N. Ivakin.

"We Are From Kronstadt" is its title and it contains some of the most impressive photography and the boldest direction the screen has provided this year. "Chapayev" celebrated the heroism of the Red Army in the historic days of the October (1919) revolution. "We Are From Kronstadt" is dedicated, with comparable magnificence, to the Red seamen who helped to defend the road to Petrograd against the White Guards commanded by General Yudenitch.

You may carp at the Russian film-makers' reiteration of their thematic paen of triumph and, after periodic doses of "Peasants," "Three Women" and the others, you may wonder if they ever are going to cease glorifying the various branches of revolutionary service or, like the Warners, simply move from West Point and Annapolis to Quantico and Langley Field. But however much you may question the parroting of the lesson, you cannot deny the virility of their treatment or the visual effectiveness with which their directors, camera men and actors preach the majesty of Soviet history.

"We Are From Kronstadt" is an October revolution in itself, being a further step in the Soviet cinema's progression from mass to individual action. Its hero, a sailor in the fleet stationed at Kronstadt, the Baltic Sea base, is the protagonist of all the Russian seamen whose interest in the Communist rebellion, at first lagging, is fanned to flame by the word and example of the veteran commissar who has come to the naval base to recruit his Petrograd defense corps.

It is not until after his comrades are driven by the White soldiers to the top of a cliff and forced to jump into the sea, with their hands tied behind their backs and rocks strapped to their chests, that the sailor awakens to his party responsibility. Thence forward, through gripping scenes of battle, with the outnumbered Red forces holding their ground against the seemingly endless waves of marching counter-revolutionaries, the sailor is an avenging angel of destruction. The smashing climax is written when he leads the Kronstadt marines into battle and forces the Whites inexorably off the same sea cliff and, glaring defiantly after them, growls "And who else wants Petrograd?"

The phrase had an ominous sound, but the preview audience which cheered the picture Thursday night accepted its militarist implications with complete enthusiasm and probably were remembering it yesterday when they met for tea in Union Square. Still, the picture is not all blood and thunder, and there are some human and practical comedy bits woven into it which brighten its fabric amazingly. That, for example, when the captured White soldier alternately hides and pins on his insignia as the tide of battle turns from Red to White; and that when the sailor and his foe, the Red soldier, unwittingly sleep side by side and struggle subconsciously for the pillow. All told, the Cameo's new picture comes pretty close to being the best thing the Soviet Studios have made. Super-imposed English titles cover the Russian dialogue effectively. ...

We Are From Kronstadt (Amkino). The hallmark of most Russian films is their incongruous blend of loose amateurism and disciplined genius. In We Are From Kronstadt, Cameraman N. Naumov-Straj turns in a magnificent feat of cinematography when he articulates the progress of this remarkable revolutionary battle piece. Taking advantage of the dank Baltic gloom around the Kronstadt Naval Base to begin his film in low key, he dramatically heightens it until the climax is reached with the great attack and rout of the White Army on the bleached, glaring tundras north of Petrograd. At the same time, We Are From Kronstadt is periodi cally botched by overexposures, uncommunicative acting sequences, sagging pace.

In Russian cinematography, however, even shortcomings have merit, since they somehow manage to produce a sort of spontaneous, newsreel authenticity. Never before approximated for sheer credibility is Director E. Dzigan's uncanny recreation of a minor infantry rush, which supplies the picture's climax about an hour before it is due. The men flop at the first signs of fire, try to scratch up a few handfuls of earth to hide behind, stare at each other to see who will have nerve enough to follow the commander forward, stumble to their feet, start to run and, the lust and excitement of combat suddenly on them, break into that wild monotone which, in civil life, is heard only in the frenzy of a prison riot.

Historical fabric of We Are From Kronstadt is woven from the unsuccessful opera tions of White General Yudenich around Petrograd in the embattled autumn of 1919, when the sailors from Kronstadt in time's nick reinforced workers' battalions and Red Army detachments defending the old capital. That the workers and Army men were compelled to turn around two years later and butcher the fickle and truculent Kronstadt sailors for counter revolution is obviously a sequel which this Bolshevist propaganda film chooses to leave unpictured. In We Are From Kron stadt, the sailors are determinedly glorified as immortal heroes of the working class. This reverent attitude and the genuine historical excitement of the film leave little time for cinematic frivolity. Nevertheless, familiar to U. S. followers of the cinematic hostility between cocky James Cagney and dogged Pat O'Brien is the antipathy which the sailor Balashov (G. Bushuyev) holds for the soldier Burmistrov, originating, as is always the case with Cagney v. O'Brien, over the disputed favors of a lady. Only strictly Soviet contribution to this aged Hollywood situation is the prim Communist conclusion in which it is revealed that the girl is beyond the reach of both sailor and soldier, being the heroic wife of a heroic commissar. This curious asceticism need not mar a picture which has probably not been matched for photography since The Informer, has certainly not been equaled for military realism since Chapayev.
From Time, Monday, May. 11, 1936

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