Friday, 6 May 2011

Lev Kuleshov: By the Law - По закону (1926)

According to the law (1926)

Director: Lev Kuleshov
Writers: Lev Kuleshov, Jack London (story)
Stars: Aleksandra Khokhlova, Sergei Komarov, Vladimir Fogel

"By the Law" is a melodrama that takes place in a remote area in the Yukon during the gold rush at the turn of the century. A group of five gold prospectors -- Michael an Irishman; Hans Nelson, the Swede leader of the expedition; his English wife Edith; a Dutchman named Dutchy; and Harky. They have been unsuccessful, and, deciding to move to another location, they order Michael, who does most of the manual work in the camp, to dismantle their prospect equipment. While dismantling the sluices, he discovers a large amount of gold nuggets, and they decide to remain and work their claim. The months move by into winter, and Michael begins to resent the fact that, although he located the gol,d he still continues to do the cooking and the manual labor around the camp while the others mine the gold. When winter sets in, he goes mad and, returning from a hunt, he shoots and kills the Dutchman and Harky. After a savage fight, Michael is subdued by Edith and Nelson. Nelson wants to kill the Irishman, but Edith takes the shotgun away from him and says, "You can't kill him - only the law can punish him."

A critical success

When exported, the studio was amazed at its reception and the critical opinion in Europe, although the film did not have all the normal ingredients of the films being shown at that time. It was unique that it had neither a villain nor a hero, and the film surprised and attracted the advance guard Parisian filmgoers who had been attracted to the Thomas Ince and William S. Hart films just a few years before.

The director

Lev Kuleshov (1899-1970), born in Tambov, Russia, was the first aesthetic theorist of film art and one of the first cinema directors under the Bolshevik regime. At fifteen he was a student at the Moscow School of Painting, Architecture and Sculpture. Two years later he was a set designer and was occasionally acting in films at the Khanzhonkov Studio in Moscow. At the studio he worked with Yevgeni Bauer and had a role in Bauer's film "After Happiness." Upon Bauer's death, he completed the film. In addition to making films, many of these fledgling directors issued "manifestos" stating their opinions on all sorts of ideas. After the overthrow of the Czarist government, Kuleshov joined the Bolshevik army and served on the Eastern Front with a camera team. Returning to Moscow with the defeat of the Czarists armies, he was recruited as an instructor in the State Film School and given his own "workshop." Kuleshov admired the work of D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett, especially the use of crosscutting in editing. He developed what came to be known as the "Kuleshov effect" in which, through montage, each shot acquired a different shade of meaning according to its place in the sequence. To produce his montage, he filmed the face of a popular actor and juxtaposed it upon clips of archival footage containing a wide variety of objects. Although the actor's face remained the same, the feeling of seeing the same face superimposed over various objects gave each scene a different feeling. Kuleshov and Sergei Eisenstein disagreed on what the so-called "montage" was, and it's amazing that D.W. Griffith produced "The Birth of a Nation" and "Intolerance" without using the word. Kuleshov married Alexandra Khokhlova, one of his students at the workshop. She went on to collaborate and star in five of his films. One of the first films that Kuleshov's "group "produced was the witty parody "The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviksz" (1924), and two years later his most popular film, "By The Law." Most of the films produced by Kuleshov's group were fairly successful with the public, but they often met with government disapproval for not containing enough propaganda.

Goskino, the government cinema agency that assigned special projects and provided the funding, wasn't pleased with Kuleshov's work ,and they gave him a final chance to redeem himself with a minimum amount of money. Kuleshov and his literary advisor sought a story with few characters, few sets and no elaborate costumes. They finally chose Jack London's grim tale, and they added a few scenes of their own, notably the birthday party from a scene in Dostoyevsky. It was one of the least expensive film made by the Soviets, and it was well-received at home and in Europe, but, at home, he was again criticized for not including enough propaganda. The government finally withdrew most of the funding for his workshop, and, leaving the producing and directing part of the cinema, he remained as an instructor in the film institute during the remainder of the silent era. The film was not shown in the English speaking countries until 1939, and Kuleshov was finally allowed to make films again during WW II. ...

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