Daily Archives: February 6, 2004

Outskirts

A group of Russian farmers discover that their land has been sold for oil excavation without their knowledge and go on a rampage of torture and killing to extract more information from party officials. This grim, phantasmagoric view of recent and not-so-recent Russian history (1998, 95 min.), directed by the late Petr Lutsik, has the same Russian title as Boris Barnet’s first sound film, Okraina, and is showing as part of Facets Cinematheque’s Barnet retrospective, though it has little thematic, stylistic, or formal relation to that masterpiece. Critic Ray Privett’s comparison of the film with Dead Man comes closer to the mark, at least regarding the striking black-and-white cinematography, the slow fade-outs, and the gallows humor about land grabbing and rustic violence. In Russian with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

The Girl With The Hat Box

The first solo feature of Russian filmmaker Boris Barnet, this charming slapstick comedy (1927, 70 min.) stars Anna Sten, a subsequent Samuel Goldwyn discovery, as the title heroine, who lives with her grandmother in the snow-blanketed sticks, works at a hat shop in the city, and spends much of her time fleeing a lovesick suitor. Some commentators have linked Barnet to Chaplin because of his pathos and his sense of physicality, a connection this feature makes especially clear. (JR)… Read more »

By The Bluest Of Seas

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One of the very best features of the neglected Russian filmmaker Boris Barnet, this 1935 feature is, like some of his other talkies, a glorious musical of sorts. Codirected by S. Mardanov, it’s about two buddies, a sailor and a mechanic, who, shipwrecked on an island in Soviet Azerbaijan, both try to woo the same young woman, who runs a fishing co-op. Though seemingly light, it’s as intensely physical as Barnet’s preceding masterpiece, Okraina, and its melancholic undertow makes it distinctly different from the early sound comedies of Raoul Walsh that it sometimes resembles. In Russian with subtitles. 71 min. (JR)… Read more »

Okraina

The first sound film by Boris Barnet, one of the least seen and appreciated masters of the Russian cinema, this 1933 feature follows the impact of World War I on a village. Barnet takes nothing for granted, using sound as no one else had before or since and in the process reinventing the way we experience silence as well as sound. His view of war is expressed in uncanny emotional registers: scenes that begin tragically end comically and vice versa, and one of the more touching story lines involves a woman who falls in love with a German prisoner. Adapted by Barnet and Konstantin Finn from Finn’s novel, this is strong and indelible. In Russian with subtitles. 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Extraordinary Adventures Of Mr. West In The Land Of The Bolsheviks

Soviet film teacher and theorist Lev Kuleshov was a spirited amateur director, and this first full-length feature (1924, 88 min.) from his experimental workshop shows him and his students at their most manic and inventive. As with some of their other projects (By the Law, The Great Consoler), the inspiration is largely American: a flag-waving YMCA director from the U.S., with horn-rims and a raccoon coat suggesting Harold Lloyd and a Wild West bodyguard acrobatically played by future director Boris Barnet, is hoodwinked by a gang of disreputable Russians into seeing all the horrors he expects in the wake of the revolution. Americans come in for some ribbing, but the thuggish Bolshevik pranksters, even more hilarious, aren’t exactly role models either. (JR)… Read more »

The Wild Party

Clara Bow’s movies have dated in the most charming manner imaginable: no other female star of the 20s tells us as much about flappers, and in their own idiom too. This 1929 feature (her first talkie) bears no relation to Joseph Moncure March’s ribald 1928 poem: the plot, which has to do with Bow falling for her anthropology professor (Fredric March) at a women’s college, benefits from the direction by Dorothy Arzner, a specialist in female camaraderie. Because she spoke with a working-class Brooklyn accent, Bow worried that the microphone would kill her career; although she made only eight more pictures after this one, she handles herself here with admirable aplombespecially considering that Paramount gave her only two weeks to prepare. 77 min. (JR)… Read more »