The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924)

21 01 2010

As the long title somewhat suggests, this is a fairly flimsy and fun effort, albeit one that has become historical relevant for, at least in my opinion, the fact that Lev Kuleshov’s name was attached to it. I don’t want to sound too critical, but I don’t get an impression of something truly groundbreaking here, mostly just some light, enjoyable humor. Perhaps it was a stepping stone towards some of the more remarkable achievements of Russian filmmakers.

This is a pretty obvious satire on American culture. Mr. West, an American native, stumbles into countless little dramas that his naive, simple American mind can’t quite comprehend. I will give Kuleshov some credit for showing shades of American cinema while taking his playful stabs at the mindless tourists. It should be noted that there are very heavy shades of westerns, which is particularly striking if one takes into account the fact that westerns didn’t become an easily recognizable cultural landmark of American cinema until John Ford’s Stagecoach in 1939. Still, the serial westerns were relevant but they were definitely less recognizable around the world. They were absolutely low-culture, so it does show some keen western perspective from writers Vsevolod Pudovkin, who would go on to become one of Russia’s greatest directors, and Nikolai Aseyev, the man responsible for the original intertitles of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin.

Kuleshov does has his fair share of magical cinematic moments, but I think this film is best enjoyed as a minor distraction. That sounds like a dubious claim, when one considers the “importance” of this culturally speaking. Honestly, though, I am more likely to remember this film for having a performance from two great directors to-be, Boris Barnet and one of the film’s writers, Vsevolod Pudovkin. I’m not going to give up with Kuleshov, as I can already see the beginning of something special early in his career here, but I don’t think this is going to be much more than a historical curiosity. Recommended viewing, but not an absolutely essential one.

Some housekeeping, or would that be blogkeeping?

7 01 2010

So yes, I have been very busy with school the past couple months and lately, I’ve been busy spending time with my family, but now that break is winding down and school is starting up again, I figured I’d at least give something of a personal update for the new year. I’ve still maintained my movie watching habits (well, somewhat at least) so I think it would be pretty much impossible to keep track of everything I’ve watched since October. Instead, here’s a few viewings that stuck out.

Air Mail (John Ford, 1932)

It’s a decent, little action movie. Sort of like a more serious and less fleshed out warm-up for Howard Hawks’ great Only Angels Have Wings. Unfortunately, Ralph Bellamy and company are nowhere near the level of Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. Still, all the performances here are at least “watchable.” It should be said that the screenplay was penned by former Navi aviator Frank Wead, who specialized in ahem, “air-borne” action movies. His most famous contribution to Ford’s catalogue would probably be the screenplay for They Were Expendable, which (from what I’ve seen/heard) meditates on some of the elements touched upon here. It’s definitely worth a viewing, at least for any of us Ford freaks.

The source is a videotaped AMC broadcast from back when they showed interesting stuff. As annoying as the station is now, we have them to thank for saving several lesser known Ford films. Both this and the aforementioned Shamrock Handicap only exist (at the moment) through old AMC broadcasts.

Nitschewo (Stefan Sarazin, 2003)

This was pretty nice, but nothing really earth-shattering. Marie Zielcke is extremely beautiful and talented. It probably helps that she seems to be keen on doing these “fucked up relationships” dramas. I could probably point out how sexy she is and whatnot, but that seems a little short-sighted, especially since the visuals here (in general) are quite excellent. It didn’t really move me in any significant manner and I thought the story was kind of an eyeroll, but it was still a nice, competent picture. Just don’t expect Boy Meets Girl.