02. listopad 2010  

MichaelB Expanded on "Prite" on the CRITERIONFORUM blog

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"OK, I've finally got round to exploring an Academia DVD in depth - Lev Kuleshov's Engineer Prite's Project (1918), the oldest of the initial batch of titles.

Although no masterpiece, the film itself is a fascinating slice of history - made when Kuleshov was just eighteen, it's one of the first films funded by the recently victorious Bolsheviks (which accounts for the aggressively anti-capitalist message, vaguely reminiscent of The Man in the White Suit in its tale of an engineer who devises a method of extracting electricity from peat, only to find himself undermined by American oil magnates seeking to protect their share price), but it also marks a clear link between the pre-revolutionary work of Yevgeny Bauer (Kuleshov's former boss) and what would eventually become Soviet montage (many of whose underlying theories would later be devised by Kuleshov). The montage here is far less flamboyant than what was to come, but there are already considerably more shots than would be the case with an equivalent American or earlier Russian film.

Like all the Academia releases, this is presented as a two-disc set, with one disc presenting an unadulterated version of the main feature (original Russian soundtrack/intertitles, with optional subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch or Portuguese), and the other offering the same transfer of the feature but with 'Hyperkino' contextual backup available in Russian or English.

In practice, this means that an orange number will occasionally pop up on the screen, indicating that contextual information is available - pressing 'enter' on your remote lets you jump to the relevant screen, which offers a mini-essay analysing or contextualising that particular part of the film (taking up multiple pages if necessary), complete with further links to stills, facsimile documents and even video clips - in this particular case, from the Yevgeny Bauer films on which Kuleshov originally cut his filmmaking teeth, and whose influence can clearly be seen. Annoyingly, the facsimile texts in Russian (original reviews, scripts, etc.) generally aren't translated, though the entire original treatment is presented in English.

With 27 contextual sections servicing a film running just 30 minutes, you can probably already appreciate that there's a fair bit of material to explore - it runs the gamut from production anecdotes through reception and its subsequent archival life, together with a fair bit of analysis, including clips from the actual film with added onscreen graphics to highlight key details. There's also a themed index of subjects in the style of one of Criterion's commentary indexes - for instance, 'Russian cinema of 1918', 'The film's plot and libretto', '"Super American drama"', 'First formula of montage', and so on.

As for the print and transfer, it's in pretty good condition for a 1918 film, and has clearly undergone a fair bit of restoration - purists may baulk at the fact that the intertitles are so obviously electronically-created, but the layout and typesetting seem appropriate to the period. English subtitles"