Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A World of Would-Be Communists

"His was a tragedy of a pure communist in a world of would-be communists."

Chris Marker's documentary, The Last Bolshevik, gives us a window into the creative life of one of the Soviet Union's best early film directors, Alexander Medvedkin's whose adult life corresponds almost exactly with the life of the Soviet state.

According to Marker, Medvedkin was an artist, innovator, atheist, propagandist, Civil War veteran, and, notwithstanding his aesthetic independence, a communist true-believer. Medvedkin is perhaps most famous for his masterpiece, Happiness, which incorporates elements of Russia's long folk tradition to satirize peasant life before and after the Revolution. But his career was filled with aesthetic highlights. For instance, Medvedkin staged the storming of the Winter Palace prior to Eisenstein's famous film, October, attached film cameras to soldiers' rifles, and turned a propaganda train into a miniature film studio. One experimental film sequence seems to incarnate Medvedkin's aesthetic daring: reversing footage of the 1931 demolition of a cathedral in Moscow, the Church of the Christ of the Savior, Medvedkin called attention to the high cost of the Soviet Union's march toward the future, and indeed pointed out that Russia's past might yet be resurrected.

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