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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 4, No. 10. September 18, 1941

"The Most Important of Arts"

"The Most Important of Arts"

In 1918, Lenin used these words to describe the cinema. Since that time, the film directors of the U.S.S.R. have raised this art to such a level that Sergei Eisenstein, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Soviet film industry, was able to write:—

"An immeasurable gulf divides our films, as a manifestation of culture—a new, unprecedented Soviet culture—from the films of capitalist countries, where the cinema ranks in the same class as dope, alcohol, horse-racing, and the sensational press.

Let us examine this statement in respect to the recent season of Soviet films screened in Wellington.

Perhaps the most popular film with the general public was "Song of Youth." This was described on the credit titles as a documentary. This was scarcely correct. In documentary, we expect to see more than a bare record of facts, such as this film was. Documentary has been defined as the "Creative interpretation of Reality." "Song of Youth" was more an example of newsreel technique, but this was brought to its highest level.

"The Circus" was an attempt at a film in the "stupendous super-colossal all-singing dancing spectacle" class. As a vindication of Sovet technical ability, it was completely successful, and had in addition the great merit of possessing a serious theme. However, the film did leave one with the impression that the director and cast felt that the task that they had been given was somewhat beneath them.

In 1985, Stalin wrote: "The Soviet power expects of you new films which, like "Chapayev," will glorify the greatness of the historic deeds which attended the struggle for power of the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union—pictures that will mobilise the people to carry out new tasks, and that will remind people of both the achievements and the difficulties of Soviet construction."

"Chapayev" does just this, and yet one cannot avoid some disappointment with it. Here is one of the greatest heroes of the Soviet Union, presented in a film which has won the applause of millions in every part of the world. But, since 1934, when it was made, Hollywood has turned it into a formula for producing Western "epics," and as a result, it has lost, much of its forcefulness and freshness of treatment. It somehow lacks just those touches which could make one wildly enthusiastic about a character of whom one was prevously almost ignorant.

"Peter the First" was by far the best of the films. It was directed by V. Petrov, Honoured Artist of the Republic, and is based on a biography by A. Tolstoi, who was recently awarded a Stalin prize for literature. Although a costume picture with a "oast of thousands," it never, becomes a fancy dress ball, as do so many of the English and American productions which treat of a similar theme. The whole film has a ring of [unclear: henticity] which perfectly recreates the character of Peter and the background against which he lived. How far the film suffered at the hands of the censor is a matter of speculation, but there are one or two loose ends which can scarcely be explained, otherwise, though it is possible that incomplete translation of some of the dialogue had something to do with it.

Possibly the significant thing about Soviet film production is the fact that the films are made by the conscious application of certain theoretical principles, which have been carefully worked out by the directors. Although there are isolated directors in the U.S.A. and other countries who produce excellent films, it is in no case done by the application of a system which they are able to communicate to others. Pudovkin has attributed the remarkable fertility of Soviet film theory to the shortage of film stock immediately after the revolution, giving the directors an enforced leisure time in which to think, followed by the necessity of observing the strictest economy of footage in shooting. Whether this is or is not the reason, the fact remains that the majority of cinematic innovations during the last 15 years have originated in the Soviet Union.