RUSSIAN EARTH AND TEXAN TURF

Rick’s Journal     –     MY FILM CAREER

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON THE RECENTLY VIEWED

Earth           Alexander Dovzhenko          1930

Dovzhenko

Dovzhenko

The waving grain of Russia’s fields is lyrical and hypnotic.  Dovzhenko’s tense, emotion-laden skies.  The strength in peasant faces, young and old in between.  The peacefulness of natural death and the joyful taste of pears moments before.  Long takes of hanging fruit  —  and my own recollection of my film history prof’s response to a student laughing at them:  “To each culture its own choice of fruitful globes to emphasize and display.”

The delightful sequence when the new tractor is found to have no water in the radiator and the farmers in their intimate way supply it by  — as the subtitles have it  —  letting fly.

All this beauty and humor and the face of the great Semyon Svashenko asVasili  —  not to mention his moonlight dance (see Rick’s Flicks June 6, 2016).  SPOILER ALERT:  Some surprising sexuality in a Russian silent:  Basil’s intended makes nakedly clear one aspect of the dead Vasili she will miss.

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Giant          George Stevens          1956

The size of Texas  —  the expanse of landscape  —  sandy, dusty distance  —  all captured NOT by screen size but by directorial sensitivity and camera placement.  Novelist Edna Ferber spent three weeks in Texas and nailed Texans.  Stevens and his photographers nail the land in which Texans live.

Director and stars

Director and stars

Contemporary critics were hard on Stevens’ choice of leads.  The critics were wrong.  Sixty years after, the performances of Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor hold up remarkable well, and they speak each other and play off each other like they married couple they are.  They work skillfully with as much psychological profundity as Hollywood scripts of the era allowed.  Hudson is particularly good in a long part in which he ages convincingly.

Hudson, knight without a horse but with armor shining

Hudson, knight without a horse but with armor shining

This time around I found James Dean’s older Jett Rink more believable than in earlier viewings.  He was an actor in his mid-twenties at the time of this performance and acquits himself well.

A young, wanting-to-act, healthy looking Dennis Hopper is especially engaging.  A youthful Carroll Baker, “presented” in the credits, is already marvelously sexy and also moving in her part.  Jane Withers is very fine.

Interestingly Stevens repeats the funeral from Shane, including the bored child.

There is a lot of Giant, three hours and seventeen minutes of it.  It is almost all enthralling.

NEXT FRIDAY POST September 9
Look for “Seeing and Hearing George Stevens discuss his Giant.”

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

THE MOONLIGHT DANCE

As Vasili in Dovzhenko’s EARTH (1930) Semyon Svashenko secured his niche in film history  —  secured the niche he had established the year before in the same director’s ARSENAL (1929) in which he played Timosh the Ukrainian (Svashenko was Unkrainian as was director Dovzhenko).  Today’s writing on film (and on just about everything else under the sun) ridiculously overuses the word iconic; but it is the word that suits the photograph on this page from ARSENAL, one of the most internationally recognizable stills from the silent era and a memorial of a stirring performance.

But Svashenko’s portrayal in the lyrical EARTH is in and from another dimension, and no one who has seen him dance down the road in the moonlight is likely to forget him.

Semyon Svashenko was still acting in 1957 and receives a credit in AND QUIET FLOWS THE DON (directed by Sergey Gerasimov).    And he has a role, though not the lead, in BALLAD OF A SOLDIER ( directed by Grigoriy Chukhray, 1959), a popular film in the United States at the time of the Cold War thaw and Russian-American cultural exchange.  And  he was billed as Old Ukrainian in the 1966 Russian WAR AND PEACE (directed by Sergey Bondarchuck).

He died in 1969.

the great Svashenko

the great Svashenko

ARSENAL is available from Kino Lorber in a beautiful digital remastering by David Shepard.  Kino also offers EARTH, not a remastering  but an acceptable print.

NEXT FRIDAY POST July 8

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick