The Cinema of Russia and the Former Soviet Union

Article excerpt

Birgit Beumers, ed. The Cinema of Russia and the Former Soviet Union. Preface by Sergei Bodrov Sr. London and New York: Wallflower Press, 2006. 283 pages. Filmography. Bibliography. Index.

The collection of essays The Cinema of Russia and the Former Soviet Union is part of a highly original book series launched by Wallflower Press and edited by Yoram Allon and Ian Haydn Smith. The basic structure of the volume on Russian and former Soviet cinema is determined by the series' general objectives. The title of the series-24 Frames-reflects the overall composition of each volume: the cinematographic art of a given country is discussed in twenty-four essays about its 24 most representative films. The number of these "frames" points to the fundamental characteristic of contemporary movie-making, namely projecting 24 frames per second onto a screen in order to create the illusion of movement. In my view, the idea of movement that thus underlies the structure of each volume, accounts for the series' novelty. Indeed, many monographs and collections of essays in the field of Film Studies focus on the American movie industry and tend to discuss only selected periods in the history of national cinemas. To be sure, except for descriptions of the experimentations of the 1920s in film editing and references to auteur films from the late Soviet period, little can be found in North American Film Studies textbooks on the history of Soviet and post-Soviet film. In other words, a more comprehensive study of Russian film has traditionally been relegated to departments of Slavic Studies. In view of this circumstance, the value of The Cinema of Russia and the Former Soviet Union lies in bringing the study of Russian film history to a wider audience.

The Cinema of Russia and the Former Soviet Union follows the trajectory of cinema development in Russia and in the former Soviet Union through 100 years, starting with the first Russian features before the Revolution and ending with the most recent titles of the twenty-first century. With Rachel Morley's highly perceptive essay on the melodrama A Life for a Life ( 1916) by Evgenii Bauer, the volume dips into the "silence" of Russia's preRevolutionary cinema and then offers some fascinating insights into the internationally recognized experimentations by Lev Kuleshov, Sergei Eisenstein, Yakov Protazanov, and Alexander Dovzhenko. Thanks to Birgit Beumers's excellent editorial decision, the reader can enjoy an expert discussion of lesser known and yet extremely interesting silent features from the 1920s: Kuleshov's Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924), Protazanov's Aelita (1924), and Eisenstein's Strike (1925). Beumers's approach to selecting sound films is no less praiseworthy, for it results in a fragmented but nonetheless very informative picture of Soviet and post-Soviet cinema with highlights on national cinemas from several Soviet republics (Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Kazakhstan). …