The Red Screen: Politics, Society, Art in Soviet Cinema

By Anna Lawton | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 2

Ideology and Popular Culture in Soviet Cinema: The Kiss of Mary Pickford

RICHARD TAYLOR

Yesterday I was in the Kingdom of the Shadows.

If only you knew how strange it is to be there. There, everything-the earth, the trees, the people, the water, the air-is tinted in the single tone of gray: in a gray sky there are gray rays of sunlight; in gray faces gray eyes, and the leaves of the trees are gray like ashes. This is not life, but the shadow of life and this is not movement but the soundless shadow of movement.

I must explain, lest I be suspected of symbolism or madness. I was at Aumont's café and saw the Lumières' cinématographe-moving photographs. The impression it produced was so unusual, so original and complex, that I can hardly convey it in all its nuances, but I can attempt to convey its essence….

A railway train appears on the screen. It darts like an arrow straight towards you-look out! It seems as if it is about to run you into a mangled sack of skin, full of crumpled flesh and shattered bones, and destroy this hall and this building, stuffed so full of wine, women, music and vice, and reduce it to fragments and to dust. 1

These were the words of Maxim Gorky in his syndicated newspaper column to describe his first experience of cinema. He had seen his first film at the Nizhny Novgorod Fair in the summer of 1896, at Charles Aumont's café chantant, where it was the principal attraction and advertised as "the miracle of the 19th century". 2 The first public exhibition of the cinématographe in the Russian Empire had taken place shortly before on 5 May 1896, at

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