AND AKAKI AKAKIEVICH BASHMACHKIN
TO THE QUESTION OF GERMAN INFLUENCE IN RUSSIAN REVOLUTIONARY
by Neya Zorkaya
It was one's fate that among all external affects it was exactly German influence (or, as they often say now "German signs"), which in the most exact way told on the Russian - in more wide sense - Soviet cinema since the times of revolutionary avant-garde.
The theme of Germany (class struggle and communism spirit strengthening at the end of 20s and at the beginning of 30s, further - antifascism and - naturally - waste, half century World War II series spreading over to the XXI century) was incessantly sound, sometimes strongly, sometimes weakly, during different stages of our history. Stylistic influence of German art used to spread, and be constantly comprehended (let it be in polemics, contrast or negation).
Russian-German cinema relations - is a great theme, and only lately "academized". For the present we will cite only one being realized jointly by German and Russian researchers under guidance of Lotman Institute of Russian Culture in Bochum (Germany), and prepared for publication (primarily by Kopelevski) - a great historical project related to XX century - cinema centenary.
Indeed, it is evident that there exists some connection of Russia and Germany in destinies and creative works of the greatest Soviet cinema artists, leaders and classicists.
Let us think of Sergei Eisenstein, with his German home education, excellent German language, significant business trips to Germany, and finally, the grave of his father - Mikhail Osipovich Eisenstein - in the Orthodox cemetery Thiegel in Berlin. As regards to films, and especially drawings, their expressionism is a problem for analysis anyway1. For example famous German cinema and culture researcher Hans-Joachim Schlegel considered Ivan the Terrible also to be under the influence of expressionism (despite the fact that the creator of Potemkin renounced this).
Let us think of Vsevolod Pudovkin, who's destiny is, word for word, "stitched" with a German thread. Imprisonment in Germany during the World War I. Work at Mezrabpomfilm studio, which was directly connected with German shareholders, his role of Fyodor Protasov in joint production of Corpse Alive with German partners and working group. Full of naive dreams of proletariat communism solidarity in German film The Deserter shot in 1933, on the eve of fatal events. And an outstanding work of the director in Murderers Are on Their Way which never came out for public demonstration because of the license veto at the beginning of the war - screen version of Bertold Brecht drama novels Fears And Despairs of the Third Empire2.
We will never forget Aleksander Dovzhenko as well, when being a diplomat in Germany during 1921-1923 he studied in Munich school of art, where the influence of Blue Rider - a pioneer of expressionism - used to be so strong, and in Berlin he was well received in intellectual salons where he could meet German cinematographers. And can it be seen clearly the expressiveness in Dovzhenko's cinema debuts, in the riders of Zvenigora or in Arsenal? Or let us say in tragic screen monologue of a German soldier poisoned with laughing gas, and writhing with paroxysm of laughter - the great screen solo of Amvrossy Buchma, a student of Lesy Kurbas who was called Ukrainian expressionist?
We can remember Georgia also, where expressionism penetrated not only picturesque canvases of Kikodze and Gudiashvili, but screens as well - for example young Mikhail Chiaureli's melodrama Saba produced completely in expressive manner, with Veriko Andzhaparidze playing the leading part. In a quarter of a century the great tragic actress Veriko will play in Collapse of Berlin of the same Chiaureli, but by that time already as a master of Stalin's screen Empire style, unfortunate German Mother who lost her son-soldier in the war. It was the first and the last "positive" image of a German woman in Soviet after-war cinema, the first scream and cry for compassion of German people also drawn into war. And once again it was an "expressionism gesture", so unexpected in Chiaureli's super colossus about the strategist's grandeur, and the "author of the victory".
If any of cinematic investigation was aimed to prepare anthology of expressionism this late "exhibit" would be undoubtedly a part of it, as well as many other tremendous shots of the soviet cinema of early 20's: as for example heart-rending image of Crucifix at the battle field, of Jesus Christ in a gas-mask from Fridrikh Ermler's Debris of Empire. And quite a lot of other ones of higher cinematic class.
Definite parallelism of artistic problems, and first of all in esthetics of Russian revolutionary epic and dramas of "person-mass" in German after-war plays lead to confrontation and opposition. Of course inner-cinematic administrative cooperation of the two countries yet not very much dependant upon the states, also played a definite role: both activities of the joint-stock corporation Mezrabpomfilm, and - axiomatic! - assistance for German noble cinema organization Prometheus which bought the Battleship Potemkin in 1926, and released it all over the country, overcoming opposition of public circles which had found it to be a propaganda of bolshevism ideas.
Yet not very much mastered theme "Russia and Germany: Film Release" bring interesting opportunities to cinematology. In particular: "German films on the Soviet screen and in social and political journalism of the 1920's".
Meanwhile, if American influence on formation of the Soviet cinema specific character and style (no doubt original and unique) became legal, universally recognized, and even positively accepted (Eisenstein's Dickens, Griffith and Ourselves, Lev Kuleshov's Americanisms), then "German trace" was either not mentioned and kept in silence, or condemned as something harmful and strange.
German expressionistic films were particularly criticized. Negative attitude towards expressionism was an official position and was dictated by the leadership. Narkom of Public Education A.V.Lunacharski in his article on expressionism (1924) had clearly formulated three main Marxist "claims": 1) realization of dreams; 2) crudity (similar to strong odors bringing dizziness); 3) mysticism ("with Christian or Eastern Religious bias, which... means public depression, absence of clear perspectives")3. It is only natural, that German religiousness for aggressive post-October state materialism was absolutely inadmissible.
The same hostility was coming from "bellow" as well - from cinematographers themselves. In Eisenstein's texts there are quite a lot of rubbles directed to expressionism, screen "dreams", "some Doctor Caligari", Conrad Veidt - the star of German screen, creator of some infernal heroes, mysterious killers, marginal persons. And violent Dziga Vertov had expressed himself more straight in famous manifest WE:
"Psychological Russian-German cinema drama heavily stuffed with childhood dreams and visions we consider to be an absurdity.(...) WE declare old films: romanticized, dramatized etc. - to be leprous."4
There is a characteristic nuance of the time: in cinematographers and critics mind German films unite with Russian pre-revolutionary melodramas, which are considered to be a No.1 enemy in the young USSR, which stultify people with "bourgeois cinema stuff".
In cinematic social and political journalism, very smart and abundant by that time, there even appeared an abusive term: "caligarism" - it is understood as a derivative from the famous The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Study" made in 1919 in Decla studio with Robert Wiene as director, and Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz as script writers.
This film was innovatory, a real ancestor of expressionism on the European screen, well known for Russian cinematographers, and mass audience as well, since 1923. One of the film heroes - Cesare a somnambulist, medium of Caligari - the evil, who owned a fair show - discovered series of mysterious murders, vampires, maniacs keeping under control bloody affairs in German cinema plots. The role of Cesare was played by already popular in Russia Conrad Veidt. Audience would always adore horror and "terror stuff". It became clear that a "new audience" as well - proletariat liberated by the October - watch these German horrors with as much pleasure as they used to watch Satan the Triumphant in old times.
German cinema import is the leader in the Soviet film release! After the decree of 1923 Goskino (by economic reason, not at all educational) made a great purchase of foreign films, and German films made up almost 80% of the whole number of imported production. It had a great success. Brought profit. As it is well known, ideology and commerce peacefully coexist under the Soviet regime, although in outward appearance according to critical articles are in constant confrontation. But it was Aleksander Alekseyevich Hanzhonkov - a pioneer of home fiction films and true Russian patriot, who knew for sure (and wrote about this) that the law of economic advantages in cinematography is based on foreign films release.
The second part of the 1920's, a period of NEP , in this sense really used to be a golden age and kingdom of freedom for spectators choice in common Russian cinemas. Catalogues of foreign silent films, released to Soviet screens, issued in the 1960's on the basis of Gosfilmofond materials and commented upon by Ye.Kartseva, J.Greiding and N.Yegorova in Cinema and Times bulletins, is till now a very valuable and the only one source for a Russian cinema historian to give opportunity to restore a true panorama of a liberty screen of the 1920's. It can be seen what a powerful non-stop stream flows from Berlin till the end of the decade, when social boundaries (year of the great crisis), production and creative achievements (mastering and introduction of the sound) start to change the whole Soviet cinema regiment, placing it down under the Stalin's iron curtain.
And it concerns not only such hits as Indian Sepulcher, Pharaoh's Wife, Woman with Milliards or Corpse Hunter, not only examples of "trivial genres", but Fritz Lang, George Wilhelm Pabst, Friedrich Murnau - the "cream" of German innovatory cinema producing. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari takes an outstanding place in this selection.
Many critical articles followed the film release, and then all serious cinema historians including Georges Sadoul analyzed it. The most thorough, detailed and proved in the course of the XX century appraisal of the epochal importance of the film was made, as it is known, in the book of the famous cinema and culture researcher, sociologist Siegfried Kracauer From Caligary to Hitler issued in America in 1947; the author provided it with a subtitle (in some publications it is the first title of the work) Psychological History of German Cinema. I would remind very shortly the main points if its concept, which will be very important for the subsequent story.
As for Kracauer, the film had showed a spiritual ferment in Germany after the World War I very accurately. The central theme of the film is a national spirit at the fatal cross road of tyranny and chaos. A country fair where such fellows as Caligari are in force, is not a space of freedom but of anarchy leading to chaos. Caligari is a precursor of Hitler "because he uses a power of hypnosis in order to gain an influence over his patients. His methods - speaking about their aims and content - will be used by Hitler in his future experiments with a national spirit on a gigantic scale".
The dramatic action was cycled by scenes in a mental clinic which were introduced as a patient's recollections. Yet the final of the movie revealed that the clinic director was doctor Caligari himself and the holder of a big collection of ancient books and manuals in hypnosis. Two images of the hero whose role played Werner Krauss, a well-known actor, were identified. Thus, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is not only a magician-monster's miserable covered wagon; it is also a professor's respectable office, the whole Germany, to be more exact.
Krakauer makes a special focus on the "Cabinet" scenography and the style which was called a "pavilion constructivism" what sounds quite appropriate. Artists-expressionists Hermann Warm, Walter Rohrig and Walter Reimann close to the Sturm Berlin group made decorations for the movie consciously and bravely breaking the regulations of cinematography and even the optical laws which were obediently followed by the pioneers of the "Seventh art". The action of the movie happens against the background of purely theatrical decorations. The town painted on the linen of a closely located backdrop included oblique lines and angles as well as colored planes in the light which does not exist in the real life... A painter did not keep to the perspective and made the distance between the background and human faces quite conditional. Human bodies (live actors) were throwing long and bright shadows which were specially painted. The actors' faces were heavily made up in the manner more appropriate for a circus or a low farce than a theatre performance.
This freak and phantasmagoric style of the movie was rather beautiful in its specific way and artificial color contributed to its originality, the film was perhaps hand toned and painted. Intricate water color inter subtitle styled as Gothic character divided the action of the movie into acts, what again reminded of the theatre performance once again.
Kracauer's style could be evaluated in different ways. On the one hand, he is trying to turn the design into "a decoration of a human soul". On the other hand, he is the follower of "physical reality rehabilitation" as the original mission of the movie; he calls the movie stylistics "the mistake of the cinematography" and assumes that it could be simply a failure to aster the movie language (year 1919!) and inability to escape the dramatic tradition.
The attitude to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was unambiguously negative in the Soviet press on movie, at disputes and at the talks in corridors during professional private views. The word "caligarism" often changed the word "expressionism" and became more and more abusive. In the dispute on formalism which reached its crisis point in 1926 (and brought the Soviet art to tragic results in mid 1930s) the "caligarism" cliché became less safe to pronounce.
At that time (1926) a new screen version of Gogol's Overcoat filmed by famous "fekses" (Factory of the Eccentric Actor) in Leningrad Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg based on Yuri Tynyanov's scenario became accused in imitation of Caligari, the Germans, E.T.A. Hoffmann.
Critics were extremely inventive in reprimanding the movie for its "expressionism, idealism, gofmanoism, caligarism"7.
Compared to cheerful fraudulent movies of 1926 and after the clear-cut resilient Ferris wheel the new feks production looked strange. It was not just the Gogol's story adapted for the movie, it was rather a fantasy based on the Gogol's Overcoat and Nevski Prospect, in which the Gogol's story of a striking poverty and dull monotony was livened up with some joyful themes: the younger years of the main character and his flame to an angel-like creature - a treacherous beauty from the hotel apartments in the Nevski Prospect. The criminal environment of the Nevski Prospect, swindlers and thieves involved the young and naive clerk into forgery. Later when an old man, he was turning into an eternal titular counselor under a heap of files with a tragic dream of a new overcoat - the last link in the chain of life killed by the cruel epoch of the Nikolai reign. A small figure wrapped in a worn-out overcoat and in a new overcoat during the only one fatal travel and the snow blur of the Petersburg winter night were the visual personification of a homeless and lonely man in the strange and frightening world.
The film is filled with anxiety. Visions get mixed with reality, the first transfer into the latter. A shabby housecoat hanging in a miserable habitation was changing into a thick high quality overcoat with shining fur, and the overcoat was turning into "a pleasant companion in life" (Gogol) - "an angel-like creature" from Akaki Akakievich's youth. Proportions of subjects were shifted: a big-bellied kettle in Bashmachkin's box room, candlesticks and cups in the department were dominating.
It was so simple to label these scenes as "caligarism"!
A cinema historiography meets an extraordinary occurrence here, a conflict between inseparable fekses, "two in one director".
Kozintsev is categorical in his persistent denial of any German influence in the Overcoat:
"How could maniacs and somnambulists with thick make-up wandering in the distorted theatrical decorations attract the movie fans? The Overcoat introduces a snowy square crossed by the thieves' shadows, Akaki Akakievich begging for help in the black deserted streets, frightening memorials in the snowstorm, curved tubes shadows on the wall of the small room were not cast by German movies but by the real life"8 - he insisted. A combination of "a perfect trustworthiness and a nightmare" lies in Gogol's expressive language of fantasy which does not need any supplements in a Gofman's style.
Introducing The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at the opening at the Central Cinema House in 1987 (a period of "glasnost" and "perestroika"; the original movie copy was accompanied by "live music" performed by Munich Symphonic Orchestra) Trauberg declared about the great impact of the film on Soviet cinematographic youth of 1920s, Trauberg himself and the movie Overcoat. He often repeated these words in his interviews, speeches and lectures. Where does the truth lie?
Contradictions of late evidences and evaluations of the former joint job by the co-producers whose participation was by all means equal should not confuse. One could read the history of any movie from The Adventures of Oktyabrina till Maksim-series "by Kozintsev" or "by Trauberg" which to some extend and sometimes radically differs from the one "by Trauberg".
It is not surprising when we see two great practical cinematographists and professional literary workers, intellectuals, educated persons in the full meaning of this word! More than that, they were both artists who after the break of their creative tandem lived a long and dissimilar life and had a possibility to remember and to revise the past by themselves, at different stages of their own lives and the constantly changing Soviet spiritual life. Having separated forever but retaining loyalty and correctness to each other they were actually quite different. They were colleagues and partners, but never friends. "Trauberg is not my personal friend. We are different and we are linked only by mutual job" - G.M. Kozintsev confessed in his letter to S. Yutkevich (9).
They were closely bonded by bravura rapid thrilling and extremely successful (in the context of the period of the Stalin government!) twenty five year career of "fekses" (and after the trilogy about Maxim - of "post-feks"), which was ruined immediately after the Statement of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks on movie Big Life dated September 4, 1946, which casually smashed their last joint job Plain People into pieces, but the death blow of Stalin's revenge was by all means intended for Eisenstein and the second part of Ivan the Terrible.
People of art are not alike and their tastes differ as well. Kozintsev, who had been brought up with the Russian classics of the 19th century was further appealing to the British genies, to Shakespeare and Mayakovski, and he was absolutely alien to the German spirit and Novalis's "blue flower". For the first time he got fascinated by the German art quite late, and in 1950s the impact of the Berliner Ensemble Brecht theatre tour resulted in Hamlet and King Lear which bear an evident Brecht's trace (which has never been noticed by critics, by the way). But before this he rejected even Hoffmann.
Trauberg's passions and views were much more various, eclectic, and tolerant. He loved to collect curiosities, exotic and absurd things. He finds charm and humor in kitsch. No doubt that it was irreality strangeness and fantasy that captivated him in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
But the most interesting thing to us today is the consensus of the two creative co-producers which by some strange reason had been reached in the Overcoat, which is generally accepted classical, original, purely Russian, in the Petersburg style, yet somehow, "caligaristic".
The answer can be found through parallel reading and comparison of two cinematographic texts.
First let's read a version "by Trauberg".
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Crowds of people at the fair place, heads above heads, chaos and crush.
The interior of the Caligari fair stall, frightening emptiness, the somnambulist Cezare's sarcophagus-bed.
Caligari - Werner Krauss walks along the streets of the town, his step is strange, turning into running, the whole figure looks like animated.
The metamorphosis of hypnotist Caligari, the clinic director.
A crowd scene in the Nevski Prospect (the analogue of a festival by Gogol), the mise en scene is similar.
A department in the capital where clerks pore over the papers and Akaki Akakievich is aging before the audience's eyes (official geometrism).
Bashmachkin's box room, shadows on the wall, hypertrophied kettle, metamorphosis with a housecoat.
Very similar tours of Akaki Akakievich - Andrei Kostrichkin (in the cloak room of the department against the background of a long empty hall-stand, near snowdrifts, the grille of the Summer Gardens, the sphinx on the Vassilevski Island.
The "angel-like creature" from the Ivan Fyodorov, the foreigner's apartment", the "Bryulov" style image of A. Yeremeyeva, the actress in the role of the singer;
Turning of a mean crook and "unimportant person" into a lofty "important person" giving a good scoulding to Akaki Akakievich (actor Aleksei Kapler)
In many items of tailings and similarities this list could be proceeded. But... - and in this point a version "by Kozintsev" steps forward: in the Overcoat complete conversion of the enlisted "units" or "patterns" originating in Caligari was achieved. The action was completely taken away to the natural environment and real decorations, which retained a natural grotesque and fantastic appearance. The theater was pitilessly eliminated from the movie completely. The characters with their faces brightly made up were exchanged for "analogues" - distinctive types, including natural "monsters". Talented operators Andrei Moskvin and Yevgeni Mikhailov found purely cinema equivalent of all components including "real" shadows10 corresponding to the lightening (and not artificial, painted out like those of Wiene and the Hermann Warm team of painters-expressionists).
Generally speaking, a creative experiment was implemented and such experiment could be best determined with Siegfried Kracauer's "physical reality rehabilitation" formula. And this provided the Overcoat with indisputable "self standing".
Translated by Tatyana Ivanova
Doktor Kaligari I Akaki Akakiyevich Bashmachkin. K voprosu o nemetskikh vliyaniyakh v russkom revolyutsionnom avangarde, in Kinovedcheskiye zapiski, no. 59, 2002, pp. 52-60.
1. Compare with the critic on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which refers to
1960s: "...the brightest example of expressionism in the cinematography
is this trend of the bourgeois art occurred in the post-war Germany". In
Eisenstein, S, Selected works in six volumes, Volume 1, M., Iskusstvo, 1964,
p. 617 (comments).
2. V.I. Pudovkin's movie completed at the very beginning of the Mosfilm studio evacuation to Alma-Ata was not allowed to distribution by the Moscow administration without any explanation. A bit earlier at the end of 1941 also in Alma-Ata shooting of G.L. Roshal's movie A Murderer Is on His Way was suspended against the Goskino nonofficial instruction. Murderers Are on Their Way (the title made in plural became the title of Pudovkin's another movie, which previously was called The School of Meanness). Nothing remained from the Roshal's movie, yet 50 sketches made by Kukryniksy are still kept at the Movie Museum, the script - the history of Hitler's ascension - was written by M.Helfund and A. Matskin. A wonderful team of actors had to play in the film - the characters are depicted on the sketches: the rector of the Vienna Academy of Arts (who is known as the person to whom untalented entrant Hitler failed to pass the exam) - S. Eisenstein (!); Hitler (Hibler in the script) - M. Astangov; major von Clots - M. Shtraukh; general field-marshal von Lossendorf - V. Pudovkin; painter Rainer - P. Zhakov; Madame Bechstein, the salon hostess - Yu. Glizer and other not less famous names.
Documents prohibiting shooting of the movie have not been discovered; in G.L. Roshal's memoirs (published with a part of Kukryniksy's sketches in the collection of works From the history of cinema. Documents and materials. M., 1965, pp. 88-131.) nothing is mentioned about the case. This blank spot of the history of the national cinematography is still waiting to be studied.
Simultaneous categorical prohibition of two antifascist pictures shot by outstanding producers with great actors in 1941 allows to suppose that there was a "taboo" initiated by Stalin which refers to demonstration of Hitler and Third Reich on the screen.
3. The article is published in the collection of works: Expressionism. Expressionismus, Literature und Kunst. M., Raduga, 1986.
4. Vertov, Dziga, Articles. Diary. Ideas, M., Iskusstvo, 1966, p. 45.
5. Yegorova, N,German silent movies in distribution in the Soviet Union. Catalogue of German films which were in distribution in the Soviet Union, In Cinema and Time, Revision IV, M., Iskusstvo, 1965, pp. 380-387.
6. Kracauer Siegfried, Psychological history of the German cinema, M., Iskusstvo, 1977, p. 79.
7. For example: Dan Hessen (Supplement to the Kino issued in Leningrad, 1926, no. 19); I. Sokolov (Kino-front, 1926, no. 2-3) etc.
8. Kozintsev, G, Collection of works in five volumes. Vol. 1, L., Iskusstvo, 1982, p. 110.: In the heat of "justification of fekses" entailing "formalists" and "imitators", the author of the present article repeated after G.M. Kozintsev: "Poetics of the Overcoat has a purely national origin. It was born in the prospects near the Neva river, but never in the UFA pavilions. Though some methods coincide yet this poetics has nothing to do with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari". In History of the Soviet cinema. Vol. 1, M., Iskusstvo, 1968, p. 345.
9. Kozintsev, Grigori, Correspondence. 1922-1973, M., 1996, p. 35.
10. Butovsky, Ya, Cameraman Andrei Moskvin, S-Pb., Dmitri Bulanin, 2000.