|Sent on:||Thursday, June 21, 2007 8:05 PM|
JUNE 27-JULY 11
From the Tsars to the Stars: Russian Sci-fi of the 20th Century
Russian cinema has a glorious tradition of genre filmmaking, resulting in a treasure trove of cult classics. More than a decade before Kubrick?s 2001: A Space Odyssey, dozens of Russian films drew on the latest technical advances to present a much more detailed (& optimistic) view of space exploration than their American contemporaries, filled with alien attacks & nuclear paranoia. Ironically, many of these visually astonishing works of art ended on Western screens mauled beyond recognition, by enterprising US producers who bought them cheaply. With added scenes of space vampires & tentacled monsters, Russian Sci-fi headed into drive-ins under titles like Queen Blood & Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women.
Apart from the technology-driven sci-fi, the Soviet Union produced superb works of fantasy & horror. Drawing heavily on authentic Russian folklore, filmmakers created epic worlds filled with wild demons, sorcerers & enchanted stone gardens, they were encouraged to draw on literary sources, both Russian (Pushkin, Gogol) & foreign.
Curated by Oscar-winning visual effects artist Robert Skotak (Aliens, Terminator 2, X-Men 2), Seagull Films & The American Cin?math?que this season pays tribute to the many creative talents of the Russian film industry who worked in the genres of the "imagination".
Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka (Aleksandr Rou) 1961 USSR 69 mins
A glorious excursion into Technicolor fantasy & a film that remains true to the spirit of Gogol. One of the most beautiful works in the rich strain of Russian cinematic fantasy. The tale of a blacksmith sent on an endless quest by his beloved - ending in St. Petersburg, with a conference with the devil - has been filmed several times, but never with such rich feeling for the satiric, folkloric power of the source. Imported 35mm print. Preceded by Cameraman?s Revenge (Ladislas Starevitch) 1912 Russia 12 mins. Early stop-motion classic about adultery in the insect kingdom from the great animation pioneer: a married beetle is filmed in a compromising situation by a jealous grasshopper. Imported 35mm print.
The Heavens Call (Mikhail Karyukov & Aleksandr Kozyr) 1959 USSR 80 mins
The tale of an aborted Mars expedition (the cosmonauts crash-land on an asteroid instead) features spectacular "spacescapes", as well as a prescient visualisation of the Earth?s orbit cluttered by manmade satellites. Roger Corman & young Francis Ford Coppola unashamedly helped themselves to the film?s plot & footage for their 1963 Battle Beyond The Sun. Imported 35mm print. Preceded by Interplanetary Revolution 1924 USSR 9 mins A cartoon spoof of Aelita! And it served as a mild political corrective. Post-Lenin, the Communist Party began to distance itself from the "world revolution" doctrine & the notion of the rising Martian proletariat was safe to ridicule. Imported 35mm print.
To the Stars by Hard Ways(Richard & Nikolai Viktorov) 1981/2001 USSR 118 mins
The starship Pushkin finds an abandoned vessel in deep space filled with the decaying bodies of humanoids. There is, however, one surviving crew who seeks the earthlings? help to restore her severely polluted planet to its natural splendour. This delirious space adventure features bionic women, cosmic mercenaries, & the most embarrassing guy-in-a-suit robot ever. After the fall of the USSR, it inevitably became a cult hit amongst hip Russians. Imported, restored 35mm print.
The Amphibian Man (Gennadi Kazansky & Vladimir Chebotaryov) 1962 USSR 95 mins
One of the most beloved Russian films ever. The rather tall tale of a handsome, gilled mutant unfolds in an oddly conceived coastal locale among pearl divers, rogues & old salts. Perhaps the ultimate product of the late ?50s-early ?60s "Thaw", The Amphibian Man surreally brims with Latin song-&-dance numbers & Russian stars in brownface; it has to be seen to be believed. Imported 35mm print.
Cosmic Voyage(Vasili Zhuravlyov) 1936 USSR 70 mins
An effects-filled story of Pavel, a renegade space traveller & his voyage to the moon offers a startlingly realistic technological prophesy. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a seminal space-travel theoretician, served as the production?s science consultant & drew more than 30 detailed blueprints for the "rocketplane" featured in the film. There may be a rocket named after Stalin, but the film still reeks of anti-doctrinal individualism, doubtlessly accounting for Ukrainian-born Zhuravlyov?s sporadic post-Cosmic Voyage output. Imported 35mm print.
Ruslan & Ludmilla(Aleksandr Ptushko) 1972 USSR 159 mins
Probably fantasy director Ptushko?s greatest masterpiece, an epic reverie packed with surreal, grotesque characters & awe-inspiring set pieces such as a midget?s shimmering crystal palace & tormented figures chained inside a cavern. Based on a poem by Pushkin, Ptushko?s final film follows the epic adventures of Ruslan as he struggles to recover his feisty, resourceful bride kidnapped on their wedding night by an impish sorcerer. Imported 35mm print.