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An dual-layer documentary from Dziga Vertov
7 July 2019
An almost hour-long and, on a surface level, extremely dull documentary from Dziga Vertov commemorating the death of old-time Bolshevik and Stalin collaborator Sergo Ordzhonikidze, made almost exactly in the style of Vertov's earlier docs on Lenin's death. Starts with an archival speech, commemorations harangued to dutiful crowds gathered in the snow, the open coffin with Stalin, Khrushchev and others looking on, etc. What gives this film a piece of extra interest comes when the viewer knows what the doc doesn't mention: that Sergo was a victim of Stalin's Great Terror and either committed suicide or was forced to after Stalin attempted to have the NKVD arrest him. Sergo's suicide allowed him to avoid the trumped-up charges of treason, the torture, the forced confession that would have inevitably followed. Now one sees not the dutiful leader looking down on his friend and co-worker in sorrow, but a murderer viewing the corpse of one of his thousands of victims and the people around him, all wondering if they would be next.
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Ivan (1932)
Ukrainians by a dam site
10 February 2019
The great Ukrainian silent film director Aleksandr Dovzhenko made his first sound film Ivan two years after his masterpiece Earth (1930) was denounced as "counterrevolutionary" and "defeatist" by the Communist Party. Ivan (1932) is far more propagandistic than any of his previous films with all the good Communist characters portrayed as flat, smiling icons that seemed to have stepped straight off a political poster. The bad apples in the bunch are the only interesting characters, particularly Stepan Shkurat, the hero's father here as he was in Earth (1930), but with a much larger and more comic role. Another small but lively part is the wife of a foreman who would rather listen to foreign music on the radio than another live report from the tractor committee. Despite the restrictions, there are moments where the old Dovzhenko shines through, most notably during a beautifully photographed traveling shot over the Dnieper River and the two entrances of the grieving mother where shots are repeated again and again for emphasis. Coincidentally, Ivan (1932) was released during the height of the Holodomor, the Stalin-made famine that starved Ukrainians to death by the millions. One hopes that participating in this unleavened piece of political indoctrination allowed a few of them to survive.
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