Payne Turksib - Historical Journal of Film Radio and...

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Unformatted text preview: Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 21, No. 1, 2001 Viktor Turin’s Turksib (1929) and Soviet Orientalism MATTHEW J. PAYNE, Emory University In the fall of 1929 yet another pioneering Soviet lm premiered in Berlin to critical acclaim. The Berlin Film-Kurier reported that, like Sergei Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin ( Bronenosets Potemkin , 1926), ‘the lm … has created an impression, which can only be de ned by the word furor’ [1]. In Britain, The New Leader hailed the lm a ‘magni cent epic, that powerfully seizes one with enthusiasm’. The director was accounted ‘of the same order as Eisenstein and Pudovkin, one of the very great masters’ [2]. Soviet critics, too, likened the work of this new director to the best representatives of lm avant-garde , with the leading critic Ippolit Sokolov judging it one of a very few lms that ‘are creating the style of our Soviet cinema’ [3]. But unlike the cinema avant-garde , the lm also found favor with the same cultural radicals who hounded directors like Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin as bourgeois ‘formalists’. The Russian Association of Proletarian Writers ( RAPP ), perhaps the most militant of these cultural vigilantes, warmly endorsed the lm [4]. Perhaps most surprisingly, mass audiences in the Soviet Union, who scrupulously avoided both the experimentalism of the avant- garde and the heavy didacticism of the cultural revolutionaries, made the lm a genuine hit with a large box of ce. What lm could please so many constituencies in the midst of the Cultural Revolution? Surprisingly, this sensation was not an avant-garde theatrical release such as Eisen- stein’s Battleship Potemkin or Pudovkin’s Mother ( Mat ’, 1926), but an educational lm ( kul’tur l’m ) made to propagandize one of the Five-Year Plan’s many construction projects, Viktor Turin’s Turksib . As Jay Leyda points out in his study of Soviet cinema, ‘ Turksib was a popular and immediate success abroad—and a surprise at home, both to the makers of culture- lms [ kul ’tur l ’my ] and of studio- lms, especially when this modest lm was received with enthusiasm wherever it was shown’ [5]. Turksib’s success continues to surprise for a number of reasons. First, later scholars of Soviet cinema, when they have noticed it all, have held Turksib in low regard, both artistically and as a piece of propaganda. Denise Youngblood notes that it has ‘too many shots of owing water and cotton elds’, and is mysti ed by Sokolov’s good opinion of it. She concludes that: ‘one learns very little from the lm’ [6]. Graham Roberts, in his study of Soviet documentary, is similarly negative. Although grudgingly admitting that Turksib ‘re- ceived genuine popular acclaim’, he considers Turin’s lm a faux-documentary; the lm’s ‘approach to the material is melodramatic’ and its style too much in the debt of ctional lm conventions [7]. Few lms have seen such a discrepancy between...
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Payne Turksib - Historical Journal of Film Radio and...

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