Early & Silent Film

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People die for metal/ liudi gibnut za metal, Russia 1919

Posted by keith1942 on December 27, 2016

The Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen.

The Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen.

This film was produced by the Russian Yermoliev company in Yalta as they made their way into exile in Paris. The Bolshevik Revolution had already taken place and a Civil War raged across the new Soviet territories, with Britain, France and the United States invading the young Soviet Republics and aiding the forces of reaction. This production follows the style and conventions of the pre-revolutionary Russian cinema. This applies both to the story, typically downbeat, and to the style, shot in a tableaux-like form.

The film was screened from a 35mm print and was part of a programme celebrating the 75th year of Det Danske Filminstitut. This was a print with German language title cards[with projected English translation] and was titled ‘The Bartered Soul’, presumably an alternative to the Russian original for distribution abroad. The print was 1579 metres in length and projected at 20 fps. It had tinted sequences. There was some doubt regarding who directed the film for the company.

“There are only two contemporary Russian reviews for this film; one credits [Alexander] Volkov as director, the other, Yakov Protozanov. Protozanov definitely had some connection to the film: ten years later he wrote a screenplay which repeats this plot (but with a Soviet happy ending), and five years after hat he -rewrote it as a sound film. Neither project was filmed.” Festival Catalogue, Casper Tybjerg.

Protozanov went into exile, working in France and Germany, but then returned to the Soviet Union in 1923 and worked as a film maker in the Soviet industry.

The basic plot involved a wealthy bourgeois, Gornostaiev (I. Talanov), also known as ‘Mr Millionaire’. The romantic interest was a ballerina Llona (Mara Krogh) and there was an acquaintance Belinski (Yuri Yurievski). The millionaire made a bet that gold will win out over love: hence the title. In a reworking of the Mephistopheles legend he picked on a young worker, Alexei (Nikolai Rimski), as the subject of the bet. The offer made to Alexei was,

“sell me two years of your life”.

When he accepted he was gifted all the luxuries enjoyed by the millionaire. However, this meant parting with his old way of life, including a young woman friend, Manja. The millionaire inducted Alexei into the conventions and manners of the wealthy. This included a taste for pornography. After a trip abroad the pair returned and then Alexei became involved in an affair with Llona. Gornostaiev retaliated by ending the contract, and symbolically returning Alexei’s old working clothes. Llona realised that whilst she loved Alexei she could not live without the luxuries to which she was accustomed. The millionaire had won his bet. In a suitably downbeat twist Alexia now met his old flame Manja who was working as a prostitute. But Gornostaiev was to discover that gold, like love, exacted a price.

Much of the film favoured long shots and mid-shots, though there were cuts to close-ups for moments of strong emotion. The tinting was used to similar effect, the dinner party where matters came to a climatic head had a red tint. The film offered a certain distance as we watched the developing story. However, the plot line was strongly melodramatic, in particular at moments of crisis and in the final resolution. One intriguing technique was in the use of mirrors. There were several of these and they were shot or edited to emphasise a reflective stance. The most distinctive was in the theatre as a group of men watched the ballerina from an opera box whilst a mirror behinds them showed the audience the spectacle that they were enjoying. This fitted in with a tendency to symbolism in the film: the most notable example being a picture of Lucifer or Satan on the wall of Gornostaiev’s study when he made his offer to Alexei. later in the film, when Llona conceded that the millionaire had won his bet she retorted,

“You are diabolically clever. I love him all the same.”

But not enough to surrender the metal of the film’s title.

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