Evgeni Bauer - Director





Nationality: Russian. Born: Evgeni Frantsevich Bauer, 1865. Education: The Moscow College of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. Family: Son of a zither player; married Lina Anvharova, a dancer and later actress in his films. Career: Worked as a magazine caricaturist, newspaper satirist, theatre impresario, and set designer; started directing films in 1913, working for Pathé, Drankov, and Taldykin; joined Khanzhonkov's company, becoming one of the main shareholders, late 1913. Died: Of pneumonia, 9 June 1917.


Films as Director:

1913

Sumerki Zhenskoi Dushi ( The Twilight of a Woman's Soul ) (+ art dir)

1914

Ditya Bol'shogo Goroda ( Child of the Big City ; Devushka s Ulitsy ; The Girl from the Street ) (+ art dir); Ee Geroiski Podvig ( Her Heroic Feat ); Lyulya Bek ; Slava Nam— Smert' Vagram ( Glory to Us, Death to the Enemy ); Tol'ko Raz v Godu ( Only Once a Year ; Doroga v ad ; The Road to Hell ); Kholodnye Dushi ( Cold Showers ; Frigid Souls )

1915

Grezy ( Daydreams ; Obmanutye Mechty ; Deceived Dreams ); Deti Veka ( Children of the Age ); Zhemchuzhnoe Ozherel'e ( The Pearl Necklace ); Leon Drey ( Pokoritel' Zhenskikh Serdets ; The Lady-Killer ) (+ art dir); Pervaya Lyubov' ( First Love ); Schast'e Vechnoi Nochi ( The Happiness of Eternal Night ); Tysyacha Vtoraya Khitrost ( The Thousand and Second Ruse ); Yuri Nagornyi ( Obol'stitel ; The Seducer )

1916

Zhizn' za Zhizn' ( A Life for a Life ; Za Kazhduyu slezu po Kable Krovi ; A Tear for Every Drop of Blood ; Sestry-Sopernitsy ; The Rival Sisters ) (+ sc); Nelly Raintseva ; PriklyuchenieLiny v Sochi ( Lina's Adventure in Sochi )

1917

Umirayushchii Lebed' ( The Dying Swan ); Za Schast'em ( For Luck ); Korol' Parizha ( The King of Paris ) (+ co-sc); Lina Pod Ekspertizoi ili Buinyi Pokoinik ( Lina Under Examination ; The Turbulent Corpse ); Nabat ( The Alarm ) (+ sc); Revolyutsioner ( The Revolutionary )


Note: These are the only films that remain from the 82 with which he has been credited.


Publications


On BAUER: book—

Tsivian, Yuri, and others, Silent Witnesses: Russian Films 1908–1919 , (in English and Italian), London and Pordenone, 1989.

On BAUER: articles—

Revue Internationale d'Histoire du Cinéma (Paris), no. 1, 1975.

Crespi, A., "Evgenij Bauer: lo sfarzo e il vuoto," in Cineforum (Bergamo), vol. 29, November 1989.

Robinson, David, "Evgeni Bauer and the Cinema of Nikolai II," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1989–90.

Bagh, P. von, "Jevgeni Bauer," in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 2, 1990.

Midding, G., "Die Technik dient dem Schauspieler, nicht umgekehrt!" in Filmbulletin (Winterthur, Switzerland), vol. 33, no. 3, 1991.

Raucy, C., "Jacques Becker: La presence irreductible," in Positif (Paris), no. 373, March 1992.

Giavarini, L., "Becker, cineaste de la liberte," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 454, April 1992.

Taboulay, C., "Boulot-boulot, menuise-menuise," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 454, April 1992.

Hansen, M., "Deadly Scenarios: Narrative Perspective and Sexual Politics in Pre-Revolutionary Russian Film," in Cinefocus (Bloomington, Indiana), vol. 12, no. 2, 1992.

Tsivian, Yuri, "Cutting and Framing in Bauer's and Kulechov's Films," Kintop (Basel), no. 1, 1992.

Casiraghi, U., "La scoptera di Evgenji Bauer: melodrammi d'amore e di morte," in Quaderni di Cinema (Firenze), vol. 12, January-March 1993.

Gaines, J. "Revolutionary Theory/Prerevolutionary Melodrama," Discourse (Detroit), vol. 17, no. 3, Spring 1995.

Zorkaja, N. "'Svetopis': Evenija Bauera," Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 10, October 1997.


* * *


When, in 1989, the Russians released a hoard of movies of the Czarist era, few of which had been seen in the West, we discovered a new "great" director. Evgeni Bauer was found to tower over all his contemporaries, including Victor Sjöström; for while Bauer's films could be as emotionally complex as those of Sjöström, he was a marvel at something which did not motivate the Swedish master—the mechanics of cinema. Bauer understood the language of the cinema better than any of his contemporaries, and in that silent era, he exploited silence as no one else did until Keaton. The Hollywood of Keaton's time, ten years later, was still only groping toward some of Bauer's techniques—the traveling or roving camera, the sudden or unexpected close-up, the zoom-in (if used in a primitive way), angle-shots from above, the masked screen, the use of movement and editing (e.g., in a frenzied dance) to build to a climax, the split screen, vivid composition. Visually then, his films are exciting, and furthermore he uses locations tellingly to enhance his dramatic material, as we may expect from a former art director. These elements, when added to natural playing and generally above-average stories—which invariably include a biting, if implicit, commentary on bourgeois society—make up a body of work unparalleled in early cinema. And who else at this time could take his narrative from A to D, without plodding through B and C?

Bauer entered the cinema as set designer for Drankov, but when in that capacity he moved over to Khanzhonov, he was given an entirely free hand, directing as well for him—and Bauer's first film as such, Twilight of a Woman's Soul (1913), still survives. Like most Russian filmmakers of this period, Bauer gave audiences the doom and gloom they craved, often with a last-reel suicide—but he did it with a sophistication matched only by Yakov Protazanov. For instance, in Child of the Big City a working-girl is wooed by a rich man attracted to women outside his own class; after marriage he bores her and she seduces a valet before deciding to use her husband's friends to become a courtesan, because she does not wish to give up a life of luxury. He, ruined, seeks her out, only to find her no less contemptuous than she was when their marriage ended.

In Silent Witnesses the title characters are the servants of Moscow's sybaritic high society, but they have an independent life of their own, caring and principled. When one young maid has a mind to the advantages of being a rich man's lady and, after a half-hearted refusal, acquiesces, she finds her position too insecure to protest against his continuing infidelities. In all of Bauer's films drunken parties and sexual license are the prerogatives of the rich, who are also vindictive, cruel, and without moral values—but they are also dangerously attractive. In Children of the Age a loving young wife allows an aged roué to seduce her and remains with him even after he has reduced her husband to penury by having him sacked. Her options are open, and furthermore she remains sympathetic, though the peasant audiences of Czarist Russia might well have thought that this brutally unequal society ought to be destroyed forthwith. It would be an overstatement to describe Bauer as subversive, but the society he depicts is wholly unadmirable, mortally sick.

There is abnormal psychology—perhaps specifically of the Russian variety—at the heart of both Daydreams and After Death. In the first a man becomes a recluse after his wife's death, only to become obsessed by an actress who resembles her; and she, while perhaps still loving him, fatally mocks his passion for his dead wife. In the second a man, inconsolable after the death of his mother, drives to suicide the actress who has aspired to be the new woman in his life, then kills himself after reading her diaries to discover her motives. Happiness of Eternal Night marks a firm return to Bauer's central theme, the rottenness of society, but the plot is a silly thing about a wealthy blind girl who marries a rake, persuaded by his brother who, because of his love for her, had trained to be an eye-surgeon in order to cure her.

Because Bauer was his leading director, Khanzonkov offered him a choice of subjects when he decided to make a super-production to rival Yermoliev's Queen of Spades. Bauer chose a now-forgotten French novel, which emerged as A Life for a Life , a complex melange of high-society gambols, infidelity, and debts. Since all the characters are well-off and one of them, a wealthy widow, does an exemplary job in running a factory, the film (unlike any of Bauer's others still extant) lacks any immediate revolutionary portents. Yuri Nagorni was designed to tell its story without inter-titles, thus pushing us willy-nilly into an incomprehensible plot about an adulterous wife who makes a play for a libidinous opera-singer, the eponymous Yuri: she leaves him at the end of the first half to die in a fire, but the second part, in flashback, contains all that we need to know.

Bauer was fascinated by the underside of life, the past and dreams, and both feature in a return to the subject of death, in The Dying Swan , in which an artist fantasizes about a ballerina as she expires. To Happiness holds to this theme as a widow encourages her longtime admirer to court her adolescent daughter, whose fatal illness is halted when she conceives a passion for him. This was Bauer's last completed film, and the dialectic is less "true" than the first of his movies, but he atones for the deficiencies of the plot by setting it lovingly in the shimmering Crimean sun, with distant vistas of the sea. It also shows, rarely for its time, two mature people genuinely in love with each other.

Bauer died in the Crimea, after sustaining an accident while scouting locations for his next film, The King of Paris (1917), completed after the February revolution by Olga Rakhmanova, who had acted in several of his pictures. The inter-titles have not survived, so the plot is not easy to follow, but it is only clear, in this tale of intrigue and blackmail, that the two leading characters are homosexual. The sequence in which the older man takes home a young stranger, having impulsively paid his gambling debts, is quite extraordinary, as the two of them look guiltily about them.

Bauer's films, with their predatory, managing women and their weak, hedonistic men, suggest a homosexual sensitivity, but he is too modern in outlook to be categorized. With Sjöström, he is the only director of the teens of the twentieth century whose work can still be watched with satisfaction and enjoyment. Sjöström's studies of rural life in the last century are valuable, but Bauer's portraits of Czarist Russia in its last days are even more so, because he was actually there. We have to wait for Lamprecht's Berlin and Ozu's Tokyo before we have any other filmed record of a contemporary society; and Ozu is far less pungent, perhaps because, unlike Bauer and Lamprecht, he did not see that as his aim. Bauer made over eighty films, of which only-one third have survived. Sjöström made forty-five films in Sweden, of which only thirteen were known to be extant—but two turned up in the 1980s. May we dare hope that there are still some Bauers to come to light?

—David Shipman



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