Nationality: Soviet. Born: Sergei Apollinarievich Gerasimov in Zlatoust, Ural region, 21 May 1906. Education: Leningrad Art School; studied scenic design at State Institute of Dramatic Art, Leningrad, 1920–25. Career: Joined FEKS group founded by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg, early 1920s; directed first film, 1930; head of Acting and Directing Master Class, Lenfilm Studios, 1931–41; in charge of Fighting Film Album No. 1 , Moscow, 1941; continued war work, in charge of official films of Yalta and Berlin conferences, 1942–44; head of Central Newsreel and Documentary Studios, Moscow, 1944; Professor, Moscow Film School (VGIK), 1944–1970s; artistic supervisor, Gorki Film Studios, 1955; served as deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR, secretary of Soviet Union of Cinematographers, and on editorial board of Isskustvo Kino , 1970s. Awards: Red Banner of Labor, 1940 and 1950; Red Star, 1944; Peoples' Artist of USSR, 1948; State prizes, for Uchitel , 1941, The Young Guard , 1949, and Liberated China , 1951. Died: 27 November 1985.
Films as Director:
Twenty-two Misfortunes (co-d)
The Forest (+ sc)
Solomon's Heart (co-d, + sc)
Do I Love You? (+ sc)
Semero smelykh ( The Bold Seven )
Komsomolsk (+ co-sc)
Uchitel ( Teacher ) (+ sc)
Masquerade (+ sc, role as the stranger); Meeting with Maxim segment of Fighting Film Album No. 1 ; The Old Guard
The Invincible ( The Unconquerable ) (co-d, + co-sc); Film-Concert Dedicated to the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the Red Army ( Cine-Concert Dedicated to the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the Red Army ) (co-d, + co-sc)
Great Land ( The Mainland ) (+ sc)
Molodaya gvardiya ( Young Guard ) (+ sc)
Liberated China (+ sc)
Selskiy vrach ( Country Doctor )
Nadezhda (+ sc)
Tikhy Don ( And Quiet Flows the Don ) (+ sc)
Sputnik Speaking ( The Sputnik Speaks ) (co-d, co-sc)
Men and Beasts (+ sc)
Zhurnalist ( The Journalist ) (+ sc)
U ozera ( By the Lake ) (+ sc)
Lyubit cheloveka ( For the Love of Man ) (+ sc)
Materi i docheri ( Mothers and Daughters )
Michki protiv Youdenitsa ( Mishka against Yudenitch ) (Kozintsev and Trauberg) (role as spy)
Chyortovo koleso ( The Devil's Wheel ) (Kozintsev and Trauberg) (role as the conjuror); Shinel ( The Cloak ) (Kozintsev and Trauberg) (role as the card-shark); Bratichka ( Little Brother ) (Kozintsev and Trauberg) (role as the driver)
S.V.D. ( The Club of the Big Deed ) (Kozintsev and Trauberg) (role as Medoks); Someone Else's Jacket (Boris Shpis) (role as Skalkovsky)
Novyi Vavilon ( The New Babylon ) (Kozintsev and Trauberg) (asst d, role as the journalist Lutreau); Oblomok imperii Fragment of an Empire ) (Ermler) (role as the Menshevik)
Odna ( Alone ) (Kozintsev and Trauberg) (asst d, role as the chairman of the village soviet)
Three Soldiers ( Ivanov ) (role as Commander of the Iron Regiment)
Dezertir ( Deserter ) (Pudovkin) (role as the bonze); Razbudite Lenochky ( Wake up Lenochka ) (Kudryavtseva) (role)
The Frontier (Dubson) (role as Yakov the Tailor)
Chapayev Is with Us (co-sc); Vyborgskaya storona ( New Horizons ; The Vyborg Side ) (Kozintsev) (role as the Socialist-Revolutionary)
The Yalta Conference (pr supervisor)
The Berlin Conference (pr supervisor)
Damy (Organisyan and Kulidzhanov) (artistic supervisor)
The Road of Truth (Frid) (sc)
Memory of the Heart (Lioznova) (sc)
Dimy Gorina ( Career of Dima ) (Doblatyan and Mirski) (artistic supervisor)
U Krutovo Yara ( On the Steep Cliff ) (K. and A. Morakov) (artistic supervisor)
Venski Les ( Vienna Woods ) (Grigoriev) (artistic supervisor)
Sostyazanie ( Controversy ) (Mansurev) (artistic supervisor)
By GERASIMOV: books—
Zhizn', fil' my, spory , Moscow, 1971.
Vospitanie kinorezhisseva , Moscow, 1978.
Kinostsenarii , Moscow, 1982.
Kinopedagogika , Moscow, 1983.
Stat' i, ocherki, vospominaniia , Moscow, 1984.
By GERASIMOV: articles—
"Socialist Realism and the Soviet Cinema," in Films and Filming (London), December 1958.
"All Is Not Welles," in Films and Filming (London), September 1959.
"A Clash of Conscience," in Films and Filming (London), March 1961.
Interview with Roger Hudson, in Film (London), Spring 1969.
"V dobryi chas!," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), no. 10, 1976.
"Soviet Cinema: Films, Personalities, Problems," with others, in Soviet Film (Moscow), no. 271, 1979.
"Akyual'nost' istorii," interview with G. Maslovskij, in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), September 1980.
Interview in Isskustvo Kino (Moscow), December 1982.
Interview in Soviet Film (Moscow), February 1984.
Film a Doba (Prague), May 1986.
On GERASIMOV: articles—
Vronskaya, J., "Recent Russian Cinema," in Film (London), Summer 1971.
"Sergei Gerasimov," in Soviet Film (Moscow), no. 261, 1979.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 4 December 1985.
Wuss-Mundeciema, L., Sergei Gerassimow, and H.-J. Rother, "In memoriam Sergej Gerassimow," in Film un Fernsehen (Frankfurt), vol. 14, no. 6, June 1986.
Obituary in Soviet Film (Moscow), no. 6, 1987.
* * *
The very survival of the brilliant, original, almost iconoclastic Sergei Gerasimov through turbulent eras of Soviet history has tended to obscure the importance of his early contributions to cinema. The somewhat stern image of a grim conservative headmaster he seemed to project to students at the Moscow Film School (VGIK) in the early 1970s was an antithesis of his prewar self.
Gerasimov's career started in Leningrad when, after graduating as a theatrical designer, he joined the "Factory of Eccentric Actors" (FEKS). He became one of the strongest and most original actors in Soviet silent cinema, with a special attraction to complex roles. Together with what he learned from Kozintsev and Trauberg, who directed most of the productions in which he appeared, his deep study of acting was an important part of Gerasimov's apprenticeship as a filmmaker.
Gerasimov cut his directorial teeth on three silent productions in the early 1930s, but it was not until 1936, with his first sound film Semero Smelykh ( The Bold 7 ), that came into his own as a major talent. In this and his next film ( Komsomolsk ) he broke new ground in his choice of subject and in his sincere and unusually successful attempt to portray ordinary young people as varied, breathing, living human beings rather than animated heroic sculptures. His sympathetic direction of his young cast, together with his romantic but naturalistic scripts (pitting teams of young people against the elements) achieved something approaching the elusive ideal of socialist realism.
Gerasimov's works were by far the most successful films of their genre during the 1930s. Uchitel ( Teacher ), released in 1939, completed his trio of lyrical but unpretentious evocations of the new Soviet generation in the Russian countryside. Uchitel told the tale of a young man who leaves the bright lights of the city to return to his native village as a schoolmaster. This film begins, perhaps, to show some signs of the stress imposed by the increasing rigidity of official dogma, for it does not achieve the freshness of the previous two films. Yet, sadly, some seven years later Gerasimov castigated himself for not having adhered more strictly to the party line. "I loved the film," he wrote, "and I still love it, despite the fact that it is far too polished . . . and not a little too obsequious in its attitude to Art." By this time the war had intervened and Gerasimov (in 1944) had become a member of the Communist Party.
Besides Gerasimov's rural trilogy, his only other prewar feature, Masquerade , was a lavish version of Lermontov's verse tragedy. He had certainly set himself an uphill task in trying to combine his FEKS style with the tradition of stage drama and dialogue in verse, although his own performance as "The Stranger" was an echo of his old FEKS philosophy and the Leningrad setting was spectacular. Although successful at the time, the film was criticized by the director himself, a stern exponent of "socialist self-criticism." While he admitted that the film had helped him "refine his art," he considered it "haphazard and unplanned" and lacking sufficient appreciation of Lermontov's particular genius.
During World War II, Gerasimov was put in charge of the documentary film studios. There he brought together the talents of feature directors and documentarists and once more proved his flair for encouraging good work from others. This led to his appointment in 1944 as head of the directing and acting workshops of the Moscow Film School (VGIK). Occupying this seminal position through the following thirty years, he had an enormous influence on the whole present generation of Soviet filmmakers.
After the war Gerasimov's own work seems to have swung dramatically from his self-effacing, sympathetic form of filmmaking to the grandiose style fashionable during Stalin's final phase. Fadeev's patriotic, lyrical novel The Young Guard would seem to have been ideal source material for a typical Gerasimov film, yet it turned out to be bombastic, pompous, and overblown. His other huge epic, And Quiet Flows the Don , shown in three full-length parts, unfortunately suffered from similar grandiosity. Apart from this foray into gigantism, and a documentary on China, much of Gerasimov's post-Stalin output saw a return to his themes of the 1930s. While he remained a highly competent director, however, he never quite recaptured the freshness of approach and lightness of touch that marked his earlier work.