Konyets Sankt-PETERBURGA - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

(The End of St. Petersburg)

USSR, 1927

Director: Vsevolod Pudovkin

Production: Mezhrabpom-Russ; black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: about 110 minutes; length: 8202 feet. Released 1927.

Screenplay: Nathan Zarkhi, from the poem "The Bronze Horseman" by Pushkin and the novel St. Petersburg by Andrey Biely; photography: Anatoli Golovnya and K. Vents; art director: S. Kozlovsky.

Cast: A. P. Chistyakov ( Worker ); Vera Baranovskaya ( His wife ); Ivan Chuvelov ( Ivan, a peasant ); V. Chuvelov ( Friend from the village ); V. Obolensky ( Lebedev, Steel Magnate ); A. Gromov ( Revolutionary ); Vladimir Tzoppi ( Patriot ); Nikolai Khmelyov and M. Tzibulsky ( Stockbrokers ).



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* * *

Pudovkin made The End of St. Petersburg in 1927 for the tenth anniversary of the Soviet Revolution. From an earlier conception of the film as a 200-year history of St. Petersburg and its changing political climate, Pudovkin focused instead on the struggle for that city at the time of the Revolution. As in Mother , Pudovkin charted the developing awareness of the (mass) protagonist from political naiveté to Marxist consciousness. The film's distinction is in the conjunction of this personal mode of Marxist analysis with two other major points of reference: the St. Petersburg cityscape itself and its representation in the Russian literary tradition; and Pudovkin's theoretical writings ( Film Technique and Film Acting ), particularly on the role of editing.

The portrayal of a protagonist who interacts with the animated architecture of St Petersburg follows in the tradition of Pushkin's poem "The Bronze Horseman" and Andrey Biely's symbolist novel St. Petersburg , written in 1910–11 but set during the unsuccessful rebellion in 1905. Pudovkin superimposes a Marxist interpretation on Pushkin's Bronze Horseman, the "Soul of Russia." Through editing, he causes the statue to cry during the bombardment of the Czar's Winter Palace. Biely's vivid city geometry becomes in the film a maze of revolutionary activity. Pudovkin shifts the major site of conflict from the homes of the workers (in Biely) to the foundries in which they work. The realism of the photographic image would serve him well, allowing him to rely on the spectator's familiarity with the architecture of the city. He vivifies the city's monumental buildings and squares (as well as its famous statues), lending credibility to his political narrative. The tradition of romanticized urbanism, from Dickens through Griffith, takes on a Marxist ideological thrust in The End of St. Petersburg .

Pudovkin conveys the revolutionary and urban themes through precise techniques of editing, which he had codified in Film Technique . His re-assemblage of filmed reality recalls Constructivism in its tight integration of form and content. The camera records real space and time; the director creates filmic space and time through editing. Pudovkin called this the "linkage" of the film strips, "brick by brick." Kuleshov had taught him the importance of the legibility of individual shots when trying to emphasize the relationships among shots. Pudovkin would elaborate important details and eliminate others, often stressing the metaphorical nature of a particular detail. It is the editing that gives the film its strong metaphorical potential.

The various ways in which Pudovkin alternates these details in the editing gives the film its distinctive rhythm. He establishes oppositions, cutting for contrast between day and night, as well as between large open spaces and claustrophobic interiors. He inserts ironic inter-titles to contrast with visual images. Most significantly, he employs parallel editing to contrast static shots with dynamic activity. Pudovkin maintains this rhythm throughout the film, often cutting on human movement to provide fluid continuity.

Pudovkin's conception of the mass hero would unfortunately set the pattern for what would become the official aesthetic of Socialist Realism. His cinematic dynamization of St. Petersburg would remain a more enduring contribution.

—Howard Feinstein

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