Potomok Chingis-KHAN - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

(The Heir of Ghenghis Khan; Storm over Asia)

USSR, 1928

Director: Vsevolod I. Pudovkin

Production: Mezhrabpomfilm (USSR); black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: 93 minutes, some sources list 102 minutes; length: 10,144 feet. Released 1928. Re-released 1949 with sound, music by Nicholas Krioukov and text and dialogue by Slavine and V. Koutchoukov.

Screenplay: Osip Brik, from a story by I. Novokshenov; photography: A. N. Golovnya; art directors: Sergei Koslovsky and N. Aaronson.

Cast: Valeri Inkishinov ( Bair, A Mongol huntsman ); I. Inkishinov ( Bair's father ); A. Chistyakov ( Commander of a partisan detachment ); A. Dedintsev ( Commander of the occupation forces ); Anna Sudakevich ( His daughter ); K. Gurnyak ( British soldier with leggings ); Boris Barnet ( British soldier with cat ); V. Tzoppi ( Mr. Smith, agent of the British fur company ); V. Ivanov ( Lama ); Vladimir Pro ( Missionary ); Paulina Belinskaya ( Wife of the commander of the occupation forces ).



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Potomok Chingis-Khan , Vsevolod Pudovkin's last great silent film, remains a significant cinematic achievement today due largely to the majestic visual sweep of its allegorical conclusion. Through a montage of linked images, the Soviet filmmaker has created a brilliantly symbolic metaphor in which shots of an onrushing horde of mongol horsemen are interspersed with shots of a blowing sandstorm to suggest a gale of righteousness sweeping tyranny from the land.

Like many of its Soviet predecessors, Potomok Chingis-Khan is revolutionary in theme, tracing the increasing political awareness of Bair, a young Mongol huntsman who survives a series of indignities at the hands of the Imperialistic White Army to lead his people in revolt. But Pudovkin's film is also revolutionary in its mode of realization.

Like his contemporary, Sergei Eisenstein, Pudovkin was a product of the radical "Kuleshov Workshop" which operated on the fringes of the V.G.I.K., the Soviet State Film School. Lev Kuleshov and his followers were early experimenters with a number of techniques of cinematic expression, particularly that of montage. According to Kuleshov, each shot in a filmed sequence possessed two intrinsic values. The first was obviously whatever meaning the shot conveyed as an accurate representation of its subject. However, the second property was the emotional or intellectual significance it acquired as a result of various juxtapositions with other images in a series. Kuleshov and his students felt that it was possible to manipulate the overall meaning of an entire sequence simply by altering the order of occurrence of specific images in relationship to the actors.

Pudovkin uses this technique in Potomok Chingis-Khan's concluding sequence to create an extraordinary tension between standard movement in the frame and a series of rapidly moving but conceptually related shots. In fact, fully 25 percent of the more than 2000 shots that comprise the film went into the gallop of the horsemen across the Mongolian landscape. In this sequence, the forward charge of the riders becomes so interspersed with the rapidly moving shots of blowing wind and sand that the actuality of human conflict quickly becomes an abstraction symbolically applicable to all oppressed people throughout history.

The impact of the ending is heightened by the fact that Pudovkin deliberately paces the unfolding of the narrative. At the beginning, Bair (Valeri Inkishinov) is a naive youth who takes his family's most valuable possession, the pelt of a silver fox, to sell at the annual fur market. After he is defrauded by a British fur agent, Inkishinov, under Pudovkin's direction, allows his character to become increasingly sullen as he seemingly becomes more and more aware of the exploitative nature of the foreigners occupying his homeland. Yet when he is captured and taken to be shot by a White Army corporal after an abortive attempt to retrieve the pelt, he follows his executioner like a trusting puppy who cannot believe that any harm will befall him. The poignant scene ends with a rifle shot.

In the interim, the Colonel has discovered an amulet among the boy's possessions that indicates that he might be a descendant of Ghengis Khan and orders the corporal to retrieve the gravely injured victim and provide him with medical care. The objective is to establish him as a puppet ruler of Buryat Mongolia.

Pudovkin, through a series of minor but finely tuned episodes, further darkens the young trapper's character while in captivity. One of these, in which Bair sees the silver fox fur being worn by the Colonel's daughter, starts Bair on the road to revolution. He singlehandedly wrecks the White Army headquarters, steals a horse, and rides to gather a rebel band who race across the screen in wave after wave against their oppressors. Ultimately, they evolve into an abstract raging windstorm that blows the foreigners from the land.

Potomok Chingis-Khan was savaged by Soviet and American critics alike on its opening in 1927 for lacking realism and over-reliance on symbolic devices. Yet today it is recognized as a dynamic narrative, an epic visual poem that effectively demonstrates the power of linked montage to create allegory.

Although he made a number of films after Potomok Chingis-Khan , Pudovkin was not able to make the transition to talking pictures. He was at his best as an epic poet employing a purely visual means of expression, and remains of utmost importance to the history of cinema more as a theoretician than as a filmmaker. Yet the films which illustrate his theories ( Mother , The End of St. Petersburg and Potomok Chingis-Khan ) rank with any of the masterpieces of the silent cinema.

—Stephen L. Hanson

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