TURKSIB - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

USSR, 1929

Director: Victor Turin

Production: Vostok Film (USSR); black and white; 35mm; running time: 85 minutes. Released 1929. Filmed in Turkestan and Siberia.

Producer: Victor Turin; screenplay: Victor Turin with Alexander Macheret, Victor Shklovsky, and Efim Aron; English titles: John Grierson; assistant director: Efim Aron; photography: Yevgeni Slavinski and Boris Frantzisson; editor of English version: John Grierson.



Leyda, Jay, Kino: A History of Russian and Soviet Film , Lon-don, 1960.

Barsam, Richard, Nonfiction Film: A Critical History , New York, 1973.

Barnouw, Erik, Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film , New York, 1974.


Coldicutt, K. J., " Turksib : Building a Railroad," in The Documentary Tradition , edited by Lewis Jacobs, 2nd edition, New York, 1979.

"A aldeia do pecado: Turksib ," in Celuloide , no. 303–305, Novem-ber 1980.

Film (London), no. 105, April/May 1982.

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Turksib is a world-famous documentary that depicts the building of a railway linking Turkestan with Siberia, to carry cotton from the former in exchange for cereals and vegetables from the latter: one of its very first large-scale construction projects in the Soviet Union. Victor Turin, its director, had spent his formative years in the United States—from 1912 when he was 17 until he returned to Russia in 1922—having attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked as an actor and scenarist at the Vitagraph Studios in Hollywood. He had also, of course, missed both the First World War and the Russian Revolution, which, together with his rich, middle-class background, may have adversely affected his later career.

Before Turksib , Turin had already made three Soviet films, one of which was a feature about the class struggle in the capitalist world— Borba Gigantov (Battle of Giants). It was considered too "abstract" (i.e., bad). It was all the more surprising, therefore, that Turin broke away from the very romantic style then becoming popular, full of dingleberry (an old Hollywood term for foliage introduced into the top of the frame), diffusion, back-lighting, noble close-ups and a general obsession with beautiful photography. In stark contrast, Turksib was a clear, direct and realistic statement, which was also gripping, touched with humor and humanity and edited with verve and a sure sense of rhythm. It was also said by Soviet critics to be "lyrical" (i.e., good). Perhaps (as frequently happens in cinema history) it was even helped by a relatively small budget and tight schedule to achieve its clarity, economy and unity—and to escape too much interference from "above." But it was Turin himself who had carefully and deliberately planned the style and content of his film. It was received abroad with even more acclaim than it won at home, and it certainly helped to put the documentary tradition back on the rails of realism.

Turksib is still enjoyable to watch and deserves the permanent place it has won in the canon of Russian classical movies, along with the works of Pudovkin, Eisenstein, Dovzhenko and Dziga Vertov. Why did its director fail to make further masterpieces? It is difficult to determine whether Turin was rewarded—or merely "kicked upstairs"—by being given an executive post at the very moment he seemed to have "arrived." He was not to direct another film until 1938— Bakintsy , a feature about the 1905 revolution, made at the Azerbaijani studios in Baku. Turksib undoubtedly proved Turin's abilities as an organizer, but it seems tragic that his other, rarer talents

were not given a chance for further documentaries in his fresh, purposeful style.

—Robert Dunbar

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