Alexander Ptushko - Writer





Animator. Nationality: Russian. Born: Alexander Lukich Ptushko in Lugansk, 6 April 1900. Education: Attended Plekhanov Institute of Economics. Career: 1920s—actor, newspaper correspondent, and painter in Don region; 1927—entered film industry, writing, directing, and animating shorts combining cartoon and trick work; 1935— New Gulliver claimed to be first feature-length puppet (wax figure) animated film ever made; during World War II—"combat director" of many films, continued to make animated and trick films; 1944—became head of Animation Studios; 1946—instrumental in developing use of color, beginning with live-action The Stone Flower (mostly shot at Barrandov Studios, Prague); 1956—made first Soviet wide-screen feature, Ilya Muromets ; 1958—pioneer in combining animation and special effects in Soviet-Finnish coproduction Sampo . Awards: First Prize for Color Film, Cannes Festival, for The Stone Flower , 1946; State Prize for The Stone Flower , 1947; Silver Lion, Venice Festival, for Sadko , 1953; People's Artist of the RSFSR, 1957.

Films as Director:

1928

Chto delat' ( What to Do ); Shifrovanny Document ( Document in Cipher )

1929

Kniga v derevne ( Book in the Country ); Sluchi na stadione ( Event in the Stadium ); Stet priklyuchenni ( 100 Adventures )

1930

Kino v derevne ( Cinema in the Country ); Krepi oboronu

1932

Vlasteli byta ( How Rulers Live ); Begstvo Puankare ( The Flight [or Desertion] of Poincaré )

1935

Novy Gulliver ( The New Gulliver )

1937

Skazka o rybake i rybke ( Tale of the Fisherman and the Little Fish ); Vesyoli musikanti ( The Jolly Musicians )

1939

Zolotoi klyuchik ( The Golden Key )

1946

Kammeny tsvetok ( The Stone Flower )

1948

Tri vstrechi ( Three Encounters ) (co-d)

1952

Sadko

1956

Ilya Myromets

1958

Sampo

1961

Alye parusa ( Red Sails )

1964

Tale of Lost Time

1966

The Tale of Czar Sultan

Publications

By PTUSHKO: article—

"Stepping Out of the Soviet," in Films and Filming (London), January 1960.

On PTUSHKO: articles—

Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), July 1973.

Iluzjon , vol. 2, 1987.

Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), March 1997.

Outré (Evanston), vol. 1, no. 7, 1997.


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The "actors" in Alexander Ptushko's most important movies are neither flesh-and-blood professionals nor amateurs, but puppets—three-dimensional modelled figures. Ptushko expanded the art-form initiated by Wladyslaw Starewicz, who first produced stop-motion films in Russia prior to the Revolution. Starewicz's works were ingeniously animated, and it is to his credit that three-dimensional figure animation is thought of as a native Russian art. However, Ptushko added sound to the images, as well as more complex plotlines and feature-length running times.

Ptushko began his career as a cartoonist, one of the most sardonic of the 1920s. His first short sound films, also employing puppets, were only adequate, but he perfected his technique from year to year and project to project. His most famous film is his first full-length movie, Novy Gulliver (The New Gulliver) , based on Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels —easily the best of all Soviet animated films, and the world's first feature starring puppets.

Unlike Dave Fleischer's 1939 animated cartoon, the scenario does not remain faithful to Swift. Instead, The New Gulliver is Gulliver's Travels with a twist. It is framed by a reading in a camp of Young Pioneers: Gulliver arrives in a Lilliput under the control of a dimwitted king and his secret police, and assists the oppressed during a workers' revolt. One human performer does appear: a boy (V. Konstantinov), who falls asleep and dreams himself into the story as Gulliver.

The New Gulliver took three years to produce, and was made before Walt Disney released his first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs . It is the first Soviet sound film to utilize extended multiplication and reproduction from models: the puppets—which are actually dolls—are not moved like marionettes but photographed motionless, in innumerable positions, a process similar to that in animation. They are modelled in clay, and there are no hidden mechanisms. Each has between two and 300 separate heads (or, if you will, masks), all interchangeable and featuring a wide array of gestures and expressions. These puppets feel and think, love and hate—in short, they become human: one contemporary reviewer predicted that they could successfully compete with Clark Gable and Joan Crawford in the Academy Awards competition. In its own modest way, The New Gulliver ranks with Battleship Potemkin in innovation. The film was Ptushko's first to be widely distributed outside the Soviet union. Portions were screened at the second film festival of Venice in 1934.

"I have striven (in my films)," Ptushko wrote, "to portray the theme I love best—mankind's dream of a better life, of happiness for people in general." This is fulfilled in The New Gulliver —though within a "party line" framework—as the populace liberates itself from its crazed ruler. This spirit was also carried into Ptushko's later career, when he directed live-action features adapted from Russian folk stories.

Myths and legends are Ptushko's most prevalent subject matter, whether his films feature puppets or actors. But those starring small figures cast in the likeness of the human form are regarded with special preference and affection.

—Rob Edelman

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