RusFilm-2003 Program Notes

The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks
[Необычайные приключения мистера Веста в стране Большевиков]

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USSR, Goskino, 1924, 86 min., b/w
Director: Lev Kuleshov
Screenplay: Nikolai Aseev
Camera: Alexei Levitskii
Set Design: Vsevolod Pudovkin
With: Porfirii Podobed, Aleksandra Khokhlova, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Boris Barnet

The first Russian anti-American film both arrogantly mocks American ignorance toward the Soviet Union and enviously copies American cinematic methods. Mr. West, the president of the YMCA, travels to Moscow, expecting to find savage Bolsheviks dressed in fur, as illustrated in American magazines. Even though he takes cowboy Jeddy along to protect him, Mr. West falls into the hands of a run-down count and his gang who decide to toy with him and to confirm his worst stereotypes. When the real Bolsheviks finally free Mr. West from the gang, he takes a sightseeing tour of Moscow. Proving that the Revolution has left cultural landmarks such as the university and the Bolshoi Theater untouched, the trip ends with a geometrically arranged parade of marching Bolsheviks, making the now convinced Mr. West whole-heartedly embrace Communism and even ask his wife to hang a Lenin portrait on the wall.

Mr. West was the first result of Kuleshov's famous workshop, which experimented with montage and new acting methods. While America was, ideologically, the Soviet Union's antagonist, Kuleshov and his students took the editing techniques as well as the acting style of U.S. adventure and mystical serial films as their model, testifying to the popularity of American genre cinema in Russia at the time. When, at the end of Mr. West, an intertitle mentions Russian children's fascination with cowboys, this popularity is marked as a curious interest in exoticism, thereby reversing the roles and displacing the image of the exotic "other" from the Bolsheviks onto America itself.

Lev Kuleshov

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Lev Vladimirovich Kuleshov was born in 1899 in Tambov, Russia. After his studies at the Moscow School or Art, Kuleshov worked as a set designer for director Evgenii Bauer. Simultaneously with his first features and newsreels in the late 1910s, he started publishing his first theoretical articles on film. Kuleshov is best known for his famous workshop (founded in 1919), a collective that included Boris Barnet and Vsevolod Pudovkin, among others. Due to a shortage of film stock, a number of experiments called "film without film" created the famous "Kuleshov effect," the discovery of the manipulative power of montage regardless of the filmed content. As the pioneer of montage cinema, Kuleshov exerted considerable influence on his students Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin.

1918 The Project of Engineer Prite
1920 On the Red Front
1924 The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks
1925 The Death Ray
1927 By the Law
1927 Your Acquaintance
1929 The Gay Canary
1929 Two-Bul'di-Two
1931 Forty Hearts
1932 The Horizon
1933 The Great Consoler
1934 Theft of Sight
1940 The Siberians
1941 Incident on a Volcano
1942 Youthful Partisans: Kartashova, The Teacher
1944 We from the Urals