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chapayev
(1934)

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chapayev

c h a p a y e v  :   m a k i n g  ]


"Chapayev's an easy film to love"
- Jay Leyda


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chapayev



    cast

    Directed by Sergei Vasiliev and Georgei Vailiev, 1934

  • Boris Babochkin (Chapayev)
  • Boris Blinov (Furmanov)
  • Varvava Myasnikova (Anna)
  • Leonid Kmit (Petka)
  • Illarian Pevtsov (Colonel Borozdin)
  • Vyacheslav Volkov (Yelan)
  • Nikolai Simonov (Zhikharev)
  • Stepan Shkurat (cossack)
  • Boris Chirkov (peasant)



    crew

  • prod co: Lenfilm (USSR)
  • sc:
      Sergei and Georgi Vasiliev, based on a book by Dmitry Furmanov and the writings of Anna Furmanova
  • photo: Alexander Sigayev and A. Ksenofontov
  • art dir: Isaak Makhlis
  • mus: Gavril Popov
  • moscow premiere: 7 November 1934



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    chapayev


    What Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin was in 1925 to Soviet silent cinema, Chapayev became 10 years later to the young Soviet talkie. Potemkin only needed its titles to be translated to make a universal impact; Chapayev's great quality is its characterization, but as this is necessarily heightened by dialogue, the film is a faourite chiefly in its own country.

    Like Potemkin, Chapayev is based upon real events which are altered in detail but remain in essence. Its subject is the character and fate of a civil war hero, Chapayev, who successfully led partisans of the Red Army against Kolchak's White Army in Siberia for a period in 1918 and 1919, before falling in battle. Its main theme is the conflict between the personalities of the peasant Chapayev and the communist commissar assigned from headquarters to advise and help him. The film traces the growth of trust and affection between the two men after their initial clash.

    The commissar himself, Dmitry Furmanov, who was transferred from the detachment before its final battle, wrote of his adventures in a popular novel, altering the names of most of the participants. The book was popular and in 1932 Furmanov's widow suggested it as a film. The Lenfilm studio liked the idea and turned the project over to two young novice directors, Sergei and Georgi Yasiliev.

    The Yasilievs plunged right into Chapayev with enthusiasm. The result was an extraordinary success - a film packed with wit, humour and earthy dialogue. The clash of personalities is as tense and gripping as the clash of the armies; the battles are spectacular, but depicted with clarity.

    The impression given throughout is one of freshness and spontaneity. Yet it had been achieved only with infinite pains. More than two years were taken scripting and shooting. Scenes were written, rewritten and rewritten again.

    Chapayev was chosen for the Revolution anniversary show in November 1934; it was the star again for the fifteenth anniversary of the 'official' birth of Soviet cinema in January 1935, and again one month later at an international film festival in Moscow. Says Jay Leyda in his book Kino:

      'Public, industry and film-makers joined in its praise. It was known that the heads of Government and Army had endorsed it at earlier screenings in the Kremlin.'

    Why did everybody like it so much? Certainly not just because of the official approval.

    Leyda calls it 'an easy film to love'. The characters are recognizable and believable. The heroes show fear as well as courage, weakness as well as strength, folly as well as wisdom; love and gaiety is mixed with sacrifice and suffering. And deep down, the kernel of the story is something that everybody knew was true and important - the need for trust between two good men.

    Some wiseacres have seen in Chapayev an initial victory for the school of socialist realism over the experimental work of Eisenstein, the theorists of montage, and other innovators. But the facts of the case do not fit.

    When Chapayev first appeared Soviet artists were on the eve of a great and long-lasting ideological debate. At the first All-Union Congress of Soviet Wrtiers in the summer of 1934, Maxim Gorky had formulated the idea of 'socialist realism'. He contrasted it with the 'critical realism' of nineteenth century literature which he said, only exposed society's imperfections. 'Socialist realism' he lauded as creative: its chief characteristic was the development of people, to help them achieve wealth and love and life and turn the earth in its entirety into 'the magnificent dwelling place of mankind united in one big family'.

    In other words it is identified by its social and political function. It is not narrow, not a style. Tragedy is acceptable and even the fairy-tale may fit so long as the general tenor is true to human nature and society, and is not pessimistic but helps strengthen confidene and hope for the future. Eisenstein's experiment-laden Battleship Potemkin (1925) or Aleander Nevsky (1938) suit the definition just as well as the more 'realistic' Chapayev.

    In later years the confrontation became bitter and the opposed terms 'socialist realism' and 'formalism' were used as weapons. 'Socialist realism' was an accolade without argument, 'formalism' was the ultimate in sin. Actually, of course, 'realism is no synonym for 'naturalism', and 'formalism' does not mean 'experiment in form' - a sense in which it was often far too casually employed - but 'distortion of reality for the sake of formal experiment'. Whether in art, literature or music such phrases have been the ammunition of controversy in every period and clime - convenient for pundits to veil personal prejudices or whims of taste, for administrators to hide a motive or join a stream.

    Chapayev, as I have said, fits into the principle of 'social realism'. But there never was any conflict between the theoretical school and those who liked Chapayev. The Vasilievs were actually favoured pupils of Eisenstein, who went out of his way to praise the film, greeting it as heralding a 'third period' in Soviet film history, synhesizing the mass film of the first period with the individual, naturalist stage of the second (or sound) period'.


    plot


    In the Russian Civil War of 1918-19, Chapayev is leading a detachment of partisans against Kolchak's White Army. A workers' detachment arrives to augment his forces.

    At first, te relationship between Chapayev and Furmanov, the new commissar sent with the reinforcements, is uneasy. Chapayev fears that his authority is being undermined. Furmanov does not ease the situation by arresting Chapayev's lieutenant for allowing looting, but Chapayev is reconciled when he finds peasant support is won over by the return of their livestrock.

    The day of the battle arrives. Chapayev watches from a hilltop as the White Army officers' detachment advances in parade order, banners flying, drums beating, in a terrifying display. The pasrisans hold their fire, according tp ordrs, but with morale shaken. When the battle is joined the Whites are defeated.

    Quiet days follow. Chapayev's machine-gunner Petka, and his sweetheart Anna, the worker recruit he has trained as a second gunner, seize a moment to rest. But a surprise night attack goes against the partisans. Chapayev, wounded, is helped down a cliff where the last survivors of his forces are massacred trying to swim the river. But Anna has alerted the main Red Army, who turn defeat to victory.

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    cast | crew | making | plot
    soviet posters | books | soviet dvds | soviet videos
    chapayev
    alfred hitchcock | fritz lang | f.w. murnau
    erich von stroheim | wim wenders | robert wiene

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