During the 1920s, Soviet documentary and fiction films were financed by the State, and their fledgling directors, some barely out of their teens, converted their lives from theater, engineering, painting and journalism to the practice and theory of a revolutionary cinema devoted to showing the achievements and aspirations of the new Socialist society. Their problem was to captivate an enormous, culturally diverse, multi-lingual, semi-literate population in ways that would be emotionally compelling, yet ideologically clear.
The proven ability of movies to achieve this difficult goal inspired Lenin's famous dictum, "For us, cinema is the most important art.," and their stunning innovations recharged world cinema. Editing, or "montage," is the common organizational basis of these films and each of the filmmakers believed the arrangement of shots to be the foundation of film art. Yet these films are extremely diverse in approach, from Esfir Shub's poster-like arrangement of pre-1917 newsreels, to Dziga Vertov's intellectual complexity, to the striking imagery of Sergei M. Eisenstein and Mikhail Kalatozov. Additionally, the influence of D. W. Griffith is apparent in Lev Kuleshov's satiric comedy and tension-filled drama. Each of the eight seminal feature-length films in this remarkable set repays several viewings as a work of art; each is also a fascinating window on issues and attitudes in the world's first Socialist state.
All the films in this set are major works and all are new to DVD. They are Sergei M. Eisenstein's last silent and seldom-seen Old and New (1929), which attempts to bring visual poetry to the collectivization of agriculture; Dziga Vertov's Stride, Soviet! (1926), which transformed a State commission intending to show what the Soviet had done for Moscow into a highly experimental film; Viktor Turin's Turksib (1930), a stirring chronicle of the building of the Turkestan-Siberian railway (a major inspiration to the British and American documentary film movements of the 1930s); Esfir Shub's Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (1927), culled from pre-Soviet Russian newsreels gathered from Europe and America; Boris Barnet's The House on Trubnaya Square (1928), often described as one of the best Soviet silent comedies; Lev Kuleshov's The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924), a stunt-filled comedy, in which a Harold Lloyd-like character comes from America to investigate the barbarous Soviet state only to discover the "real" Russia; along with the same director's By the Law (1926), a tense drama set in Alaska and based upon a short story by Jack London; and Mikhail Kalatozov's Salt for Svanetia (1930), which explores the Caucasus region of Svanetia, a remote, mountainous area where the Ushkul tribe still lives in a stone-age culture.
All the films have original Russian intertitles with English subtitles (which are removable on four of the films), except Turksib and The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty, which have full-screen English intertitles; all have musical scores new for these editions by Robert Israel, Eric Beheim, Alexander Rannie and Zoran Borisavljevic. Special thank you to the Harvard Film Archive for access to several of its original 35mm prints.