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LUBOV ORLOVA, FIRST LADY OF SOVIET CINEMA
"Fascinating for their marriage of Hollywood style and Stalinist propaganda" -Chicago Reader
Soviet cinema of the 1930's produced many masterpieces, but not only the classics well known in the West. A great body of amusing and entertaining popular genres were ordered to be made by Stalin to uplift the spirits of workers and peasants and mobilizing them to build a bright Communist future. The man responsible for creating Stalin's musical extravaganza movies, those to replicate Hollywood, was Grigoriy Aleksandrov. A young film director/script writer who after co-directing October with Eisenstein was sent to Hollywood for three years to study and work, Aleksandrov returned to Moscow but found himself under the spell of Hollywood. One of Aleksandrov's deepest secrets was his passion and fascination with Greta Garbo. Stalin and history gave the director an unmistakable chance to recreate Hollywood and even his beloved Greta Garbo by finding Lubov Orlova, the most glamorous actress of Soviet cinema at that time, which he not only made her his leading lady but later his wife. Lubov Orlova possessed incredibly bright eyes, shining white teeth, blond hair and high cheekbones, just like Garbo. She had the perfect figure of the professional dancer, could sing and captivated the entire country by attaining popularity while breaking all boxoffice records toward the end of the 1930's. Escapist in nature but also heavily ideological, Aleksandrov's musicals allowed Lubov Orlova's characters to shed their proletarian rags and triumph in all their unprecedented sophistication on a brightly lit stage to celebrate beauty, youth, elegance and unmistakably dazzling entertainment, Hollywood style.
Co-presented by Seagull Films and the Film Society of Lincoln Center in association with Mosfilm Studio. Curated by Richard Pena, produced by Alla Verlotsky. Program notes written by Dina Iordanova.
In The Circus, Lubov Orlova came to occupy the spotlight, with her full glamour revealed. Here she plays Marion Dixon, a blond American entertainer/bombshell who becomes a victim of US racism after giving birth to a black baby and is forced to flee into exile. In a prologue, Marion is shown being chased and barely escaping a crowd of angry American white men who want to lynch her and her newly born black love child. A year later Marion Dixon arrives in Moscow as a member of a travelling circus company run by a German manager, von Kneischitz. While in Moscow, she falls in love with a Soviet gymnast and starts thinking of leaving the circus and settling in the USSR. Von Kneischitz, however, is not thrilled by the idea of losing the main attraction of his show, so he threatens to disclose the existence of Marion's black child, which will supposedly immediately put off the new lover. After a confrontation between the German and the Russian all is happily resolved. Marion's "dirty secret" is revealed, and rather then shunned, her black son is embraced by the friendly members of the Soviet audience who even begin singing a lullaby for him. The Circus featured impressive choreography and some of the most popular Soviet songs of all times.
Directed by Grigori Aleksandrov, Soviet Union, 1936, 35mm, 94 mins. In Russian with English subtitles.
Fri., Feb. 13 at 7 & 9 pm
Sat., Feb. 14 at 7 & 9 pm
THE JOLLY FELLOWS or MOSCOW LAUGHS (VESYOLYE REBYATA)
"The film bursts with vitality and is sometimes uproariously side-splitting" -New York Times
"Many movies tried to copy the crazed farce of the early Marx Brothers comedies... but The Jolly Fellows (1934) is the only one I’ve seen that approaches the Marxes’ delirious, full-throttle anarchy" -Chicago Reader
The first Aleksandrov's musical comedy in which Lubov Orlova starred was The Jolly Fellows where she was relegated a secondary albeit important role. The lead is vaudeville actor, Leonid Utyosov, appearing as a Crimean shepherd who is mistaken for a famous musician. The Jolly Fellows is a comedy of errors, commencing at a Black Sea spa frequented by leisure-class Muscovites enchanted by a carefree rustic ambiance. The peasant Kostya (Utyosov) in a sheepskin hat plays his panpipe, sings and dances joyously alongside friendly animals and cheerful villagers. A series of mix-ups takes Kostya to the capital where, again by mistake, he ends up on stage of the state musical theatre and delivers a brilliant performance in the new stage show. Here, Orlova is the clumsy Anyuta, Kostya's side-kick who, once in Moscow, is miraculously transformed and triumphantly marches on stage, singing the memorable Dunayevsky melody, the upbeat "Jolly Fellows", in front of raving audiences.
Directed by Directed by Grigori Aleksandrov, Soviet Union, 1934, 35mm, 96 mins. In Russian with English subtitles.
Sat., Feb. 14 at 3 & 5 pm
Sun., Feb. 15 at 7 & 9 pm
Volga-Volga was Joseph Stalin's favorite film ever. He used to project it many times in the dark room of Kremlin just for himself while fighting his famous chronicle insomnia. Stalin was so fond of this film that in 1942, he even sent a copy to President American president Franklin Roosevelt. This musical extravaganza starred Orlova as a provincial mail woman rising to stardom in a film that was made at the height of Stalinist repression; some of the people who worked on it were purged, and their contribution was never credited. Like The Jolly Fellows, Volga-Volga is also a rags-to-riches story, with Orlova cast as the cheerleading letter carrier "Strelka" Petrova, an amateur performer from a small town who undertakes the great journey up the Volga and, on the way, overcomes various obstacles to finally reach the capital and successfully confront, challenge and overtake the high-brow bureaucrats who are trying to suppress the popular amateur theater. Volga-Volga is a prime example of exhilarating Soviet propaganda and remains very entertaining and quite amusing.
Directed by Grigori Aleksandrov, Soviet Union, 1938, 35mm, 106 mins. In Russian with English subtitles.
Sun., Feb. 15 at 3 & 5 pm
THE SHINING PATH (SVETLYI PUT)
"Fascinating...holds up extremely well" -Chicago Tribune
Shining Path is seen as the epitome of Stalinist glorification. It is yet another socialist Cinderella-type plot: Tanya Morozova (Orlova) is a simple weaver in a textile factory located near Moscow; she becomes a shock worker and ends up in Kremlin where she is awarded the highest Soviet medal, the Order of Lenin; she is then sent by the comrades to train as an engineer; at the top of her ascent she is elected a member of the Supreme Soviet. By the time of Shining Path, Orlova was clearly established as the ultimate glamour star of Soviet cinema. Her first biography was also published around that time. At the same time, however, a new kind of popular musical/comedy was gaining popularity, mostly made by director Ivan Pyryev and with a new star, Marina Ladynina. Ladynina's rise barely threatened Orlova's established position; moreover the two actresses differed significantly from each other. Yet, it was Ladynina's turn to step into the limelight of Soviet musical comedy.
Directed by Grigori Aleksandrov, Soviet Union, 1940, 35mm, 102 mins. In Russian with English subtitles.
Mon., Feb. 16 at 7 & 9 pm
Best Original Screenplay NOMINATED
Golden Lion Venice Film Fest
After the war, now over 40, Lubov Orlova was unable to perform her musical and dance numbers the way she did them before. So now a very important task for Aleksandrov was to reinvent his leading lady while maintaining her captivating charm, charisma and elegance. In 1947 Orlova starred in the romantic comedy Spring alongside the titan of Soviet cinema, Nikolai Cherkassov (best-known for the roles of Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible in Eisenstein's masterpieces). Orlova plays a double role: on the one hand she is a scientist Irina Nikitina, and on the other, the actress Vera Shatrova, who is supposed to play a character prototyped after Nikitina. Spring revolves around endless quid-pro-quos and moves in luxurious interiors far from the drab post-war Soviet reality.
Directed by Grigori Aleksandrov, Soviet Union, 1947, 35mm, 104 mins. In Russian with English subtitles.