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IFFR 2011. Soviets in the Dunes (The Red Western "The Thirteen")

Meet me between silent cinema and sound, and between the Soviets and the Americans in this crypto-remake of John Ford’s The Lost Patrol.

 

Come, meet me between silent cinema and sound, and between the Soviets and the Americans, at Mikhail Romm's The Thirteen (1936), a crypto-remake, set in the Afghani desert of the 30s, of John Ford’s The Lost Patrol. A squad traveling home runs out of water and is holed up on a deserted Afghani camp and kept under siege by a roving band of locals, and Romm surprises by having next to no interest in tension (how little water, how few bullets, how many men left) or individuation of the squad to elicit laughter or sympathy (a Soviet trait?).  The poetry is formed in the zeroing in of every poetic-material-compositional detail when it is introduced into the film world: the cascading rivers of sand (Teshigahara stole wholesale for Woman in the Dunes), deep space of the desert siege (one tremendous shot: in foreground a Soviet machinegun nest, in focus deep in the distance a Soviet coward beating a retreat up a dune—the bullets connect the two spaces in the single shot, uniting fore with background as one countryman guns down another), the precious drip of the water, the spiritual emptiness of a soldier playing his guitar to fool the enemy into thinking the Soviets have high morale.  Bullets whittle down our thirteen instantly (no wounds, all killshots), and instead of honoring what is precious to these (remaining, struggling to remain) people, the film is deflected to the surface beauties of remnants of silent montage techniques in striking geometric matte shots of wavy sand lines, the criss-crossing of the frame and the survivor’s camp as a lone gunner runs from one position to another.  A bright, reflective look is given by this film’s form, so intent on steadfastly cutting down and out its humans, extracting them instantly from the world, that the surrounding items and vessels, sand, hunts, guns, buckets, hats, seem to hold stronger in memory than that of any human being.

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Glad you’re continuing to publish on this sidebar. But I’d love to see you step back from the picture and give a critique of the entire endeavor as a whole. You mentioned before that you felt it was weakly-programmed. I’d love to hear more about why (and the whos, whats, wheres and hows too).
Just started “The Red Western” list: http://mubi.com/lists/22923 And submitted some new stuff include “The Thirteen”. New to list is coming soon!
…the surrounding items and vessels, sand, hunts, guns, buckets, hats, seem to hold stronger in memory than that of any human being. Yes, but what a hat! Someone should tip off the Sartorialist for his new “defining sartorial moments from great films” thread.
Truly a hat of the ages. Also the Afghani haircuts. To answer your question Bobby, I didn’t see enough of the program nor know enough about the surrounding history (the films, their history) to make any such attempt, and I hope someone will do that, though the chances are low. Anton: terrific!
nrh
For anyone interested, they’re showing a number of these films at Lincoln Center this month: http://www.filmlinc.com/wrt/onsale/wildeast.html It doesn’t include any real “Red Westerns” (Eastern European movies set in the American West), just Soviet films that use Western iconography. Having seen most of them I highly recommend this and “White Sun of the Desert,” with “The Bodyguard” and “At Home Among Strangers” close behind…

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