1921-1930Amos Vogel: Film as a Subversive ArtDramaLev KuleshovSilentUSSR

Lev Kuleshov – Po zakonu AKA By the law (1926)

Barbara Wurm, Edition Filmmuseum wrote:
Po zakonu (also know as Dura Lex) was the cheapest film produced in Russia (perhaps even still today); at the same time an absolute masterpiece, the greatness of which stems from its very minimalism. The minimum effort required for the story-development (Kuleshov constantly claimed, he happened upon Jack London’s story “The Unexpected” quite by chance), the minimum number of characters (just three for most of the film), a minimum of inter-titles and lines of dialogue, a minimum of locations; a clearing not far from Moscow (posing as “Alaska”) and a cabin–the perfect setting for a stripped-to-basics chamber play. Even if the juggling of shot composition and length (Kuleshov’s notorious “Americanism”) is not as artistically ambitious as in his previous work, it is still apparent how close-ups dominate inside, whilst outside, in the snowy landscapes and riverscapes, long shots reign, seemingly to the point of halting all movement.

One can label Po zakonu as much an “irrlicht tale” in the “catacombs of exaltation” (Leo Hirsch) as a formalist action film, a Western psychodrama or an experimental study in bigotry. When it comes to taking artistic styles and genre conventions and playing around with them, Kuleshov remains the master. There is as much of the silent Westerns of John Ford as there is Erich von Stroheim’s Greed and Charles Chaplin’s The Gold Rush in Po zakonu.

Aleksandra Khokhlova, Lev Kuleshov’s life partner was by Po zakonu already the “postergirl” of his experimental Actor-Laboratory. The critics–especially the Germans–praised her “courage to be so repulsively ugly” and her “unrestrained will of expression”. Bernard von Brentano, for instance, writes: “Khokhlova is not beautiful. One is even frightened of her upon first glance. However, one soon longs to see her again, having been deeply touched. Thus, she has triumphed over every opposition. Her face is thin and hard. But her eyes shine like her hair. […] If I were a director, I would travel to Moscow and book the actress Khokhlova.”

1.20GB | 1:18:30 | 576×432 | avi


Subtitles:English, German, French – srt

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