Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The Living Corpse (1928-29)

One of the best things about the London Film Festival is their "Treasures from the Archives" section where one has the opportunity to view both rarities and restored prints. This silent was the very first Soviet-German co-production, a prestige endeavour that received little exposure or popularity on release with the imminent attraction of "talkies". The two-hour print shown at the Festival was put together some 20 years ago in Berlin by the Deutsche Kinamathek from various film archives and the original score was found in the Library of Congress. It was little-known in the sixty years before its restoration and has probably been little-seen since, but I am positively delighted to have had the opportunity of viewing it.

Despite its title and the well-known fact that I have more than a passing interest in the horror genre, this was actually a domestic drama based on a Tolstoy play. The lead actor was Vsevolod Pudovkin, best known as one of the greatest Russian directors and film-writers, which in itself makes this movie a fascinating watch. He plays a man who wishes to dissolve his marriage for the noblest of reasons -- he believes his wife loves another and would be happier without him; he is forced into the subterfuge of faking his own death when neither the Church nor the Law offers any easy solutions. He is not prepared to fabricate make-believe adultery and he does not really wish to commit suicide. The story itself was actually something of a potboiler and greatly overextended, but the film itself was so beautifully shot, with dozens of Russian classic montage sequences and so many memorable faces, that it was a rare visual feast. It was also a pleasure hearing the original orchestral score (recorded, not live) rather than the usual tinkly piano accompaniment. This was definitely this year's Festival highlight.
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