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An example of ironic Soviet propagandistic film from the silent era, this film chronicles the adventures of an American, "Mr. West," and his faithful bodyguard and servant Jeddie, as they visit the land of the horrible, evil Bolsheviks. Through various mishaps, Mr. West discovers that the Soviets are actually quite remarkable people, and, by the end of the film, his opinion of them has changed to one of glowing admiration! Written by
Mark Toscano <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This is amazing cinematic evasion that should be taught in film schools in place of Nouvelle Vague. Both assert that life is a movie and performance, but look how cleverly this one does and how early.
Mr. West travels from America to the land of the Bolsheviks, imagine him as a Harold Lloyd type businessman, erratic and wide-eyed, accompanied by a cowboy grunt as his bodyguard. He has been told upon departure that the Bolsheviks are a certain way, chaotic and violent, a turbulent, lawless country, this is rendered as a propagandistic brochure that he keeps with him the whole journey, a set of false - staged - images depicting imaginary enemies.
Soon as he arrives, a plot is set around him. His cowboy strongman almost immediately has been embroiled in an action movie, a western where he hot-headedly shoots guns and chases wagons, but the wrong wagon as it turns out, imaginary enemies and plot. He ends up in prison and is removed from the movie until the finale. No, our guy will have to fend off on his own.
The plot is set up by Russians to exploit his naivety, his utter disconnect with reality fostered by a life lived from images that don't correspond, but the film is careful to assert that none of these Russians is a Bolshevik. The shady group includes an aesthete and swindler, a count and his sultry wife, a one-eyed hunchback, a gang of thieves, chosen to reflect one in the other and all of them together the old days of the decadent Tsarist regime. They set up a movie around him where he is kidnapped by Bolsheviks and has to pay his way out, acting roles, wearing costumes, scripting situations, and no better clue about this that the director of the whole farce is played by Vsevolod Pudovkin.
So once again, false images, staged life that stifles willful action. Mr. West is a pliant puppet in their hands, being swept by illusion.
Oh, Bolsheviks show up in the finale, real Bolsheviks, fair, handsome, resolute, and we may concede that the film has perfectly played out its agitprop value. Bad guys are put behind bars. Mr. West is taken on a tour of the real Bolshevik Russia, worker's university, Bolshoi, factories, everything clean and orderly. He sends word back home that he renounces the falsehoods of capitalism and embraces Lenin. Censors are pleased and everyone's happy.
But Kuleshov was no ordinary talent, even inside this group of very talented makers. I maintain he was the most intelligent of them. He understood the mechanics of film by actually dismantling old films and assembling again for the eye. He was very fond of Hollywood and the West.
So look at the last couple of minutes again. Mr. West is taken to a balcony overseeing a parade of proud Soviet regiments, crowds cheering at the sides. In light of what transpired, what else but staged life and false image?
This is amazing, the pride of a perfectly orchestrated collective performance itself the indictment. But dismantling is not over. He's finally escorted to a radio station, ministry controlled and not arbitrarily named Continuous Waves, where manufactured reality is broadcast.
Pudovkin would use this notion of radio-transmitted reality 10 years later for his first sound film, Dezertir, but himself a staunch communist, would only posit the dialectic across Marxist lines.
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