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This is truly an extraordinary film, even for the Golden age of the Soviet cinema. Documentary footage alone guarantees this film a niche in history (Church of Christ the Savior before its demolition, parade). Kuleshov's masterful montage should surprise no one, since the term "Kuleshov effect" wasn't coined out of thin air. Acting is superb, especially by Khokhlova and Vsevolod Pudovkin, himself at that time only a few years away from directorial fame and immortality. The flaws of the film are minor, and are a norm for the films of the time. The strengths are enormous, and make it a true masterpiece.
The adventures of Mr. West in the land of the Bolsheviks is as bizarre and absurd as its title. Most interesting for us Westerners is the stereotypes portrayed of the Bolsheviks and the Americans themselves. Ignorance is universal, I suppose. All in all, the film is rather funny and Kuleshov's use of the Soviet montage techniques popularised by the period is fascinating for any student or fan of film.
I think that some people have somewhat missed the point about the
"stereotypes" portrayed in this film as it is clearly meant to be very
The social history on view here is wonderful and the humour and action a real eye-opener considering the bad press that Russia has tended to get over the past 100 years. The acting was a delight, especially by the lead "baddy" and the "countess" ... what teeth!
I would heartily recommend this film to everyone, especially when shown with a live accompaniment!
This film, about a series of adventures an american businessman suffers in Soviet Russia, is unusual for the soviet movies of the 1920s: it's a comedy, and it's very funny at that. It also shows a sympathetic view of americans that is rare in films from the Soviet Union.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An entertaining Russian comedy. Mr. West (Porfiri Podobed), an American sporting a giant fur coat and waving an American flag whenever possible, journeys to the Soviet Union along with his cowboy friend (played by director Boris Barnet). Mr. West is afraid of the jealousy, mustaches and general sinister nature of the Bolshviks. When Barnet is arrested (for good reason, as he lassoes a man off his carriage, nearly strangling him to death, and then shoots at him with his gun), Mr. West is left to fend for himself. He is taken in by a group of thieves (led by director Vsevolod Pudovkin, who also co-wrote the screenplay), who pretend to be ex-czarists and sympathetic to Mr. West's capitalistic ways. They, of course, only intend to rob him blind. It's amusing that this film portrays Americans as crazy and naive, but the majority of Russians it depicts are criminals and thieves. Not exactly painting a loving portrait of the motherland either. I don't think this film was meant to be especially mean toward anyone, anyway, as Lev Kuleshov was very enamored with American cinema. I'm sure he saw the irony of depicting a corny American stereotype who was so obsessed with and afraid of Soviet stereotypes ().
In the aristocratic dictionary, the Teutonic word "stereotype" means a
set of characteristics or a fixed idea considered to represent a
particular kind of person and that is a good description of
"Neobychainye Priklyucheniya Mistera Vesta V Strane Bolshevikov"( The
Extraordinary Adventures Of Mr. West In The Land Of The Bolsheviks ),
directed by Herr Lev Kuleshov in the silent year of 1924. At this point
it is not necessary to declare that this German count has a special,
uncontrollable fondness for stereotypes
The film depicts the extraordinary adventures of Mr. West in Moscow. Mr. West is an American tourist with a stereotyped idea of Russians, due to the American press. His innocence and credulity will be taken advantage of by a gang who kidnaps him and then behaves just as he expects Russian barbarians to behave. But thanks to one of his fellow countrymen, Elly and his faithful escort, cowboy Jeddy, Mr West escapes their claws and the true Bolsheviks present a radiant face of the country to their guest.
Herr Lev Kuleshov was one of the most important Russian film directors, a fundamental pioneer who formed in 1920, the Kuleshov workshop, a kind of film experimental lab where he gave classes to directors and actors who would later be famous and indispensable in the soviet film industry. In fact, an important group of those directors participated in this film satire as actors: Herr Vsevolod Pudovkin, Herr Sergei Komarov and Herr Boris Barnet ( these last two directed later important silent comedies during their careers.
In "Neobychainye " Herr Kuleshov merrily uses and abuses stereotypes on both sides of iron curtain; classic iconographies and stereotypes of American capitalists and Russian Bolsheviks. It is very healthy and easy laughing out loud at your capitalist neighbours but it is even better laughing at yourself, with the permission of the communist party, natürlich!!.
This early U.S.R.R. comedy was influenced by the pre-war comedies of Herr Max Linder and André Deed, very famous in Russia at those times, as well as American westerns and European serials, different film genres whose spirit is absorbed and satirized in this mad comedy that includes car chases, a confused but efficient cowboy loose in Moscow and a chaotic gang formed by diverse members.
The film has frantic and funny moments especially during the first half of the film when those stereotypes mentioned before create hilarity with crazy situations, and a display of a kind of harmless Russian sense of humour. The film slows down in pace in the second half when the unavoidable propaganda appears and finally Mr. West is seduced by the Bolsheviks and declares his passion for Lenin after attending a typical military parade at Moscow's Red Square (that was really funny for this stereotyped German count )
And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must resume his decadent and stereotyped Teutonic existence.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of Bolsheviks happens to be the most entertaining Soviet propaganda film I have ever seen (and as a student of Russian Studies, I have seen quite a few Soviet propaganda films). American Mr. West and his trusty companionthe cowboy Jeddiego off to see the land of the Bolsheviks, which they are warned is chaotic and barbaric place. When they arrive, Jeddie is arrested (for lassoing and shooting a man in the fashion of a Clint Eastwood character) and Mr. West is taken in by a group of thieves. What unfolds is quite the tale. Kuleshov was a master of editinghe used editing of shots in order to make them something new, and that is seen in The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of Bolsheviks. For example, the closing scenes of the movie show a series of cutsall quick scenes around Moscow pieced together. Even though Jeddie and Mr. West aren't in all of the scenes, viewers are under the impression that they are because of the way Kuleshov has pieced the cells together. On the propaganda side of things, the film is pretty easy to interpret. Jeddie and Mr. Westas Americans symbolize American ignorance and all that is flawed with Americaand therefore capitalism. The true Bolsheviks in the movie are portrayed as pure and goodshowing that communism and Bolshevism is the true way to go. Mr. West is a highly entertaining movieeven if you are but a simple minded member of the proletariat.
American ignorance based on stereotypes was in 1924 as big as today. As well as Soviet propaganda. Only this is a very good film, in many respects. Lev Kuleshov at his best. Think at the famous Kuleshov Effect and all that staff, you'll find it in this movie. By the way, Kuleshov was known by his friends as openly pro-American and quietly anti-Soviet (not that it would matter; anyway he passed through the great purges of Stalin by keeping low-key). One of the roles (the chief of crocks) was played by Vsevolod Pudovkin (who also co-signed the scenario). A last hint: in the final scene of military parade, you will see for only one instant the figure of Trotsky (as the film was made in 1924, Stalin was not yet in full control).
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Extraordinary Adventure of Mr. West is a satirical film that places its emphasis on the ignorance of Americans towards soviet culture during the time. It would help to brush up on some history to better understand the context of the movie before watching it. The general idea in America at the time was that the Bolsheviks were uncivilized, with no sense of culture. The stereotypes within the film are comedic as they are intended to be. One of the stereotypes of Americans is Jeddy, a cowboy who acts as Mr. West's bodyguard. The rest are the images that depict Bolsheviks as unruly beings. The thieves that Mr. West encounters in the film play on this fear of his to get the best of him and extort him monetarily. After he gets rescued by the Bolshevik police he is better able to explore Soviet Russia and begins to view it in a positive light which allows him to realize that they are not bad people as he once presumed. It ends with a nationalistic finale which was common for the time in which ideology was also pushed for in movies. The film had some undeniable redeeming cinematic qualities as well. This film is very apropos in technique for the time period, specifically before 1928. Kuleshov's experimentalist ideas such as soviet montage were not yet under attack by what would come to be the new powers in cinematic Russia. The film maintains it dignity with its editing style that conveys a complex story in many continuous fragments. One example of this was the fight scene that broke out with Jeddy when he first recognized Ellie, the American girl that was staying in Russia. Others that come to mind are the fast paced part where the thieves scheme starts to unfold. The film was enjoyable to watch and even had me laughing at times.
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