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|Index||13 reviews in total|
In his last silent film, Storm Over Asia, Pudovkin changed direction by
creating a non-Russian plot. Although the film deals with political
situations, it is not about a Soviet worker, farmer or mother-- but about a
Mongolian, and for this Pudovkin received a lot of condemnation by the film
critics of his time.
The chronicle is set in 1918 (at the time of the Civil War) on the Mongolian steppe. The narrative is focused on one character; the brave Mongol hunter Bair. He comes into a precarious situation when his father falls ill, and Bair must go to the town to trade his pelts for food for the family. After a disagreement with a wealthy British trader over the price of his treasured silver fox fur, the hunter is forced to flee into the mountains where he meets up with a group of Red Partisans. After a visually confusing fighting scene with quick shots and unidentifiable participants, the hunter is captured by the British and taken back to the city. Unable to communicate with the British officers, they order Bair to be executed.
At this point the narrative splits and we follow the actions of the officers and the lengthy execution of our protagonist. The officers soon discover that Bair is a descendant of Genghis Khan (by an amulet that Bair chance acquired) and attempt to stop the execution. After the discovery of Bair's ancestry, the British take our protagonist and attempt to set his up as a prince in order to justify their own control and power. After experiencing several awkward moments and being put on display, Bair becomes enraged and destroys the British headquarters. He then flees the town. The climax, his fight, has quick editing and flashes the words "down," "bandits," "thieves" and "robbers" with an image of our protagonist screaming in rebellion. Pudovkin juxtaposes the dramatic and quickly edited scene with a subsequent attack on the Mongolian steppe. The protagonist is on horseback wielding a sword and followed by a great horde of warriors, evoking images of Genghis Khan. The dust and debris of the steppe follows this attack, forming the image of a storm sweeping over the land and attacking the British.
The scenes on the steppe are very significant to the mood of the film. When all is well in the film, the steppe echoes this seemingly peaceful feeling. During the climax, the steppe becomes violent and windy, much like the horde of warriors. These natural shots set the mood for the narrative and reflect the emotions of the protagonist. Pudovkin implements fade-ins and outs. This is one of the earliest films where this cinematic technique has been implemented in a productive way, pertaining to the narrative by signaling a time lapse or location change.
This film is very unique for its time. It is one of the first Russian films with non-Russian characters (all of the Mongolian cast are real Mongolians). It also focuses on political themes that do not glorify Soviets. Many critics at the time of release saw this film as non-Soviet and non-political because it neither deals with Russia nor serves a direct purpose for a propaganda film. Pudovkin's critics were ruthless and alleged that moving away from Soviet themes was going to lead a film crisis. Where films would no longer confront and convey the complex problems of Soviet society. Many also alleged that Pudovkin's endeavor was unattainable and uninteresting for audiences, who just could not grasp the meaning behind the film. There was no purpose for Storm over Asia to serve in the propaganda films of the time. This detachment from the Soviet themes was refreshing for me, so I would infer that it would also be for Russians at the time.
Contrary to what the English guy says (hey, the Brits are the bad guys in this movie, whaddaya expect), this is to my mind the most impressive work of Soviet silent cinema-- an epic with several dazzling sequences of rat-a-tat-tat editing that invite comparison with Gance's Napoleon, as well as a deliberate build to an explosive climax that, in its willingness to delay gratification until almost the breaking point, has the operatic grandeur of something like The Godfather. Highly recommended (in fact, highly recommended before you see less accessible works such as October or Potemkin).
This is an unusual project, deeply polemic like all Soviet cinema of
the period but with the entire 'tyrants and proles' puppet play
relocated to the far eastern steppe; so standing in for the exploited
but spirited with fight peoples are now the indigenous Mongols, but
again trapped between antiquated, superstitious religion and a cruel
ruling elite financed by unethical capitalism. Workers back in Moscow
and Lenigrand were supposed to relate.
Pudovkin is talented in making the equivalence, he intercuts the military aristocrats being pampered and groomed for an occasion with the Buddhist priests being helped in their ceremonial attire to receive them. The meeting of these two oppressors is marked with secret dances made to look chaotic, and Buddhist music made to sound intentionally grating and dissonant.
The mockery continues inside the temple, with the all-knowing, wise high lama revealed to be only a child; he looks apprehensive as everyone accords him the utmost respect. The insidious comments are particularly egregious when viewed in context of what the Buddhist were about to suffer in the hands of the Chinese comrades and how much of that elaborate spiritual culture was trampled under the mass-suicide of Mao's agricultural reforms.
Most of it flows by without much incident; vast dusty landscapes, petty human cruelties. Wars, and counterwars. The plot is eventually about a humble Mongol fur trapper being mistaken for the heir of Genghis Khan and groomed by the military to be the puppet ruler of a new nation.
Pudovkin was never quite an Eisenstein or Dovzhenko; he could concentrate his films into a motion as pervasive as they did, but couldn't sustain for as long. So we get bumpy stretches across otherwise pleasant vistas.
But then we have the ending, absolutely one of the finest pieces of silent cinema. It is a karmic hurricane of splintered image; motion that begins indoors with a fight is eventually transferred outside and escalates in a revolutionary apocalypse of stunning violence that scatters an entire army across the steppe like dead leaves. Trees, dust, crops, dirt - all rushing before the camera like Pudovkin's montage is so frenzied and powerful it threatens to rip apart the very fabric of the world.
Watch the film just so you get to this part, then watch side by side with Kuleshov's By the Law for the haunting aftermath of the apocalypse that begins here, and Zemlya for how it's endured. The call is, as usual, for revolution, but we can use it now in all three films as a broader metaphor about the effort to release the energies of the soul, about a metaphysical breakthrough.
Watch like you were having your soul trained for this breakthrough.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Let me say this first: if you're willing to overlook the political
message of the film and, instead, concentrate solely on its artistic
qualities, you'll be more than satisfied.
It has some of the most magnificent montage editing I've ever seen--quick and frenetic--and shows off the vast, open landscape quite well. There are a couple particularly memorable examples. At one point, a mountain rebel is on his deathbed; the film cuts between him dying and a sun low on the horizon, to touching effect. Later, a soldier executes an unarmed prisoner and feels some remorse as a shot of dirty, viscous mud is inserted, suggestive of the "muddy" morality here. And (spoiler) no audience could ever forget the climactic end of the film, with the protagonist going berserk and leading a small army against the government troops: wind blowing, knocking trees and soldiers over, while the rebels charge headlong. There are two storms in this last scene. A meteorological one, and a figurative, violent one.
In short, Intelligent film-making with splendid cinematography and Soviet editing. (Even some canted frames, which I'd call innovative for such an early film.) Sure, the propaganda is conspicuous, but who cares? The techniques, the shots, are absolutely beautiful.
Mongolia always had a certain appeal to me. If China and Russia were to
have a baby, it would look like Mongolia. It's such an intriguing and
beautiful looking place, with a nice and long culture, that we all yet
know so little about. It always has served as a great backdrop for
The movie also focuses a lot on the Mongalian cultures, which also definitely makes this one of the least propaganda filled Russian movies of its period. because most movies were financed- and needed to be approved by the Communist party, who would of course often were making certain demands. I don't know what was the story behind this movie but my guess is it was pretty much the same.
The backdrop and cultural themes within this movie make sure that it is a beautiful shot one to watch, with of course also some typical Russian fast editing, especially during the action sequences.
And the movie does have some good action in it, although the movie is not halve as epic or action filled as its title would suggest, though in the end the movie still starts to show some epic properties, although this is mostly serves a purpose for the movie its symbolism. The ending is by the way quite solid and a rather unforgettable one. In essence the movie for some reason more reminded me of "Lawrence of Arabia", that was also more political and well layered, with different themes and culture-clashes in it, just as this movie is. Also both stories show definitely some similarities. I especially loved the political games within this movie, toward the ending. "Potomok Chingis-Khana" has really got a solid story!
The movie was very well cast. All of the actors seemed to fill the roles right and strongly and had the right required looks for it, which was perhaps the most important aspect in '20's silent-movie casting.
A great watch, also for especially those who like Russian cinema from the '20's but were never fond of the Comministic aspects and themes in it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Note: this is a "review" of the Kino International VHS version, which
128m and has a new score by the Olympia Chamber Orchestra.)
Unlike "October 1917" or "The Battleship Potemkin", which are about revolutions in European Russia, "Storm Over Asia" concerns itself with the British occupation of Southeastern Siberia and Northern Tibet during the Russian Civil War (1917-22.) The plot is one of mistaken identity: a simple Mongolian hunter is mistakenly found to be the direct decendant of Jengis Khan by the British occupiers, and groomed to become their puppet king of Siberia. What I find interesting is that, while the protagonist becomes a member of a Bolshevik cadre fighting the British, he does not become a flaming Leninist. He fights the British because they cheated him in a crucial business transaction; i.e. selling a very valuable pelt for food money. The ideas of dynastic succesion, Buddhist reincarnation, fur monopolies, and the British running the Far East are skewered brilliantly just by the visuals of each, especially the scene where the occupying general visits the Lama. What I really liked was the new sound track, which uses Tibetan instruments, sound effects, an a driving music score effectively, especally at the end.
"Storm Over Asia" is a well made film. As other reviewers have pointed
out, the film expertly uses film editing to make a very modern style
film for 1928. It is really artistic and worth seeing--though there are
also some serious lulls in the film that could have been tightened up a
bit. However, that being said, the film is very obvious propaganda by
the new Soviet government--and it sure isn't subtle about it.
A Mongol goes to town to sell a very valuable silver fox skin to the evil capitalists. Naturally, being evil (and fat) capitalists, they cheat the simple Mongolian man BUT they have a surprise--he won't just stand there and accept this maltreatment. He attacks the bad white men and flees to the hills--and eventually becomes a member of the communist partisans in the Russian Revolution. At this point, the film seems to drop this plot and A LOT of footage of Mongolian Buddhists is shown--including their costumes, dances and the like. At first, it seems like a nice bit of footage about these people but eventually you realize that the film is meant to mock Buddhist beliefs about the reincarnated Lama. Then, the communist forces attack--trying to kill off the evil forces of counter-revolution and international capitalism. Well what about our Mongolian hero? Where does he come into all this? See the film and find out for yourself--and you'll probably be quite surprised where the film goes next.
From an artistic point of view, the film is pretty good. The ending is also quite rousing. But as propaganda, it's very heavy-handed and not nearly as convincing or realistic as the much more famous film, "Potemkin" (also called "Battleship Potemkin"). I do understand that the new Soviet government was attempting to legitimize itself and drum up support by this film, but it just seemed to take the wrong approach as it lacked subtlety. As another reviewer pointed out, the villains in this film are just caricatures.
By the way, IMDb lists the film at 82 minutes. The DVD I watched clocks in at 125 minutes!! Is IMDb wrong or are there multiple versions and I just saw a longer one?
"Possess your soul in patience!" my grandmother used to chide me until I could settle down and get with whatever new experience I was about to endure--and learn from. Today's viewer will need to do the same to get with the unusual rhythms of this amazing saga--with the mediocre print, with a narrative that at first seems scattered, and with a culture totally different from much of anything encountered today. But it is worth it, and by the end, you may be totally mesmerized by the quiet force of a man who inadvertently becomes a hero, by powerful film editing from Podovkin that steadily reaches a stunning conclusion, and, if you allow yourself to immerse yourself in Mongolia in the early part of the last century, an experience unlike anything in modern film.
I loved this movie - it takes a good silent film to keep me glued to
the screen, many Silents have huge amounts of frenetic studio-bound
talking heads, but of course we have to wait for the titles to see what
has just been said.
Other reviewers have laid the premise of this one but as a Russian film lover and trying anything I come across (this DVD, just £3!!) and expecting propaganda and heavy symbolism, I had a tour de force of both Mongolian and Buddhist life, but far from being a National Geographic documentary, this had real passionate pizazz and incredible, often beautiful locations, with long-lost ancient rituals and occasions coming alive on the screen.
I think it unfair to criticise and thus mark down a film because of the style and way it was made, at the time - this is 1928, the film stock and prints has degraded and the technical aspects made for slightly sped-up and jaunty action, whilst almost all the huge casts would have been local amateurs.
However, what made it for me was the music - brilliantly (and I believe, the original choice overseen by the director just before his death, in the 50s) - the crisp stereo really prickling the senses and the variety - from strident symphonies to traditional music from the locations in the film, all perfectly matched to the action. So, when some of the strangest looking tube-like horns get blown by long bearded Mongolians, we get a strange sounding instrument, not an artificially contrived one. This might sound a minor point but for me, from the outset, it really put me in the mood and set me up for the duration.
So - whilst many of the rather turgid Silent dramas are rather hard work and there's a sense of relief when they finally end, this was pure pleasure all the way through. Put to one side any preconceived notions about communist regimes and heavy Soviet symbolism and enjoy this much lighter and enjoyable classic. (It IS critically considered a Classic, actually and not just my say so or opinion)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've read about this film for years, and seeing it once is enough. It's like many D.W.Griffith films in that respect -- renowned for some aspect of editing or framing, but dull in the narrative. Individual shots in "Storm" are impressive, particularly landscapes and shots of men against landscapes. But the story and the politics are good for just a snort of laughter (as just one example, the British are shown seizing the peasants' cattle while, at the time of the film's release, Stalin was doing the same thing to the kulaks.) And some of Pudovkin's montage technique is primitive. Every time he returns to the big battle (which goes on as the British bigwigs are visiting a Buddhist shrine) he repeats the same two images of cattle charging to the right and the left. When the viewer can accurately predict what a director is about to put on the screen, it's monotonous. As are the politics...."Capitalists baaaaad!! Peasants gooooood!!!"
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