Ponderous Stalin-era relic with classic retro-robots. In general, more of historical interest than entertaining
27 June 2019
Theorising that 'free labour' would destroy capitalism, engineer Jim Ripple (S.M. Vecheslov) creates giant mechanical workers. Human workers protest being displaced leading to a confrontation with the military, who try to use the robots as soldiers to supress the uprising. Despite purity of initial intent, Ripple soon breaks with workers (including his father) and becomes a tool of the military-industrial complex, only to be thwarted by the clever and resourceful proletariat. Although where the story occurs is never explicitly stated, resplendent military officers, top-hatted capitalists, glaring neon signs, and bourgeois dance clubs pretty much puts the pin in the USA (or perhaps the USSR's newly fascist neighbour to the west). The message is unsubtle, especially when the workers' protest is put down by gunfire in a scene similar to (but in much smaller scale) the massacre on the Odessa Steps in 'Battleship Potemkin' (1925). 'Loss of Sensation' is quite slow-moving at times, with a lengthy interlude at a nightclub (including a musical number), but the ending is worth waiting for. The robots are classic 1930's mechanical monsters (although they are a bit slow and lumbering to really be seen as a threat). Oddly, the robots are emblazoned with 'RUR' (for 'Ripple's Universal Robots'), despite the fact the story is not based on Karel Capek's famous 1920 play 'R.U.R' (Rossums Universal Robots) but rather the adapted from the Ukrainian novel 'Iron Riot' (1929). The acting is a bit melodramatic (consistent with the thickly laid-on message) but the robot effects are great (in a 'retro' sort of way - the robots could easily be on the cover of a 1930's 'Amazing Stories' magazine), as is the cinematography in general. There is an odd gimmick by which the robots are controlled by sound, which sets up a somewhat delirious scene where Ripple is surrounded by 'dancing' robots, while playing on his saxophone (strangely the scene is not set to sax music but rather to ominous orchestral music). Not many science fiction films were made in the USSR in the '30s (apparently the genre was frowned upon by the Party censors) but 'Loss of Sensation' may have gotten green-lighted because its 'triumph of the workers' message is pure Soviet ideological shtick (interestingly, at least one academic (David Christopher) has hypothesized that the film might be sneakily subversive, with Ripple representing Stalin and the robots representing workers abused under the emasculating cult of the Supreme Soviet). There appears to be a variety of translations and alternative titles on-line (the film is also known as 'RUR: The Robots of Jim Ripl'). I watched a subtitled version on You-tube that was reasonably good although the subtitles had a number of spelling and punctuation errors.
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