Georgij Azagarov (?), Aleksandr Volkov (?)

. Scen.: Georgij Azagarov, Aleksandr Volkov. F.: Nikolaj Toporkov. Int.: Ivan Mozžuchin (Mozžuchin, attore cinematografico), Natal’ja Lisenko (Lisenko, attrice), Nikolaj Panov (capo degli studios), Lirskij (Lirskii, attore cinematografico), Iona Talanov, Andrej Brej. Prod.: Iosif Ermol’ev  35mm. L.: 235 m (frammento). D.: 11’ a 18 f/s. Bn

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Kulisy ėkrana is one of those intriguing fragments which suggest a masterpiece and which make one wonder, if the remaining part should be found or not.
We know very little about the film, there are practically no reviews, not a single memoir on the making of this picture. In fact, we do not really know who directed it. The few relatively reliable sources suggest two names – both rather insignificant in Russian pre-revolutionary cinema, and both prominent in the ‘Russian exile’ film history. Georgij Azagarov, who made a career in Germany, is most notable for his last silent film, the now lost prison drama Revolte im Erziehungshaus (Revolt in the Reformatory, 1930). Aleksandr Volkov became one of the leading directors in France, producing such notable extravaganzas as La Maison du mystère (1921), Kean (1924) and Casanova (1927), all three starring Ivan Mozžuchin. Both Azagarov and Volkov were nurtured by Jakov Protazanov, as his actors and assistant directors. And it is indeed Protazanov’s hand one can feel in Kulisy ėkrana: his interest in human psychology, his regard for details, his bitter irony.
Ivan Mozžuchin plays… Ivan Mozžuchin, a renown film star, who’s career comes to an end when he loses his arm in an accident. He is offered a new job as a director, but by this time his wife starts an affair with the head of the studio. The humiliated husband abandons his career and takes to the road. By the time his guilt-driven wife finds him, he is desperate and has spiraled downward, and in the end he commits suicide.
A tangled plot with a tragic ending was characteristic of early Russian cinema. So it may very well be that the complete film was rather conventional. But the only existing reel suggests something entirely different. In this reel Mozžuchin returns to the studio – only to find his dressing-room occupied by a new star. He enters the room and browses through his old photographs. There are no sharp camera angles, no dramatic clashes in this fragment. The narrative is built mostly on close-ups of faces and objects. And Mozžuchin’s acting was never as subtle as here.
There is a remarkable feeling of authenticity. The photographs Mozžuchin is looking at so intently are indeed the stills from his most famous films, Pikovaja Dama (The Queen of Spades, 1916) and Satana likujuščij (Satan Triumphant, 1917). His wife is played by Natal’ja Lisenko, Mozžuchin’s wife in real life, and her character is, naturally, called Natal’ja Lisenko. By 1917 Mozžuchin was no doubt the most popular Russian film star. And he didn’t have the habit of being abandoned by women, it was usually the other way around.
So was this pseudo-autobiographical film a masochistic way of expressing all the issues and uncertainties of the most unstable year in Russian history?

Peter Bagrov

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