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Over the Top and into the Wire: WWI on Film

Sunday, August 17, 2014
5:00 p.m. Arsenal
Alexander Dovzhenko (USSR, 1929)

BAM/PFA Collection Print!
Introduction/Russell Merritt
Live Music/Judith Rosenberg on piano


The self–described "bard of the Ukrainian working class," Alexander Dovzhenko was the most lyric of the great Soviet film directors of the 1920s. His cinema broke entirely with traditional film structure to convey a flow of ideas and emotions, in impressionistic imagery and editing whose rhythms can only be compared to poetry. His masterful film Arsenal uses symbolic juxtaposition, metaphor, pantomime, and even fantasy to pay tribute to the Ukrainian workers and their struggles in Czarist Russia during and immediately after the First World War. Without aiming for character development as we know it, nevertheless Dovzhenko makes the experiences he shows—from the trials of war to the heightened expectation of revolution—incredibly personal, as in skeletal soldiers in a death march silhouetted against a smoky sky, or one soldier's agonizing death by gas. In the film's most famous sequence, Czar Nicholas writes in his diary, "Today I shot a crow," and Dovzhenko cuts to an old peasant collapsing from exhaustion in a field.

• Written by Dovzhenko. Photographed by Danylo Demutsky. With Semyon Svashenko, Nikolai Nademsky, Ambrose Buchma. (75 mins, Silent with Russian and English intertitles, 20 fps, B&W, 35mm, BAM/PFA Collection)