Nemje svideteli (Silent Witnesses)
R: Jevgenij Bauer. B: Aleksandr Voznesenskij. D: Aleksandr Chargonin, Aleksandr Kheruvimov, Dora Chitorina, Viktor Petipa, Elsa Krüger, Andrej Gromov, Pjotr Lopukhin. P: Khanzhonov. RUS 1914
“It is impossible for us to see Silent Witnesses today without some degree of hindsight. For this “upstairs-downstairs” drama of life below stairs shows a world that, unwittingly, stood on the brink of extinction. Fascinating also to compare the figure of the porter with Emil Jannings’ famous doorman over a decade later in The Last Laugh. But the film has an undeniable edge to its portrayal of the upper classes and — is this hindsight? — a marked sympathy for its servant class. It also shows Bauer’s virtuoso visual style at its most ornate, using split-screen and subjective shots, as well as the very architecture of the house, to evoke the social structure that is its subject.
A contemporary review noted: ‘Running through the film is the idea that people have still not shed their prejudices over white skin and blue blood. It is impossible not to single out the weak-willed, characterless whimperer exclusively preoccupied with his own pitiful ‘me’: he sees himself as the only thing of value in the world. The vitality of the idea, challenging bourgeois morality, is highly characteristic of both Russian and foreign dramas, and increases considerably the undoubted value of the film.’ [Silent Witnesses, ed. Tsivian et al, London/Pordenone: 1989]”
“In Silent Witnesses the title characters are the servants of Moscow’s sybaritic high society, but they have an independent life of their own, caring and principled. When one young maid has a mind to the advantages of being a rich man’s lady and, after a half-hearted refusal, acquiesces, she finds her position too insecure to protest against his continuing infidelities. In all of Bauer’s films drunken parties and sexual license are the prerogatives of the rich, who are also vindictive, cruel, and without moral values — but they are also dangerously attractive. In Children of the Age a loving young wife allows an aged roué to seduce her and remains with him even after he has reduced her husband to penury by having him sacked. Her options are open, and furthermore she remains sympathetic, though the peasant audiences of Czarist Russia might well have thought that this brutally unequal society ought to be destroyed forthwith. It would be an overstatement to describe Bauer as subversive, but the society he depicts is wholly unadmirable, mortally sick.”
Ditya bolshogo goroda
(Child of the Big City)
R: Jevgenij Bauer. K: Boris Zaveler. D: Manechka-Mary, Elena Smirnova, Viktor Kravtsovt, Mikhail Salarov, Arsenii Bibikov, Emma Bauer. P: Khanzhonov. RUS 1914
“Bauer’s dramas of social realism include Ditya Bolshogo Goroda (A Child of the Big City) (1914), Nemye Svideteli (Silent Witnesses) (1914), and Leon Drey (1915). Ditya Bolshogo Goroda‘s female protagonist is a young woman whose soul has been tainted by grinding poverty. Orphaned from birth and toiling in a sweatshop, she escapes when a wealthy young man falls in love with her and makes her his mistress. But once his money runs out, she leaves him, spurning his suggestion that they live a modest life together. In the end, she has climbed her way to the top. When her former lover shoots himself on the doorstep of her mansion, she steps over him on her way to a fashionable restaurant, the final shot being a close-up of his body.”
William M. Drew
“For many years, pre-Revolutionary Russian cinema was terra incognita. It was as though cinema in Russia had sprung fully formed and fizzing with socialist fervor from the heads of Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Dziga Vertov and their colleagues. Although the industry was a relatively late starter, the first all-Russian feature film, Sten’ka Razin, dates from 1908 and a rich crop of work emerged from the Tsarist years: over 2000 films, of which nearly 300 survive.
After the Revolution, however, these early movies were suppressed and forgotten (but carefully preserved by the state archive Gosfilmofond). Not until the dying days of the Soviet regime did they come to light again. And when they did, they revealed a previously unknown genius of the cinema – Evgeni Bauer. Bauer’s career as a filmmaker is all the more remarkable in that it lasted a mere four years – from 1913 until his death from pneumonia in June 1917 at the age of 52. In that time he directed over 80 films, of which more than a quarter is currently known to survive. From them it is evident that he possessed an instinctive grasp of the language and mechanics of cinema. Bauer had a sense of cinematic space, an insight into the creative use of light and an audacity in the handling of the camera that set him far ahead of more celebrated innovators of the period such as DW Griffith or Victor Sjöström.”
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