East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Canonball #987: The General Line

USSR, 1929
Starring Marfa Lapkina, Vasili Buzenkov
Written and directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov
  1. The first mechanical cream separator was devised by Swede C.G. de Laval around 1880. Such a machine feeds whole milk into a bowl rotating at a hundred or more revs per second. The skim milk, being heavier, is spun to the outside, while the cream remains in the centre. The pressure then forces the skim milk and cream into separate containers.
  2. Shooting for The General Line began in 1926; delayed by a break to make October, the movie was ready for release in early 1929, but this was postponed, as Stalin was unsatisfied by the ending -- his exact objections are unknown, but they appear to have been minor compared to later censorship demands. Rejigged, and retitled Old and New, the film finally came out in October 1929; within weeks, its individualist attitude to collectivisation -- that joining a co-op was a choice one should make for one's own enrichment -- was revealed as naive by the new state policy of forced collectivisation. Lacking the historical drama of his previous features, The General Line was too episodic to be effective as propaganda, and perhaps isn't as artistically effective either. Still, his montage is superb as usual, particularly during a bovine wedding leading into a mating, which at the last moment cuts away to a waterfall -- perhaps the first occurrence of that particular trope.
  3. Perhaps Eisenstein made his big move towards individualism because in Marfa Lapkina, he finally had a performer who not only could keep his attention for more than four seconds, but deserved to have her whole body on screen. Lapkina doesn't have the saucer eyes or the ethereality of most silent stars; she's earthy enough to drive the action, convincing her fellow peasants that collectivisation is the path to the acquisition of technology, and thus prosperity. You remember the cream separator, but you really remember the grin on her face as, after so many cuts, the machine spurts liquid. Oh, for the days when cream on a woman's face signified rustic good nature -- not that I'm sure that was the case in 1929.
Trivia note: Lapkina didn't get to see the movie until 1978.


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