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December 1 – December 13

From the Tsars to the Stars:
A Journey Through Russian Fantastik Cinema

Russian cinema has an inspired tradition of genre filmmaking, resulting in a treasure-trove of cult classics that remain sadly unknown to American audiences. Coined in Russia, the term "film fantastika" attempts to describe this body of work, presented here in films made by noteworthy as well as virtually unknown directors.  This series is the first to pay tribute to the many artistic talents of the Russian film industry, honoring their creative innovations and recognizing their influence on the development of the visual effects so ubiquitous in current world cinema.  Russian visual-effects pioneers created stunning visions of man's voyage to outer space more than a decade before Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Ironically, many of these visually astonishing works from Russian cinema did reach Western screens, but they were altered beyond recognition.  At the height of the Cold War enterprising U.S. producers like Roger Corman purchased Russian science fiction films cheaply as assignments for up-and-coming American directors  including Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, and Curtis Harrington, who refashioned the films with newly shot footage to suit Western B-movie sensibilities.

From the Tsars to the Stars features restored and brand-new English subtitled prints of the legendary Russian originals, many of which have never before screened in the U.S.  Film descriptions adapted from program notes by Kent Jones and Robert Skotak.

This series was curated by Alla Verlotsky, Robert Skotak and Dennis Bartok and is presented by Seagull Films, the Film Society of LincolnCenter, and the American Cinematheque in collaboration with Concern Mosfilm, RussianState Archive Gosfilmofond, and M-Film Studio. Generous support is provided by the Russian State Agency for Culture and Cinematography, George Gund III and Iara Lee and Titra California Inc. Special thanks to Brandon Maurice Williams, Gwen Deglise, Robert Dekker, Karen Shakhnazarov, Sergey Lazaruk, Nikolay Borodachev and Mikhail Kosirev. Sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts.


Introduction by John Gianvito, editor of Andrei Tarkovsky: Interviews
December 1 (Friday) 7 pm

Stalker

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
USSR 1979, 35mm, b/w & color, 163 min.
With Aleksandr Kajdanovsky, Alisa Frejndlikh, Anatoli Solonitsyn
Russian with English subtitles

Tarkovsky’s epic film represents the peak of the Russian director’s cinematic career, exemplifying what he called a “poetic, philosophical, and spiritual cinema.” Two disenchanted intellectuals wish to explore the Zone, a mysterious region that centers around a room, said to offer knowledge of one’s most secret desires. As their guide the men hire a stalker whose obsession with the Zone takes on religious and mystical overtones.

December 2 (Saturday) 7 pm

Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor)

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Russia 2004, 35mm, color, 114 min.
With Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Valeri Zolotukhin Russian with English subtitles

Commercial director Bekmambetov goes the Wachowski brothers one better, pulling out action movie stops we never knew existed in this furiously inventive, savvy, pop-culture embedded tale of modern-day Moscow in the midst of a savage war. For hundreds of years the forces of light (the warlocks) and darkness (the vampires) have managed to maintain a wary but relatively peaceful coexistence. When a renegade warlock battles a vampire on his own, he breaks the truce between the rival orders, the first step on the road to total war. Drenched in Gothic atmosphere and techno sleekness, replete with pulse-pounding action and rich with a mythology all its own, Night Watch is altogether mesmerizing. 

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December 2 (Saturday) 9:15 pm

Zero City (Gorod Zero)

Directed by Karen Shakhnazarov
USSR 1988, 35mm, color, 103 min.
With Leonid Filatov, Oleg Basilashvili, Vladimir Menshov
Russian with English subtitles

One of the key films of the Perestroika era, Zero City tells the story of a Moscow engineer named Varakin who arrives in a small town with instructions to change the size of a locally manufactured air-conditioner part. At the company office he is welcomed by a naked secretary and then finds himself sitting down to a lunch where dessert is a cake that strongly resembles his own head, baked by a chef who soon shoots himself. With its images of a burdensome past and an indeterminate future based on both folk tales and more modern forms of absurdism, Shakhnazarov's very funny and poignant film is a true historical touchstone.

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Live Piano Accompaniment
December 3 (Sunday) 7 pm

The Cameraman’s Revenge (Mest kinematograficheskogo operatora)

Directed by Wladaslaw Starewicz
USSR 1912, 35mm, silent, b/w, 12 min.

An early classic about adultery in the insect kingdom from the great animation pioneer: a married beetle is filmed in a compromising situation by a jealous grasshopper; the beetle is later exposed when he takes his (also adulterous) wife to the movies and sees the final results.

Interplanetary Revolution (Mezhplanetnaya revolutsiya)

Directed by Z. Komissarenko, U. Merkulov and N. Hodataevy
USSR 1924, 35mm, silent, b/w, 9 min.

This cartoon spoof of the highly successful Soviet production Aelita: Queen of Mars capitalizes on the feature's popularity, while serving as a mild political corrective. In 1924, the year of Lenin's death, the Communist Party began to distance itself from the "world revolution" doctrine; therefore the notion of the rising Martian proletariat was just past due, and safe to ridicule.

A Spectre Haunts Europe (Prizrakk brodit po Yevrope)

Directed by Vladimir Gardin
USSR 1922, 35mm, silent, b/w, 94 min.
With Zoya Barantsevich, Oleg Frelikh, Vasili Kovrigin

One of the earliest adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death,
A Spectre Haunts Europe is set in an imaginary land where the threat of revolution spurs the Emperor to seek exile in one of the most distant parts of his realm. There he meets Elka, the daughter of a revolutionary who has been banished here due to his confrontational activities. The two fall in love but meet a violent end when the revolutionaries, led by Elka’s father, destroy the palace.

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December 3 (Sunday) 9:15 pm

Cosmic Voyage (Kosmicheskiy reis)

Directed by Vasili Zhuravlev
USSR 1936, 35mm, b/w, silent with music track, 70 min.
With Sergei Komarov, K. Moskalenko, Vassili Gaponenko

This effects-filled story follows Pavel (Komarov, who also appeared in Pudovkin's Deserter and Barnet's Outskirts), a renegade space traveler. Pavel’s voyage to the moon - he's fed up with the restrictions imposed by the "Moscow Institute for Interplanetary Travel" - offers a startlingly realistic technological prophesy. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a seminal space-travel theoretician, served as the production's science consultant (he was also the author of the film's source novel, Outside the Earth) and drew up more than 30 detailed blueprints for the "rocketplane" featured in the film. There may be a rocket named after Stalin, but the film still reeks of anti-doctrinal individualism, doubtlessly accounting for Ukrainian-born Zhuravlev's sporadic post-Cosmic Voyage output.

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December 4 (Monday) 7 pm

Planet of Storms (Planeta Bur)

Directed by Pavel Klushantsev
USSR 1961, 35mm, color, 83 min.
With Vladimir Yemelyanov, Georgi Zhzhyonov, Gennadi Vernov
Russian with English subtitles

Working from a dullish source - a novel by the Soviet sci-fi eminence Aleksandr Kazantsev - director Klushantsev overpowers the party-line dialogue with excellent effects. Upon arrival to Venus, cosmonauts find furious volcanoes and sundry prehistoric beasts (a cackling, swooping pterodactyl is most memorable). Roger Corman re-used Klushantsev's footage in three of his own productions: Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, Queen of Blood (both directed by Curtis Harrington), and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (the directorial debut of Peter Bogdanovich).

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December 4 (Monday) 9 pm

The Amphibian Man (Chelovek-Amfibiya)

Directed by G. Kazansky and V. Chebotaryov
USSR 1961, 35mm, color, 95 min.
With Vladimir Korenev, Anastasiya Vertinskaya, Mikhail Kozakov
Russian with English subtitles

This is one of the most beloved Russian films ever made (65 million admissions in 1962, which would roughly translate into $520,000,000 box office in today's America). The rather tall tale of a handsome, gilled mutant unfolds in an oddly conceived coastal locale among pearl divers, rogues and old salts. Perhaps the ultimate product of the late 50s-early 60s "Thaw," The Amphibian Man surreally brims with Latin song-and-dance numbers and Russian stars in brownface; it has to be seen to be believed.

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December 5 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka (Vechera na khutore bliz Dikanki)

Directed by Aleksandr Rou
USSR 1961, 35mm, color, 69 min.
With Aleksandr Khvylya, Yuri Tavrov, Lyudmila Khityayeva
Russian with English subtitles

A glorious excursion into Technicolor fantasy and a film that remains very true to the spirit of Russian/Ukrainian master Nikolai Gogol, Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka is one of the most beautiful works in the rich strain of Russian cinematic fantasy. The tale of a blacksmith from a darkened village sent on an endless quest on Christmas Eve by his beloved (with a stop along the way for a conference with the devil) has been filmed a few times throughout Russian film history, but never with so much charm and such rich feeling for the satiric, folkloric power of the source material.

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December 5 (Tuesday) 8:30 pm

Ruslan and Ludmila

Directed by Alexandr Ptushko
USSR 1972, 35mm, color, 159 min.
With Valeri Kozinets, Natalya Petrova, Andrei Abrikosov
Russian with English subtitles

Ruslan and Ludmila is quite possibly Ptushko's greatest masterpiece, an epic two-part fantasy packed with surreal, grotesque characters—including a sorcerous midget with a 50-foot beard and a demonic, hunchbacked witch—and jawdropping set pieces such as the midget's shimmering crystal palace, tormented figures chained inside a cavern, and a decapitated giant's head rising up like a statue on Easter Island. Based on a poem by Pushkin, Ptushko's final film as a director follows the epic adventures of Ruslan as he struggles to recover the feisty, resourceful bride kidnapped on their wedding night by the impish sorcerer Tchernomor.

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December 6 (Wednesday) 8:30 pm

Solaris

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
USSR 1972, 35mm, b/w & color, 169 min.
With Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Jüri Järvet
Russian with English subtitles

Undoubtedly one of the most profound and influential "genre" films ever made, Tarkovsky's masterpiece strains the boundaries of sci-fi at every turn. The director doesn't quite bother with futuristic vistas (the film's lone city scene was shot in contemporary Tokyo), concentrating instead on the barren "soulscapes" of the characters. Among the pleasures missing from the recent Hollywood remake are the many mirror-hall ambivalences of the coda and Eduard Artemiev's astonishing score, played on primitive synthesizers.

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December 10 (Sunday) 7 pm

First on the Moon (Pervye na lune)

Directed by Alexei Fedorchenko
Russia 2005, 35mm, b/w & color, 76 min.
With Aleksei Anisimov, Viktoriya Ilyinskaya, Viktor Kotov
Russian with English subtitles

Think Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first on the moon? Well, think again. As Alexei Fedorchenko's unsettling debut film reveals, a Soviet cosmopilot named Ivan Kharlamov actually went there and back in 1938, piloting his experimental and highly secretive craft back to Chile before undertaking an arduous journey across the Pacific, through China and Mongolia, and finally into Mother Russia itself. First on the Moon is a touching expression of an unfettered utopian spirit, a sense of the limitless possibilities of human ingenuity and imagination that characterized many people's vision of the Soviet experiment before its grim realities settled in.

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December 10 (Sunday) 8:30 pm

The Heavens Call (Nebo zovet)

Directed by Mikhail Karyukov and Aleksandr Kozyr
USSR 1959, 35mm, color, 80 min.
With Ivan Pereverzev, Aleksandr Shvorin, Konstantin Bartashevich
Russian with English subtitles

This tale of an aborted Mars expedition (the cosmonauts crash-land
on a nearby asteroid instead) features spectacular "spacescapes" and a prescient visualization of the Earth's orbit cluttered by manmade satellites.   Roger Corman and young Francis Ford Coppola helped themselves to the film's plot and footage for their 1963 opus Battle Beyond the Sun.e.

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December 13 (Wednesday) 9 pm

To the Stars by Hard Ways (Cherez ternii k zvezdam)

Directed by Richard Viktorov
USSR 1981-2001, 35mm, color, 118 min.
With Yelena Metyolkina, Vadim Ledogorov, Uldis Lieldidz
Russian with English subtitles

Boldly going where no man has gone before, the starship Pushkin finds an abandoned vessel filled with the decaying bodies of humanoids and one surviving member of the crew, a gynoid named Niya who seeks the help of earthlings to restore her severely polluted home planet. Unabashedly pitched to to a teenage audience, this delirious space adventure features bionic women, cosmic mercenaries, and the most embarrassing guy-in-a-suit robot to never utter "Danger, Will Robinson." After the fall of the USSR, To the Stars by Hard Ways became a cult hit among the Russian hipster set and in 2001 it was fully restored by the director's son.

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