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Monday, February 1, 2010

ARSENAL (1928)

ARSENAL is the ‘other’ masterpiece from Alexander Dovzhenko, the great Soviet/Ukrainian filmmaker best known for EARTH/’30. The film opens with a series of vivid, seemingly disconnected scenes portraying the miserable conditions at home & at the front as Russia’s involvement in WWI grows intolerable. These bleak scenes are followed by the chaos of Civil War as splintered factions of Ukrainian Nationals fight against the swelling tide of Bolsheviks. (The film was, of course, made in Stalinist days so the Bolshie's are the victims, natch.) You’ve got to be up on your uniforms to keep your partisans straight and even if you do, there’s still Dovzhenko’s nonlinear narrative style, along with the occasional talking horse, to deal with. Fortunately, the Image DVD edition has an excellent secondary audio track where Dovzhenko expert Vance Kepler, Jr clears things up for us without getting in the way or over-masticating Dovzhenko’s style & technique. And it’s worth a bit of effort as Dovzhenko’s unique visual & storytelling gifts become self-evident once you’ve primed the information pipe. The use of space and composition rival Fritz Lang in his UFA glory days and the classic Soviet montage episodes can sear themselves on your brain.

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