Rare screening of Kuleshov's The Death Ray at Light Industry, introduced by Keith Sanborn (9/8)

From: Thomas Beard (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Sep 04 2009 - 05:48:03 PDT

Light Industry
220 36th Street, 5th Floor
Brooklyn, New York

The Death Ray
Lev Kuleshov (1925)
Tuesday, September 8, 2009 at 7:30pm
Introduced by Keith Sanborn

Lev Vladimirovich Kuleshov is the Janus Face of early Russian Cinema. Having
begun his career under the tutelage of Evgenii Bauer, Kuleshov became one of
the few Russian Filmmakers to remain in the country after the 1917
Revolution. He became a leading theorist and teacher of cinema in the early
Soviet period. His theory of editing, which rests on notions such as
³creative geography² and what has come to be called ³the Kuleshov effect²
remains a cornerstone of film editing. His theoretical understanding of
montage was strongly critiqued by his student Eisenstein as ³brick by brick²
instead of ³the collision of the shots² preferred by Eisenstein. Vertov
attacked Kuleshov for remaining tied to film drama, ³the opium of the
masses.² Both Vertov and Eisenstein singled out The Death Ray for attack in
print, nor does it seem to have been particularly popular with Soviet
audiences of the period.

The Death Ray was Kuleshov¹s second feature length project; he had
previously directed several newsreels and short fiction films as well as the
justly celebrated Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924). The Death
Ray is an attempt to turn cartoonlike American adventure, science fiction
and detective films to propagandistic purposes. It features a secret
laboratory, secret passage ways, secret codes, secret compartments, labor
unrest, car and airplane chases, as well as a mysterious American ³fascist²
organization, a lady sharpshooter (played by Khokhlova, Kuleshov¹s wife) who
travels back and forth between Russia and ³the West,² a mysterious American
Revolutionary named Lamm (who also travels back forth between Russia and the
West), and of course the Death Ray itself. It is said, that in the Soviet
Union, the film was seen as not propagandistic enough. Perhaps. In any case,
it reveals the profound influence of contemporary American cinema on the
early Soviet period and the aggressive attempt to create a Soviet reading of
the essentials of the genres dominating American Cinema at the time.

The Death Ray has been, at best, infrequently screened in the United States.
I could find only one record of a screening in the 1970s at the PFA, who
holds a 35mm print with Russian subtitles. I had never seen the film, nor
had anyone I asked, until I came across what seems to be a PAL vhs dub
digitized at moderate resolution and posted online, but without English
subtitles. The film will be presented this evening with English subtitles
(my translation) superimposed on the original Russian intertitles. My
translation diverges slightly from the translation of the subtitles held by
the PFA. A final note: since the climactic final reel is missing from all
known prints, we will see the death ray device only briefly in action. - KS

Keith Sanborn is a media artist, theorist, and translator based in New York.
He teaches at Princeton University and Bard College, and has translated into
English the work of Guy Debord, René Viénet, Gil Wolman, Georges Bataille,
and Napoleon.

Tickets - $7, available at door.

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.