The Bolshevik Trilogy
Vsevolod Pudovkin was a contemporary of Sergei Eisenstein but, while the latter’s list of notable films continues well into the sound era, Pudovkin’s legacy consists almost entire of the three consecutive works he produced from 1926 to 1928, collected in an essential new Flicker Alley Blu-ray under the grouping “The Bolshevik Trilogy.” Pudovkin actually continued directing for years after Eisenstein did (owing to having lived longer) but these three films – Mother, The End of St. Petersburg and Storm over Asia – are more than enough on their own to argue that his talents are no less worthy of consideration and praise.

The Bolshevik trilogy is undeniable propaganda but it also feels truly passionate, making it all the more persuasive. Part of Pudovkin’s talent lies in his ability to position individual characters as both audience surrogates and instructors by example.

2xBD50 | 1080p AVC | 291 min | 40 Gb + 36 Gb
Language: Russian or English intertitles
Subtitles: English
Genre: Drama

Pudovkin’s debut film, Mother, is perhaps the greatest illustration of his application of montage. Like Eisenstein’s Strike, released a year before in 1925, Mother tells the story of a factory workers’ strike, but much of the film’s first half plays out through the perspective of a single family: the son (Nikolay Batalov) who's swept up in the workers' movement; the father (Aleksandr Chistyakov) who’s recruited by the ultra-nationalist group, the Black Hundreds, to help violently shutdown the factory strike; and the mother (Vera Baranovskaya) whose initial worries about her son’s revolutionary acts eventually turn to sympathy for the cause.

Like Mother, The End of St. Petersburg filters the historical and the political through the hardships of an unnamed peasant (Aleksandr Chistyakov). And the man’s journey from the countryside to a factory in the titular city and then to the battlefield anchors the sweeping revolutionary history of 1917 Russia through a single perspective, at once unique and representative of the experiences of many thousands of others at the time.
The clash of ideologies is made even more glaringly apparent here than in Mother, as images of chaos at the stock market and of greedy traders and businessmen are repeatedly juxtaposed with shots of people struggling to survive in the countryside and workers suffering through long work days and the senseless violence of war, which is shown to benefit only the war profiteers.

Storm over Asia (1928), at nearly an hour longer than The End of St. Petersburg, is the most stodgy of the trilogy. But when it gets going, Pudovkin’s talent for capturing mass movements of frenzied violence still sears the brain. One upside to Storm over Asia‘s expanded running time is that there’s more room for moral complexity. That is, to the the extent that propaganda can allow for such a thing at all. Mother and The End of St. Petersburg mince no words about which characters are on the right side and which deserve to be crushed. In this tale of a Mongolian trader bilked by greedy capitalists who then joins the Soviet partisans fighting against the British army, there are some Brits (read: bad guys) who actually display some measure of sympathy. Meanwhile, Pudovkin addresses race, a subject left out of the previous two films, in ways that may be just as problematic and othering as the actions of the British that the film condemns. It’s all very interesting but far less immediately compelling. Until, that is, the triumphant finale in which Pudovkin uses bold and assured editing (including a scene in which he cuts back and forth between the image and intertitle, seemingly frame by frame, approaching the look of a superimposition) to suggest that revolution is not just an act of the people but of nature itself. Like all three entries in the Bolshevik trilogy, Storm over Asia may make you want to take up arms yourself and overthrow the bloated status quo.


Disc 1:

• Audio Commentary on Mother by Russian film historian Peter Bagrov

• Amateur Images of St. Petersburg (HD, 1:33) showcases classic film reels from the land of St. Petersburg. Despite what the title of the supplement implies, this is not simply a slide-show of photographic images. Rather, the short reels showcase the city in motion.

• Notebooks of a Tourist Present: St. Petersburg (c. 1920) (HD, 1:44) is a short but impressive video which showcases the landscape surrounding the area. One could almost think of it as an early travel video highlighting some of the destinations.

• A Revolution in Five Movies (HD, 9:18) is a compelling visual essay created by filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin. The short showcases the five editing techniques explored in the Bolshevik revolution.

Disc 2:

• Audio Commentary on Storm over Asia by film historian and scholar Jan-Christopher Horak

• Chess Fever (HD, 20:00) is a classic 1925 short film by Vsevolod Pudovkin. The directorial debut of Pudovkin, the short centers upon the world of chess and featuring a number of prominent players in Chess circa 1925. Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.

• Five Principles of Editing (HD, 6:00) is an interesting visual comparison of Pudovkin's five editing techniques found in the The Bolshevik Trilogy feature films.