Sunday, July 13, 2014
Aleksandr Medvedkin | Schastye (Happiness)
you can’t die without permission
by Douglas Messerli
Aleksandr Medvedkin (writer and director) Schastye (Happiness) / 1934
In part this negative reaction has to do with the intentional crudeness of Medvedkin’s film, with its hand-painted sets and its intentional artifice, particularly in the very funny scenes where the work’s central characters, Khymr and his wife Anna attempt to retrieve their obviously “puppet-like” horse (done up in leopard-like spots) from the roof of their home, the eupeptic and vigorous Anna carrying it down a ladder upon her back. Compared with the far more “realistic” presentations of earlier American films by Keaton and Chaplin, Medvedkin’s work looks simply old-fashioned, as if the director simply couldn’t significantly refine his art, one of the last films of the silent era.
The only ways out, in Medvedkin’s world: the first way is to go it alone or join in temporary league with other loners such as the outcasts, with Foma at their lead, who attempt to steal the granary of the local collective, literally carrying it off, in a wonderful comic sight gag, as if the building have developed human appendages.
The second as does the happily blossoming Anna, to join the collective—in short, to abandon their selfish efforts in support of the greater whole.
Those two alternatives even seem in opposition to the American way of thinking—if we now have a way of thinking. And, as such, further isolates us from the charms of this nearly-lost film. When the movie was first released in 1934, it received little attention and, apparently, the skepticism of Joseph Stalin, whose values had been the brunt of several similar folktales.
Indeed, the first time Khymr and his wife attempt to grow their own crops, a locust-like procession of priests, sheer-clothed nuns, city authorities and others settle upon the independent farmers to take away not only the products of their labors but any monies they might have reaped from their farming attempts—suggesting that, at least in this early form of “collectivism,” those who worked hard were left poorer than the serfs.
Los Angeles, July 13, 2014