The Childhood of Maxim Gorky (Hyperkino Edition) DVD
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Directed by Mark Donskoi
Produced in 1938
Main Language - Russian
This first part of Mark Donskoi's 'Gorky Trilogy' is a masterpiece of latent Socialist Realism that owes as much to John Ford and Jean Renoir as Soviet apologists, says David Parkinson.
Launching the trilogy that would be completed by My Apprenticeship and My Universities, Mark Donskoi’s The Childhood of Maxim Gorky, adapted from the great Russian writer’s autobiography, is a masterpiece of latent Socialist Realism that owes as much to Hollywood mythologisers like John Ford and French humanists like Jean Renoir as Soviet apologists. Thus, this is an idealised reconstruction of the environment that shaped the author’s personality and talent rather than a portrait of the young artist as a prototype Bolshevik.
Strikingly photographed by Pyotr Yermolov, it may not always be dramatically subtle or technically ambitious. The performances are also sometimes overwrought and Lev Shvarts's score leaves viewers little room for emotional manoeuvre. But Ilya Gruzdev's screenplay and Donskoi's direction remain true to the spirit of Gorky's autobiography, while Ivan Stepanov's interiors evocatively capture the grinding harshness of both domestic and industrial existence. Furthermore, it tackles themes and traits with the same compassionate universality that would characterise Gorky's writing.
The pervading melancholic mood is deftly established during the party thrown by Nizhni-Novgorod dye factory owner Vasili for his widowed daughter Varvara and her young son Aleksei. Indeed, such is the envious reception afforded by his uncles that Aleksei seeks the companionship of workers like Grigori and Ivan as well as such outsiders as Lenka, a disabled boy who keeps insects as pets.
Life changes for the family when the factory burns down and Aleksei comes to experience cruelty and violence. But what leaves a greater impression on his questing mind is the nobility of the proletariat, who suffer the indignities and injustices of exploitation with an indomitability that Donskoi suggests is shared by his contemporary audience. Consequently, it's a sense of common humanity that Aleksei takes with him as he leaves home to seek his fortune.
Moreover, this loving recreation of 1870s rural Russia also emphasises the essential decency of folk whose failings derive from the oppressive tsarist system under which they toil rather than from their own inherent flaws. Thus, this is an idealised reconstruction of the environment that helped shape the future author's personality and talent rather than a portrait of the young artist as a prototype Bolshevik.
David Parkinson on 15th May 2012
Author of 191 reviews
The first part of Donskoi's Gorky Trilogy, followed by 'My Apprenticeship' and 'My Universities', The Childhood of Maxim Gorky saw Donskoi rise to the top rank of world filmmakers. Set more than forty years before the Revolution, this vibrant film tells the story of Aleksei Peshkov, the 12 year-old boy who would later be known as Maxim Gorky, one of Russia's most celebrated novelists.
The film is presented as a 2-disc 'hyperkino edition'. Disc 1 contains the standard film in the best available print, with optional subtitles. Disc 2 contains the film, plus numerous scene-specific annotations, video clips and documents (in Russian and in English). These can be viewed on screen, contextualising the film and enhancing the viewer’s understanding. This innovative format works extremely well and is one of the most exciting developments in DVD for years. It is especially valuable for important works of world cinema whose historical contexts crave further exploration.
Length: 98 mins
Cat No: HPK6
Format: DVD B&W
- 2 discs