Sunday, March 17, 2013

I just discovered Mike Gebert's exceptional article examining the forgotten genius of Fyodor/Fedor Otsep, one of the great early Soviet filmmakers.

This is a crucial read. Otsep's work is rewarding as hell and I can tell you from experience it's hard to find any history about him, so Gebert's work goes a long way to clearing up some mystery about this man.

Otsep's The Living Corpse is on youtube with English subtitles. It's a hell of a thing - in Mike's words:
To have made a film of such psychological acuity, in which the drama comes from inner states rather than outward events of the plot, was rare enough in the silent days, though others (notably Stiller and Pabst) certainly did it. But it is hard to think of another film in which those inner states are melded so completely with the style of the film, and in such a varied and visually innovative fashion. It's one of those late silents that leave you marveling at the medium as it existed— at its end.
Otsep nails the pathetic pains of Tolstoy's original play, his camerawork is dark and unrelenting but less self-conscious than Eisenstein or Pudovkin (who stars in this film). It's a masterful work, alongside Bondarchuk's War and Peace as one the most psychologically rich Tolstoy adaptations I'm aware of.

My favorite Otsep film, Amok, is one of those dreamy, moody, purgatorial island films from the early '30s like James Whale's Green Hell, William Wellman's Safe in Hell, Island of Lost Souls, or, in its way, Casablanca. The opening to that is on youtube as well and I urge you to watch it, it's an amazing sequence - atmospheric and tense with an unfettered camera. This clip isn't embeddable so you have to click through, which works out well because there's a bit of nudity in it so beware.

Anyway, check out Mike Gebert's article. I'm in awe.


  1. William Wellman did Safe in Hell, not James Whale. But that exotic island movie of the early 30's is a fun genre-- see also the incredibly racist/odd Black Moon.

  2. Oh, you're totally right, I was thinking of Whale's Green Hell! Wellman's film is an interesting counterpoint to stuff like Black Moon because it's so progressive by comparison.

  3. Delighted to see Gebert is out there writing on the web. His breezy but erudite guide to movie award history was a standby on my bookshelf from late childhood on...

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