THE END OF SAINT PETERSBURG
(also with Deserter)
Review by Michael Jacobson
Director: Vsevolod Pudovkin
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Image Entertainment
Features: Bonus Film Deserter
Length: 87 Minutes (Deserter 106 Minutes)
Release Date: October 15, 2002
are we dying for?…”
Soviet cinema deserves to be watched for style rather than substance.
After all, most pictures were commissioned by the Communist government to
serve as reminders for their citizens of how bad their lives were under tsarism,
and how glorious the Leninist Revolution was.
politically manipulative or not, the Russian silent era produced some of the
most remarkably visual and innovative films to ever flicker across a screen.
Pictures like Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike or The Battleship
Potempkin, or Alexander Dovzhenko’s Earth developed the pioneering
vocabulary of early cinema into a startling mechanism of editing and imagery,
designed to assault the eyes and stir the emotions.
film I often feel gets overlooked from this period is Vsevolod Pudovkin’s The
End of Saint Petersburg. Visually,
it falls into the same niche as Eisenstein, and Pudovkin’s use of montage
editing creates similar effects, but his eye for detail and looking at ordinary
objects in unusual ways gave his picture a sense of style that, for me, always
seemed a little different and unique.
all seen windmills, for example, but no director has ever filmed one from the
angle that Pudovkin chooses. Other
bits of equipment and factory machines as well get distorted out of proportion
by his camera, assigning a sense of discomfort and danger to common everyday
sights. It’s a perfect style for
his movie, because unlike some other early Russian Communist offerings, Pudovkin
chooses to focus primarily on the economic plight of the Russian people in
follow most closely a worker (Chistyakov), who cannot come in from the fields as
his wife lays dying at home. He
ventures from the rural area to the city, only to find the rich getting richer
off the backs of the factory workers. When
the owners demand even longer days from their employees, they attempt a strike.
It’s practically futile…in their economy, there’s always another
poverty stricken would-be worker to take your place…and usually, one who
won’t complain about the treatment.
he’s doing the right thing, our young worker fingers the strike leader, but
later realizes the tragedy his actions led to.
His attempts to right the wrong only get him sent to the front to fight
the Germans in World War I. In an
array of astonishingly potent battle scenes, Pudovkin says all that needs to be
said about the real motivation behind the war.
The embittered peasants got sent to the lines to be slaughtered, while
the rich prospered from the war (through clever editing, we see the market
values going up as the bodies crumple down at the front).
wealthy even try to forestall the revolution by enacting their own interim
government when the Tsar falls, but the people have had enough.
Saint Petersburg, the once proud capital of tsarist Russia, is laid siege
by the workers.
of course, if the story continued, we’d see that these workers merely traded
one yoke for another as conditions didn’t improve under the Communist ideal,
but hey, that’s another story for another film. The central point is that Pudovkin, much like his
contemporary Eisenstein, managed to create a singularly expressive work of art
within the strict confines of the new government’s censures. Modern audiences, like myself, don’t enjoy these works
because of the propaganda they dispel, but because the craftsmanship is first
rate, the imagery memorable, and the emotional impact ever intact.
End of Saint Petersburg is a shining example of early Soviet cinema at its finest, and one I’d
dare say no true film student should miss.
a 75 year old Russian silent film, so I didn’t expect to be blown away by the
video presentation for The End of Saint Petersburg.
Nevertheless, I was pleased with the offering, which came through
nicely despite the inevitable artifacts of time and decomposition.
The black and white photography remains quite intact, with clarity of
images fairly strong, and nothing really marred by the grain, scratches or
debris that aging brings. In other
words, it’s impossible to bring a picture like this up to reference-quality
levels, but it should still be more than satisfying for fans of silent cinema.
Dolby Mono track is actually quite impressive, with a remarkably expressive
music score that enhances the action perfectly. The audio is also peppered with sound effects to accent
certain scenes. It’s presented
cleanly and clearly, and even offers a fair amount of dynamic range. A solid effort.
not advertised as a “feature”, but I consider the bonus inclusion of another
Pudovkin film an extra for all intents and purposes. Fans who want to venture further into the sound era of his
career will enjoy the presentation of Deserter from 1933…not as
visually striking as Saint Petersburg, but his early experiments with
sound are extremely interesting.