The Georgian-born filmmaker Michail Kalatozov (19031973) is best remembered for directing some of the most innovative and successful Soviet films of the 1950s and 1960s. This DVD presents digitally restored versions of two of his lesser-known, early works, which were highly controversial in their time but now rank among the finest achievements in Soviet silent cinema. Salt for Svanetia is an austere depiction of peasant life in the inhospitable terrain of the Caucasus Mountains. Nail in the Boot, a biting parable of wartime irresponsibility, chillingly prefigures the later Stalinist purge trials. Günter Buchwald's and Stephen Horne's prize-winning scores and the experimental accompaniment by Masha Khotimshi underline the poetic and expressive visual style of these exceptional masterpieces.
Dzim Svante (Sol' Svanetii) / The Salt of Svanetia - USSR 1930 - Directed by: Michail Kalatozov - Written by: Sergej Tret'jakov - Cinematography by: Michail Kalatozov, Salva Gegelasvili - Produced by: Sakhkinretsvi / Goskinprom Gruzii
Gvozd' v sapoge / Nail in the Boot - USSR 1932 - Directed by: Michail Kalatozov - Written by: Leonik Perel'man - Written by: Salva Apakidze - Cast: Aleksandr Dzaliasvili, Siko Palavandisvili, Arkardij Chintibidze, Akakij Chorava - Produced by: Sakhkinretsvi / Goskinprom Gruzii
About Dzim Svante (Sol' Svanetii)
Kalatozov's first independent directorial effort, Slepaja (The Blind Woman, 1930), was a drama set amongst an isolated and poor mountain community of Svans, an ethnic group, which still lived by ancient, often violent customs. The film was scripted by Sergej Tret'jakov and had all the earmarks of a major Georgian production of its day. However, it remained unreleased possibly because it was regarded as another compromise with commercialism and remains largely a mystery. Parts of Slepaja were adopted in the considerably less conventional ethnographic documentary Dzim Svante (Sol' Svanetii), a film which consolidated Kalatozov's directorial reputation and remains today one of his most critically acclaimed works.
In terms of ideology, Dzim Svante was a model example of the agitprop genre, which was being promoted by the emerging Stalinist regime at the time of the film's release. In a direct, poster-like form, the film praised the socialist mastery of nature and the struggle against social backwardness. However, aided by Tret'jakov's poetic journalism, and the talents of co-cinematographer alva Gegelavili as well as art director Davit Kakabadze, an avant-garde artist with an active interest in Georgian cultural traditions, Kalatozov transformed a proto-Socialist-Realist tale into an expression of the classical philosophical notion of 'the dynamic sublime', related both to nature and to human existence.
Dzim Svante's diagonal compositions, striking close-ups and dynamic camerawork underline the connection between Kalatozov's directorial style and the art of cinematography (not surprisingly, he served in the dual role as director and cinematographer). In conjunction with a tense editing rhythm, the use of these devices creates an 'attraction'-like ambiance, invoking the early, LEF-promoted theoretical concepts of Sergej Eisenstein.
About Gvozd' v sapoge
Kalatozov's Gvozd' v sapoge, destined to be his last silent film, was another exercise in agitprop directness. However, it was produced at a time when agitprop films were losing popularity among Soviet ideologues and represented a transitional attempt at the uniquely Stalinist genre of the 'defense film'. 'Defense films' reflected the growing national fear of a potential enemy attack and would play a significant role in Soviet cinema during the 1930s. Gvozd' v sapoge's proclamation that negligence should be harshly treated as enemy action rang an ominous tone in the context of the rise of Stalinism.
On the other hand, Gvozd' v sapoge continued the radical aesthetic of Dzim Svante and its romantic vision of the sublime - in this case, the sublime of war. The depiction of military manoeuvres seems like a pretext for a kaleidoscopic portrayal of warfare and war technology. Kalatozov's immersion in the kinetic martial imagery is comparable to his fascination with the rituals of the Svans and may have been inspired by Gino Severini's 1915 painting "Treno blindato in azione" (Armoured Train in Action), an Italian Futurist's paean to the elemental power of war.
In spite of its acceptably militarist overtones and belief in Soviet defence capabilities, Gvozd' v sapoge was withdrawn from circulation because of "dire pacifist mistakes" and "a false depiction of the Red Army."
- Dzim Svante (Sol' Svanetii) / The Salt of Svanetia 1930, 62'
- Score by Günter A. Buchwald
- Alternative score by Masha Khotimski
- Gvozd' v sapoge / Nail in the Boot 1932, 64'
- Score by Stephen Horne
- 16-page bilingual booklet with essays by Sergej Kapterev and Alexander Schwarz
Edited by: Filmmuseum München and Österreichisches Filmmuseum
DVD authoring: Tobias Dressel
DVD supervision: Stefan Drössler, Oliver Hanley, Adelheid Heftberger
First edition February 2014, Second edition September 2016