Storm Over Asia and The Kids Play Russia
Two monuments, of and to the Soviet silent epic. "I must have everything in its true circumstances," said V.I. Pudovkin about his films, the great innovator of action montage asserting himself some sort of documentarian. But "doesn't reality have to be worth saving," suggests Godard slyly in his video-essay The Kids Play Russia, "for us to come to its rescue?" Godard, playing Dostoevsky's Idiot, surrounded by Russian dolls, hawks the Soviet silent cinema that saw truth and fiction as different ways of seeing the same thing. To prove the point, he sends his DP to Russia, has her film everyday life, and edits to synchronize her movements with his, her hotel's maids and train rides with each other so that, somehow, juxtaposed, they play out the outlines of Chekhov or Tolstoy. They could be Chekhov's charactersbut that says as much about them as it does about Chekhov's enduring society.
A video essay, a post-script to Histoire(s) du cinema, The Kids Play Russia reveals Soviet porn and propaganda as potential historical realties and real places and people as items of potential fictions: each, somehow, is an abstracted form of the other, a screen memory to preserve it for posterity. It's a matter of placing them in context, or montage. No film makes the point more cruelly than Pudovkin's masterpiece, Storm Over Asia, captured on location in Mongolian markets and festivals. In his action epic of a herdsmen who finds himself heir to Genghis Kahn, inheritor of an empire, and model of a bow-tie, Pudovkin cuts his most spectacular scenes as invocations of nature brewing, and his most intimate as spectacles of moneyed romance.
Reality or fiction? Everyone becomes capital for melodrama and an all-consuming commodity fetish; the story Pudovkin tells "in its true circumstances," is of the lies lived out by men at the thrust of the stories they tell. When Godard asserts with patent foxiness that the West invades Russia "because it is the home of fiction, and the West doesn't know what to invent anymore," he could be talking about the trek of Pudovkin and his imperialists into the wilderness. David Phelps
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