Time to finally put up some stuff...
1. Sumerki zhenskoi dushi / Twilight of a Woman's Soul (Yevgeni Bauer, 1913)
I watched most of the other available Bauers a couple of years ago when running a 1910s poll on IMDb; unaccountably missed this one. Perhaps it's not the best to see late in the game as it seems to similar to the others - though it is an earlier film, and thus the later films ought to be the ones that seem like re-treads. Well, what can you do? Anyway, this is a fairly typical story for the director (and for that matter, fairly typical for many filmmakers in this era, like Griffith) about a wealthy woman with an evil secret (well, evil in those days) that threatens to destroy her marriage. The view of the poor - exemplified by the scoundrel who rapes our heroine - is hardly a progressive one, but Bauer's fascination with and sympathy for the aristocracy would become a little less overt over his next few films.
2. Poema o more / Poem of the Sea (Yuliya Solntseva, 1958)
3. Zacharovannaya Desna / The Enchanted Desna (Yuliya Solntseva, 1964)
I've loved the work of Solntseva's husband Aleksandr Dovzhenko for a long time and it's a continuing frustration that his films aren't more widely seen and more readily available in quality copies - the visual qualities of films like Zemlya and Zvenigora really demand it. But Dovzehnko's widow Solntseva, whose career was essentially intended as a celebration and continuation of his legacy, is even less-remembered and her films hardly seen at all. Besides Jonathan Rosenbaum I'm not sure that anybody has written about her at length in English, certainly nobody I've come across, but on the basis of the two films I've now seen I'm prepared to believe that she deserves rediscovery and renewal just as much as her husband. Certainly there are similarities - she worked for the most part off of his screenplays or stories, and her inclination to the poetic and rapturous evocations of nature (and Communism!) is very similar to her late husband's. But both of these films are also concerned with reverie, nostalgia, and the vagaries of memory in a way that I don't remember Dovzhenko dealing with so explicitly, and they are in color and shot in 70mm widescreen formats - though the poor rips that are available online are only dim representations of what they must be like in the cinema. Poema strikes me as slightly more prosaic, involving a man returning to his hometown, seeing the changes going on there, supervising a mighty construction effort, and trying to show his young son the value of the old days, the times past. It's just as beautiful as it's successor but rooted perhaps a bit more in socialist realism in the end. Desna on the other hand is pure rapture of sound and image, water and landscape and smoke, childhood memories and old-age dimness wrapped together in a poetic style that calls to mind at time Tarkovsky, the Renoir of The River, and Powell and Pressburger at their most mystical. Even though some of the night scenes are practically impossible to see in the low-grade copy I watched it is still a remarkable experience, and it seems to last much longer (in a good way) than the 77 minutes it actually screens for.
4. Pikovaya dama / The Queen of Spades (Yakov Protazanov, 1916)
Pretty solid though somewhat rushed adaptation of a famous Pushkin short story, which has been adapted many, many times in stage, screen, and opera. This is at least the second Russian film version, though probably the first feature. Ivan Mozzhukhin, already a star, gives a fine performance in the central role as the impoverished officer German who hears a fantastic tale of a noblewoman's magical gambling abilities and decides to find her secret. This is all well crafted and the short (just over an hour) run time certainly keeps it from lagging, but there are a few confusing moments and bits of plot that seem to be skipped - not too uncommon in this era I guess when few films were being made that were much longer and it was assumed that the audiences could fill in the gaps.
5. Two half-hour shorts, total run-time 60 minutes
Domik v Kolomne / The Little House in Kolomna (Pyotr Chardynin, 1913) also stars Mozzhukin, here as a young officer whose sweetheart is tasked to get a new, cheap cook for the household she shares with her mother, and hits on the plan to disguise her man as a woman, with comic results. It's fairly pedestrian as comedy and I'm sure glad it wasn't any longer - but I will comment that this was one of the best-preserved films of this vintage I've ever seen, nearly perfect-looking.
Proekt inzhenera Prayta / Engineer Prite's Project (Lev Kuleshov, 1918) is slightly more interesting, even in the truncated form in which it exists today - this looks to me as if it were probably originally 15-20 minutes longer, with most of the missing footage from the latter parts. It's something of an early spy-thriller with anti-capitalist tones about a young inventor of a new power process that uses peat, and the industrialists (including a traitorous friend) who try to stop him. There's also a love triangle, and probably some other little plot complexities that are either gone altogether or just seem inexplicable in their cut forms now. Kuleshov was 19 when he made this, his first film.
Here's to the fools who dream.