A few years ago I visited the Odessa Film Studio during the Odessa Film Festival. I was curious about the possibility that Barnet whether they had some information about Boris Barnet at the studios. No, they told me, Barnet had not worked for the Odessa Film Studios- his film ThePoet was filmed forMosfilm. After that I thought no more of trying to connect Barnet and Odessa (I had watched Barnet’s ThePoet a long time previously and presumed that it must have all been shot at the Mosfilm studios and other locations). And yet I was wrong to have dropped these associations between Barnet and Odessa from my mind.
Barnet did film The Poet at least partially in the city of Odessa as he did with his subsequent film The Wrestler and the Clown- which he completed after the death of Konstantin Iudin who had completed only one reel (and the film Liana is also associated with Odessa as well as Chisinau). Moreover, Barnet was said to have met his third wife, Elena Kuzmina, in Odessa and to have worked on the script of Outskirts there. So there’s definitely some research to do here.
Interestingly there is (at least) one extant letter from Barnet written in Odessa to Inna Filimonova on September 1, 1956 (written during his shooting of the film said to be broadly based on the life of the great Odessan poet, Eduard Bagritsky). It has been published in Russian in Kinovedcheskie Zapiskyand I am hoping to translate it shortly.
Hopefully, I’ll have some further information about Barnet in Odessa. It is true to say that although these films were shot partly in Odessa they were Mosfilm productions (with the exception of Liana). In his letter to Inna Filimonova he mentions an intention to stay in Yalta for a month where he will shoot some sets. In fact there’s yet another film with scenes shot both in Odessa and Yalta- and that’s the very first film that Barnet worked on an (assistant) director- Miss Mend.
The subject of Boris Barnet and Vsevolod Meyerhold is a fascinating one. There may not be the amount of material warranting the number of studies devoted to the relationship between Sergei Eisenstein and the avant-gard theatre director, but nonetheless in Barnet’s films Meyerhold actors were certainly not scarce (from Zharov to Sverdlin and often they would play side by side – Barnet would work together with both Igor Ilyinski and Ivan Koval’-Samborski (who he would later direct) inMiss Mend and would act alongside Valery Inkizhinov in The Heir to Genghis Khan. He would direct Lev Sverdlin in By the Bluest of Seas. Elena Tyapkina would play in his House on Trubnaya and the satirical playwright Nikolai Erdman would help to pen two Barnet scripts (House on Trubnaya and The Old Jockey. Moreover, Nikolai’s father, Robert Erdman would play the German lodger in Barnet’s Outskirts. And these links are only the start of a very long subject.
One of the moments when Barnet worked directly with Meyerhold was his shooting of a film insert for a play in verse by Alexander Bezymensky entitled The Gunshot I hope to discover more about this fascinating collaboration.
This space in the blog is for a number of questions I have about Barnet that in these very early stages of reserach I have not yet been able to find out. I’d like it to be an interactive part in which if anyone has more information on this they could send me leads, links or any other suggestions as to where I could find the answers to these questions, or information about this subject.
1) In a 1929 book entitled Film Problems of Soviet Russia by Bryher (the pen name of English novelist, poet and magazine editor, Annie Winifred Ellerman), the author devotes a few pages to Boris Barnet and his early films. There’s always been a certain amount of uncertainty about the exact role of Barnet in the making of Miss Mend. For what it’s worth Bryher states that Barnet took part in the construction of that film “in the capacity of actor, joint manager and joint scenic artist”. After noting that he acted in The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks, sh states, intriguingly, that he acted afterwards in the physical culture film ‘On the Right Track’. Fascinating because this film is not mentioned elsewhere (certainly not in Mark Kushnirov’s filmography). Although we do have a note in the Locarno booklet produced for the retrospective of Barnet that took place there during the film festival in 1985. The brochure goes on to state that direction of this film has also been attributed to Boris Barnet. By whom? And what would be the Russian title?
2) There are a number of references to Boris Barnet’s trip to Berlin and Paris in 1933 where he went to promote his film Okraina(Outskirts). We know that Barnet met some of his former actors and colleagues there (Anna Sten, Fyodor Otsep) as well as others who chose to leave the Soviet Union (such as Valery Inkizhinov who was the Heir to Genghis Khan in Pudovkin’s film and where Barnet played a minor role of a British soldier). Yet there still do not seem to be any detailed description of his three months between France and Germany. A rather long journey abroad in 1933 for it so be so neglected in any account about Barnet.
3) There are a number of films that we know that Barnet was in some way involved with but did not eventually get to shoot. For example, Bezhin Luk, which eventually Eisenstein filmed (but which was then censored and eventually destroyed) was initially a Barnet project. Equally, the film Nashestvie (Invasion) based on a Leonov script and shot during the war years by Abram Room and featuring a lead character who is quite clearly a political prisoner returning from imprisonment (the gulag) to become a heroic figure of resistance to the Nazi onslaught was also originally a Barnet project. Then there are the others. For example, a film project that Barnet had been planning to realize for a number of years during the latter part of his career about the Nineteenth Century People’s Will revolutionary organization. And then there is an intriguing and tantalizing suggestion that Barnet was eager to make a film on Lenin in 1964 but that the head of Mosfilm Studios categorically stated that Barnet would never make a film about Lenin. This tale is reported by Fyodor Razzakov, hardly a respected film historian. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to find out where this tale comes from and whether there was ever a plan by Barnet to film his own Lenin film (of course his 1927 film Lenin in October included Lenin, too. And then there are surely more unfinished Barnet projects…
The film ‘Moscow in October’ is a Boris Barnet film that is very rarely shown (partly because much of it is missing). And yet along with Eisenstein’s October and Pudovkin’s The End of Saint Petersburg it was one of this trio of films with which the Soviet state marked the tenth anniversary of the 1917 Revolution. Moreover, though its reputation has been sullied by a supposition that it wasn’t Barnet’s ‘type of film’, it does, nevertheless, have its champions.
One of the most impressive post-Soviet film critics and historians, Oleg Kovalov, wrote for the Seance journal an article suggesting that the Barnet was not necessarily the weaker of the three. Moreover, the list of those who worked with Barnet always impresses. Regarding this film, two of the greatest Soviet photographers were associated with it. Alexander Rodchenko was art director and his name needs little introduction to historians of the art of not just Soviet but world photography and art (the image is a photograph that Rodchenko took of Barnet when filming).
One of the most popular Soviet film directors in the late Soviet period, Leonid Gaidai, worked with Boris Barnet on his Moldovan film Liana (1955). One of the many figures of post-war Soviet film that Boris Barnet worked with (Marlen Khutsiev also worked with Barnet on this same film), Gaidai would write, into the margins of his screenplays or plans, a quote from Barnet:
“Until you feel joy, don’t shoot a single frame”.
An example of this note from Gaidai can be seen in the title above.
It is said that Leonid Gaidai considered Barnet as one of his major teachers (alongside Grigory Alexandrov).
Gaidai, after his work with Barnet, would go on to shoot films such as The Diamond Arm which would become one of the all time leaders at the Soviet box office.