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  • 1 Production notes - Movie essay on 'The End of St Petersberg'
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The End of St Petersburg

Eureka Video/Force Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 88 mins . PG . PAL


Intended for a theatrical release to coincide with the Soviet Union’s 10th Anniversary celebrations of the 1917 October Revolution, Russian cinematic master and extraordinaire Vsevolod Pudovkin’s second feature film The End of St. Petersburg (1927) was to have originally encompassed a significantly more epic scale than realised in the film’s final cut, covering a two hundred year period of St. Petersburg’s tumultuous history. Filmed after the completion of his signature 1926 masterpiece Mother, and the forerunner to the equally stunning Storm Over Asia (1928), the idea for The End of St. Petersburg was pitched to Pudovkin by the film’s director of photography Anatoli Golovnia who was evidently influenced after reading Pushkin’s “Bronze Horseman.”

Realising the dynamic nature of Golovnia’s suggestion and its potential to create nationalistic fervour, Pudovkin decided that the film project would make an ideal entry into the October Revolution Jubilee Commission’s celebrations, of whom its chairman was Nikolai Podvolsky. Enlisting the talents of scenarist Nathan Zarkhi to commence writing a scenario that would do justice to the director’s vision, Pudovkin began the arduous task of planning the film’s proposed sense of scale with a cast of literally thousands. Although Pudovkin seemed to relish the challenge, Zarkhi found himself unable to produce the monumental film script that the director required and, consequently, was forced to reduce its scope to a shorter and more relevant period.

Before Pudovkin and Zarkhi had committed their vision to paper and concocted the project’s script, co-director Mikhail Doller commenced on-location shooting of the film’s numerous country exterior sequences. With Doller’s discovery of a local theatre actor, Ivan Chuvelev, cast as the motion picture’s principle lead, filming began in earnest - scenes relating to the impoverishment and degradation of the peasants’ neglected living conditions, the arrival of a new proletarian baby which results in the death of a struggling family’s mother, and the widowed son’s futile search for work in St. Petersburg, were concluded. The remnants of filming continued in Leningrad.

Due to the economic turmoil, civil disorder, and rampant inflation afflicting the Soviet republic - a direct repercussion of the nation’s participation in the First World War and the resultant Bolshevik Revolution - Leningrad remained unchanged, thus ensuring an accurate representation of the city in its Petrograd and infant Leningrad periods. Eventually exhibited to the Jubilee audiences in November 1917, The End of St. Petersberg warrants comparisons with the best of Sergei Eisenstein’s revolutionary-themed works - the definitive Russian masterpiece Battleship Potemkin (1925) and the sprawling, and often self-indulgent, October (1928). While both directors use intellectual and rhythmic montage styles to brilliant effect, Pudovkin differs form Eisenstein in that he concentrates on the plight of the individual, not the masses.

"Comrades! The proletariat has risen and is waiting for you! "

Essentially a historically accurate and dramatic recreation of the events leading toward the capitulation of St. Petersberg and, in its place, the establishment of the city of Leningrad, The End of St. Petersberg follows the torturous path of The Village Lad (Ivan Chuvelev in a brilliantly intuitive and memorable role), the eldest son of a peasant family, who is forced to seek employment in the industrial sprawl of the city after his mother has died in child-birth. Needing money to support his poverty-stricken household - burdened with the addition of a baby daughter - The Village Lad attempts to gain a position with the Lebedev steel factory, only to be informed that, on the day of his application, the plant’s workers have initiated a strike in protest of its working conditions.

In an effort to ensure the continued operation of the Lebedev plant, the factory’s hierarchy send for labourers from Penza, in the Novgorod district, to replace the strikers, creating dissension among those workers who are protecting the strike. In his necessity to work, The Village Lad joins the Penza surrogates and, in doing so, unwillingly precipitates a catastrophic chain of events - eventually finding himself detained in the Okhta District Police Station, St. Petersberg after having physically assaulted the Lebedev factory’s manager. However, these domestic disputes - although possessing the potential to generate unwanted discord - are rendered insignificant with Russia’s declaration of war with Germany, an action that will have far-reaching consequences and cumulate in the 1917 Revolution.

In a stunning and truly horrifying montage sequence which would have to rival Potemkin’s unforgettable Odessa Steps collage, Pudovkin unveils the cynical doctrine of the Russian military’s highest echelons, who fervently believe that their participation in the war will provide political stability - subduing the proletarian dissident factions - while increasing productivity. As valiant Russian soldiers die en masse in front-line trenches, steeped in mud, stagnant water, and the corpses of their fallen comrades, the stock market manipulators and their cronies watch as their stocks and bonds soar on the backs of their unfortunates’ sacrifice. The most telling image in this film belongs to that of a dying soldier, immersed in a pothole, and caked with mud and flies.

Amidst this, the subtitle captions read: “The transaction is completed. Both parties are satisfied.”

Russia soon becomes a seething hotbed of political instability: the Coalition government advocates the abdication of the Tsar, Nicholas II, and demands negotiations for a peaceful resolution to the inefficient and poorly organised conduct of the war against Germany. With its people demoralised and on the brink of famine while the capitalists continue to reap the benefits of their lucrative blood-stained profits, the nation’s Bolshevik factions rally to proclaim their intention to wage “war against war,” inciting public and military support for the Communist cause. This boiling cauldron of civil unrest erupts into the St. Petersburg massacre - the catalyst for the October Revolution which will topple the inept and corrupt Coalition establishment, and appoint Russia as a major player in world affairs.


The End of St. Petersberg is presented in its original screen aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is not anamorphic.

Arriving hard on the heels of the bitterly disappointing effort attributed to Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky (1938), this reviewer steeled himself for yet another desecration of a cinematic landmark - courtesy of a horrifically shabby transfer from Force Video. Pleasantly though, that trepidation were soon abated within moments of viewing The End of St. Petersberg which - while not pushing the envelope of the digital format when compared against transfers of recently released motion pictures, or perfect through the sheer virtue of the film’s age - contains frequent moments that belie not only its vintage but also succeed in invoking a sense of jaw-dropping awe.

If the copyright license at the start of the film is any indication, than this transfer seems to be lifted from a copy of the 1975 Eastin-Phelin Corporation print, distributed by the Kino International Corporation in 1991. If this is indeed the case, then it could perhaps explain the many instances of mind-numbing sharpness that abound in this transfer.

Given the fact that Pudovkin’s epic is 73 years old, it is hardly surprising that the screen image is inundated with an abundance of film artefacts - consisting of everything from dirt, scratches that are present in the film’s every frame, as well as periodic jumps - and instances of print damage, but these cannot be considered to be overtly distracting. Black levels have a tendency to fluctuate, as does, too, brightness and contrast - but, this can be attributed to the film’s storage conditions, its aging properties, and primitive cinematic technology, and are not reason enough to denigrate the merits of the transfer itself.

As this is a black-and-white film, there are no real issues relating to saturation or bleeding. Yet, when permitted, grey tonal ranges are beautifully rendered and are a marvel to behold.

However, the true revelation of this title is, when allowed, the amount of detail and delineation that is demonstrated within the transfer, which exhibits a depth and clarity that can be compared to that of a lavishly-budgeted black-and-white Hollywood film made in the 1950s or 1960s. There are several shining examples on display here, and seem to be mostly associated with exterior shots; the weather-beaten face of the village lad’s father with its intricate lines and facial pores in Chapter 1, the reflections of St. Petersburg’s monuments and buildings on water, and the Lebedev steel mill workers in Chapters 2 and 13, are just some highlights in a litany of truly awe-inspiring moments.

On the other side of the visual equation, detail has an inclination to appear somewhat soft and lacking in definition at times, making for an inconsistent viewing experience for those not familiar with films from the silent era. Nonetheless, there are no significant MPEG or film-to-video artefacts and, while there is some minor film grain, it is of little or no concern. English subtitles are used in conjunction with the original Russian card inserts, and are presented in a pale yellow colour that is clearly readable and not unpleasant to the eye. It is a matter of personal opinion, but the video presentation of this disc, in some respects, surpasses the exceptional quality and restorative effort seen in Eisenstein’s Strike (1924).


As far as it can be determined, The End of St. Petersburg’s music score is provided by Russian composer Vladmir Lurovski, and is the 1969 soundtrack that was allocated to the film during its restoration at Mosfilm Studio in that same year. Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, Lurovski’s powerful and majestic composition is more than serviceable, despite evidence of subtle pops and crackles; although dynamic range and fidelity is somewhat curtailed, it is not to a detrimental nature - unlike the aforementioned debacle of Alexander Nevsky and the twin instalments of Ivan the Terrible.

Due to the fact that Pudovkin’s epic was filmed in the latter part of silent cinema, there are no issues relating to dialogue levels or clarity (although, it must be mentioned that there are ambient sound effects featured in this film edition, such as the battle cries and exploding shells used in the motion picture’s depiction of the war with Germany). Their impact on the film itself is negligible, as the resonation of Pudovkin’s imagery is so overwhelming at times, that sound is rendered impotent. Because of the nature of the mono soundtrack, there is, of course, no activity from either the rear surrounds or subwoofer.


Although there is only one feature, a movie essay on The End of St. Petersberg, it is quite informative and seems to have something of an innovative presentation. The essay features easy-to-read scrolling text that typifies Force Video’s previous Soviet cinema releases, but there is a distinct difference in that it can be paused, and that each of its six paragraphs has its own encoded chapter - meaning that it can be skipped if needed.


While it may not be in the same league as those transfers of more recent films, Force Video’s presentation of Pudovkin’s The End of St. Petersburg is impressive, to say the least - perhaps more so, after the unforgivable fiasco of Alexander Nevsky (which, on a personal note, is one of this reviewer’s favourite all-time films, and does not deserve its deplorable treatment) - and reaffirms the faith I had with the distributor’s release of Strike and, to a lesser extent, Battleship Potemkin (1925). For those who appreciate fine and immensely influential Russian cinema, The End of St. Petersburg is a reason to rejoice; for those who have yet to become acquainted with the deftness of hand and eye for directorial precision illustrated by Pudovkin and his contemporary, Eisenstein, this noble film - and, indeed its remarkable transfer - is a great introduction.

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      And I quote...
    "A monumental classic from one of the grand masters of cinema, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and enhanced to no end by an excellent transfer... "
    - Shaun Bennett
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          Standard Optical
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