Saturday, July 20, 2013

The House On Trubnaya Square (1928)

WHO: Boris Barnet directed this.

WHAT: Ever since seeing Barnet's The Girl With The Hatbox at the 2006 San Francisco Silent Film Festival I've been eager to see this Soviet comedy that frequently gets mentioned in the same breath as that one. Since I haven't yet, I'll excerpt from Michael Fox's essay found in the complimentary program book presented to every festgoer this weekend. To read the rest you'll have to attend at least one of the shows.
An enthusiasm for location shooting enabled the director to stuff The House on Trubnaya Square with details of actual urban life, while his talent and ingenuity for devising and employing sets produced an eye-catching cutaway interior of  a five-story apartment house. More than just a striking visual device, the set underscored the film's wry worldview that good old-fashioned selfishness trumped the newly installed (but not yet instilled) communal spirit.
WHERE/WHEN: Today only at 6:30, at the Castro Theatre, as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

WHY: Yesterday was a full and fulfilling day of SFSFF screenings, all on 35mm prints. I saw a British social drama made in 1928, the same year women under 30 won the right to vote in the UK. Directed by and starring Miles Mander as a slimy would-be MP, The First Born had some parallels to The Pleasure Garden, the directorial debut of Alfred Hitchcock that the festival screened at the Castro last month (and that plays again at the Pacific Film Archive August 21), also starring Mander and written in part by Alma Reville, Hitchcock's creative and marital partner. Only The First Born has a, shall I say, more up-"lift"-ing final reel.

I also revisited Ozu's Tokyo Chorus, which I'd only seen on DVD before; on a big screen with an audience I caught gags, emotional moments and brilliant touches I'd never noticed on home video. I took another look at The Patsy, a showcase for the comic genius of star Marion Davies and of title writer Ralph Spence. With regrets I skipped The Golden Clown, in the hopes of saving strength for today's packed slate of screenings I'm extremely excited for: Allan Dwan's The Half-Breed, which was showcased in enticing clips and stills during yesterday's Amazing Tales from the Archives presentation, for the Club Foot Orchestra/Gamelan Sekar Jaya musical accompaniment for the Bali-wood spectacular Legong: Dance of the Virgins, for my first brush with a Jacques Feyder film (Gribiche), and for G.W. Pabst's The Joyless Street, which gets seen far less frequently than its status in the canon would have one expect.

But although I expect to enjoy all of those presentations of films I've never seen before, my instinct is that The House On Trubnaya Square will likely emerge as my favorite discovery of the day, and perhaps of the entire festival. Most recently I realized it's on one of my favorite of last year's Sight & Sound Greatest Films poll entries, by the excellent scholar/critic May Adadol Ingawanij. I only hope I'm not going in with too high expectations.

HOW: 35mm print from the PFA collection, screened with piano (and, so rumor goes, theremin) accompaniment from Stephen Horne.


  1. Bronya Feldmann7/22/13, 11:12 PM

    It was my favorite of the shows I saw on Saturday. Almost a screwball comedy, ahead of its time, and amazingly clever shots. Loved the stop-motion camera work and the backtracking to the day before the protagonist finds a streetcar bearing down on her and her pet duck!

  2. That was indeed a great moment. Thanks for the comment! The film was a highlight of the whole weekend, and another sequence that stood out was the undercranking to illustrate how intensely busy our heroine was working as a servant.

  3. I was really sorry to have missed this one. I'll have to content myself on home viewing with the DVD. Like you I thoroughly enjoyed the Ozu. The First Born was top notch fun and you're correct, the ending was uplifting, sort of.