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Sunday, 30 October 2011

I Misplaced It At The Movies: Das Neue Babylon

The trouble with being a bit of a film geek, especially one who seeks out the more bizarre and the more left-field cinema, is that it is very easy to become jaded. Having seen endless low budget exploitation films, or lofty, pretentious art-house confuse-athons, as well as surrealist extravaganzas like 'L'Age D'or', 'Le Sang d'un Poète', or even 'Eraserhead'; you just get to the point where nothing seems to surprise, shock or challenge you any more.
And then I saw 'Novyy Vavilon' aka 'The New Babylon'(or even 'Das Neue Babylon' as it was titled on the German DVD I have of it).
In 1929 Hollywood was embracing Talking Pictures as the new art form, seemingly unaware that the first examples of this new hoopla were braincrushingly awful! Terrible stagy melodramas with static camerawork and even more static performers.
Whilst Europe may not have grasped the 'Talkie' mantle yet, it continued to work within the Silent framework and was creating works of startling creativity e.g, lush, opulent adult(as in 'grown-up') dramas such as G.W. Pabst's 'Pandora's Box', or the dizzying works of Russian master Sergei Eisenstein.
Or indeed 'The New Babylon' by Russian directors Leonid Trauberg and Grigori Kozintsev....

'The New Babylon' tells the true tale of the Paris Commune of 1871, a Government led by the people for the people, formed from an uneasy alliance between the Marxists and the Anarchists. The film is set at the time of the Franco-Prussian war during which France suffered some devastating losses. This led to the gap between the rich and the poor not only become wider, but becoming glaringly obvious.
The Proletariat, refusing to take the barbaric working and living conditions anymore, rise up against the fat-cats who have sunk in to a cesspool of decadence, debauchery and debasement, and take control of the city.
Building a Socialist Government within the Commune of Paris, the workers(or Communards as they were now known) tried to quickly set up a manifesto of workers rights. Perhaps what they should have been doing was preparing for the onslaught of the Prussian army which was now heading towards the beleaguered capital. Acting in conjunction with it's invading aggressor, the Versailles government declared all Communards as enemies of the state and joined in the re-taking of the city. The Communards; men, women and children, were marched in their thousands to Versailles to await judgement, many facing public execution.

The film itself is a dizzying and dazzling swirl of images, and a masterpiece of subjective editing. Early scenes depicting the decadence enjoyed by the land owners and factory owners are utterly mindbending. A fat slobbering Champagne quaffing drunk sits in the foreground whilst all around there's a whirling sense of utter debauchery, often resembling moving Escher puzzles.

The rise of the Socialist Government is filmed like the Eisenstein montages of 'Strike!' or 'October', and there's a general sense of pulsating empathy that rivals ANY propaganda from any country.
The battle scenes are extraordinary and, possibly, were an influence on directors as varied as William Wellman or Sergio Leone. The scene in which the Communards are named in a torrential rainstorm is surely mirrored in Leone's 'A Fistful Of Dynamite', a movie which also deals with Marxist Revolution.
The final image of graffiti declaring the power of 'the Commune' leaves no-one in any doubt of the film makers objectives.

No, there's no getting away from it, the whole movie is an allegory of the Russian Revolution, showing it's viewers not only how a Socialist society can exist but also how to avoid the same fate as the Parisian Communards by being prepared to take arms against any aggressor.
Because of the film's politics, it obviously remained unseen for many years outside of the Soviet Union. And while many may obviously disagree with those politics, there can be no doubting the skills of the film makers involved. This is a staggering film; one which careers along at a frightening pace(belying the myth that Silent Movies are turgidly slow), and is full of breathtaking sequences that, as far as I am concerned, have never been equalled.
It may not be to easy to see the movie(I had to acquire a German DVD to get a chance to see it), but for anyone with an interest in Silent Movies, or for those interested in Political Cinema, or even for any film geek who just wants to see something a bit different.....this is HIGHLY recommended!
Vive La Revolucion!!


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