Turksib (1929)

Director: Victor Turin

It was kind of amusing to see this again after Old and New last night; this film famously features that scene of nomadic herders riding their animals in pursuit of the locomotive engine, which made me laugh during last night’s film at the similar business of the collective farmers on horseback chasing the tractor… cute bit of parallelism. But Turksib differs significantly from Eisenstein’s film, of course, by having been a palpable hit, abroad and at home, and with both conservative and progressive critics. Everyone seems to have been taken by surprise by it; a film arguing for the need to build a railway between the Turkestan region in the south to Siberia in the north, produced with apparently as little cooperation from the railway people as they could give, produced by a studio and director hardly anyone knew (and, apparently, still don’t; IMDB credits him with only one more film and only approximate birth and death dates, while Jay Leyda’s Kino book indicates there were more films and that most of his career seems to have been in administration, but doesn’t say much more than that). What separated Turin from his Soviet cohorts, though, was that he’d actually worked in American film during the 1910s; and though only a blind person would confuse this with any sort of Hollywood film, Turin certainly set out to apply a certain vigour he felt the Soviet kulturfilm generally lacked. And that still comes across in the film now, you can feel the drive in it with that thematic clash between man and the world around him (there’s something kind of frightening still about the scene with the camel train caught in the simoon wind), culminating in the riders chasing after the train until the animals won’t go any further, whereupon one keeps running after it on foot. Kind of splendid in its small way.

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