May 012014


Unfortunately I couldn’t make today’s May Day parade in Moscow, but I did something even better. I re-watched the May Day parade in Mne Dvadtsat Let (1965).  I don’t usually like being part of a crowd or parade, but I can’t help but enjoy this one.

It’s great fun, partly because of all the people-watching opportunities. Marlen Khutsiev filmed it at as part of an actual May Day celebration, so the crowd consists of a lot more than professional actors.

This isn’t the only place where Khutsiev used this technique of placing scenes in the context of actual public events.  A couple that come to mind are a poetry reading (in the same film) and a reception for foreign ambassadors (July Rain).  But this is one that makes me go, “How’d he do that?”  May Day comes only once a year, so he had only one chance to get it right, but he blended the film with the actual street scenes very well.  The sound track does a lot to tie things together, but the sound track couldn’t do it all by itself.

Anyhow, there is a lot to watch – the people in the crowds, and the filmmaker’s technique, as well as our hero Sergei and his new friend Anya.  Sergei finally got to meet her at the celebration, after having followed her home, at a distance, after seeing her on a tramcar the previous year.  (The tramcar scene is the subject of an earlier post, Twentysomething Lost in Books.)

Here are screenshots to help others join in the spirit of the celebration (I hope).  Maybe even more helpful would be to watch the scene on YouTube, even though that version doesn’t have English subtitles. The parade starts at 50:20.

The celebration finally comes to an end, and later in the film Sergei and his two male friends, as well as Sergei and Anya, start to drift apart.   The issues that came between them were not entirely unlike issues that were confronting young people in the United States as the 50s turned into the 60s.  The film was released in 1965 but was mostly filmed several years earlier.  The delay was partly due to Khrushchev denouncing it, prompting Khutsiev to make some changes.   I’ve long wished I could see the version that Khrushchev denounced, before Khutsiev made his changes, but maybe it doesn’t exist anywhere.   This article at Kinoeye (Being 20, 40 Years Later) provides a little more detail about what happened than I’ve read elsewhere.

This film and Khutsiev’s next one, Iulskii Dozhd (July Rain) are two that sometimes make me think the world of the Soviet Union of the late 50s-early 60s is more familiar to me than the United States in the 2010s.  For me they are high impact films – especially July Rain. Strangely, I’ve yet to meet anyone from Russia, either online or in person, who has seen July Rain, and I’m not sure I’ve even met anyone who even heard about it.  These films did not endear Khutsiev to the Soviet authorities, so they weren’t seen by many people back at the time.  And I’m not sure they would have quite the same impact on younger people, anyway.  So maybe there is nobody to talk to about them.

Here’s the IMDB link for Mne Dvadtsat Let.



  • I’m commenting here on my own article. I said I didn’t ordinarily like being in parades or crowds. But I once was in a parade, maybe a couple of years before Mne Dvadtsat Let was filmed. My avatar photo happens to be from just before that parade, which took place in 1958 or 1959. I’m the one on the right. Judy, on the left, liked parades even less than I did, and ran off down a side street with me barely hanging on.

  • Lonesome Dove

    i liked this scene too the way it was filmed makes you feel you are part of it… i havent seen july rain yet but i doubt ill like it as much as I am twenty

  • Thanks for your comment. I can easily believe that both of these films are somewhat idealized visions of the times. Lots of movies do that, and one has to make allowances. Still some bits couldn’t make it to the screen if they didn’t represent something that the audiences could identify with.

  • Alter Ego

    Если вам нравятся “молодёжные фильмы”, то вы, наверное, не пожалеете, если посмотрите “Любовь и моду” (Ljubav i moda). Это кино сербское (югославское), а не русское, но, во всяком случае, в Интернете можно раздобыть английские субтитры, чтобы приделать их к фильму. В чём-то очень похоже на “Я шагаю по Москве”: солнце, лето, беззаботность, атмосфера неограниченных возможностей и неограниченной свободы. Хорошие песни. Все добрые, творческие пути открыты, надо только постараться ими пройти. Есть и важные отличия от советского фильма, не буду тут о них говорить. И, самое главное, аэропланы!

  • Alter Ego

    Well, there’s no way to make an artistic movie that’s not a vision. We don’t shoot anything artistic to discuss things about reality, right? The methodical discussion cannot be the goal of art. Documentaries, whether books or movies, would do a just fine job for that, they’re exactly suited for that task and nothing better is required, but the job of art is to provoke thought that’s not strictly dependent on reality, such thought that exists for itself: approaches to the real questions rather than real answers for them… Otherwise, you see, art is useless and unnecessary, just a wrong means that always uses wrong methods.

  • Alter Ego

    I mean, it is the methodical discussion about reality that cannot be the goal of art. Art may of course be methodical, but its methods may not be “scientific”.

  • Lonesome Dove

    thats not always true cause ppl usually believe what they see in films thus lots of films especially propaganda ones are accused of manipulation and distorting the facts .

  • Alter Ego

    Well, what people believe in is their problem, I think. The movie makers should not be preoccupied with that when their task is to create art. Art & truth are incompatible, they just have different methods. True, though, that people often confuse art and truth, e.g. newspapers often publish what is, methodically, art rather than truth, of a very low quality as well. They prefer to guide people’s thought by insisting which questions should be asked and which directions should be taken rather than report by providing answers for “scientific” questions, exactly as art is supposed to do.

  • Alter Ego

    Just to let you see what I mean: indeed, “War and Peace” is distorting the facts, just because you won’t find any such historical figure as e.g. Andrei Bolkonskiy (no need talking about “prototypes”: the issue at hand is real people), and this is a “manipulation” just because it does not tell the facts about, say, Alexander I or about Russian merchants in an orderly manner. (What is the necessary order, after all?) For these simple reasons alone, it is both a “distortion” and a “manipulation”. But it’s supposed to be made in this way, because it’s an art and not an history book. Its author, indeed, criticises those approaches to history that are modern to him, but he proposes no new approaches, as he explicitly says, his book is really about other things, if we look at what it does positively. Well, he suggests to guide our questions about people in general in a specific manner which is not a subject to formulation, which is a function of art, not of science.