"Bed and Sofa" (1927)

aka "Third Meshfchankala Street," "Tretya Meschanskaya," and "Menage 'a Trois"

All Arts Should Be Under the Guidance of the State

From a cultural point of view, the Russian Revolution of October 1917 was more than just an upheaval of the Czar and the beginning of Marxism. The world had been forever changed by the upheaval, and the new Soviet Government in 1917 was the suggestion that all forms of expression to the public, such as the cinema, should be under the guidance of the State. Lenin declared that "of all the arts, the most important for Russia is, to my mind, that of the cinema."

The cinema was controlled by Communists whose sole aim was the spread of their faith, and they were out to show the world that the old system had been decadent and things were being changed for the better.

Beginning in the mid 1920's, Sergei Eisenstein, V. Pudovkin and other popular directors of the new Soviet cinema system were glorifying the Bolshevik Revolution by elaborately staged re-enactments of the upheaval. They churned out numerous, serious, no-nonsense films that followed the Communist Party line including "The Battleship Potemkin," "The End Of St. Petersburg," "Mother," "Strike," and "Ten Days That Shook The World."

Before Socialist Realism began to dictate what could be depicted, the new Soviet filmmakers were given quite a bit of latitude, and a few directors took advantage. Instead of following in the footsteps of Eisenstein by glorifying the struggles of the masses, one filmmaker, Abram Room, produced a film with only three principals.

"Bed and Sofa" (1927), starring Ludmilla Semyonova, Alexei Bartalov and Vladimir Fogel was produced by Sovkino (Moscow) and released March 15, 1927.

The Story

The film opens in a small, bleak one-bedroom apartment in Moscow in the 1920's, consisting of a bed and sofa during a very severe housing shortage. The film does not portray earth shaking events but the plight of the threadbare, pinched and bleak daily life under the new Soviet regime.

The film begins in a room, not a slum, but a very crowded room where a couple are asleep in bed. A cat stirs them up. The husband, a construction worker, rushes out to his job on a building high above Moscow. The young wife is brooding and resentful, bored with the constant, nagging succession of household duties, cooking in cramped quarters, and attempting to organize things where there is no place to put her clothes.

On a train coming into Moscow is another young man, a printer seeking a place to live. After wandering around Moscow with all his possessions in a bundle, he meets the construction worker whom he had known.

"No room, but we have a sofa," the construction worker says. The wife is resentful of the intrusion, and she reluctantly accepts it as another instance of her husband's lack of concern for her. There is now another occupant in the apartment that was too small for the couple and their cat.

The printer, who is much more sensitive than the construction worker, tries to make up for his intrusion by assisting her and giving her gifts. Then, while the husband is away on a business trip, the wife and the printer fall in love and have an affair. After his initial outrage, the husband calms down, and the three settle into a cozy, domesticated menage-a-trois until the wife finds herself pregnant. When the two men are trying to decide what to do, she announces that she has other ideas on the outcome of her life.

The decision reached at the end of the film by the wife at the center of the triangle represents the liberation of women in the new Soviet society

A Frank Portrayal of Sexual Manners

The film is a very frank portrayal of sexual manners, and the pitiful living conditions in Moscow are in sharp contrast to the official picture of a state where everything was to be peaches and cream. It was supposedly based on the life of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.

Rediscovered during the 1970's, the film has become regarded as a great little masterpiece of the silent era. "Bed and Sofa" was an unusually frank film for its period, and, aside from the extraordinary fluidity of his camera in a confined set and the natural performances of his cast, director Abram Room deals with his subject in a casual matter-of-fact way, refreshingly free of any sensationalism.

In March, 1928, the first All-Union Party Conference was held in Moscow, and after the introductory speeches, the first delegate to speak was a comrade from Siberia. He hoped that the present film distribution in his Irkutsk area was not typical, for they were sent nothing more appropriate on the anniversary of Lenin's death than Buster Keaton's "Three Ages."

As for Soviet productions, he believed that the producers didn't seem to think ahead to how these films will be received by non-city audiences. When "Bed and Sofa" was shown in the country, the peasants become outraged, spitting out, "Ah so that's how they behave in the city" and "That's how Sovkino promotes the bond between city and country."

Ironically, and tragically, in 1929 "Bed and Sofa" was refused public exhibition in England, although it was shown privately to the Film Society in London April 7, 1929.

Abram Room

Abram M. Room (1894-1976) was born in what is now Vilniuse, Lithuania. After studying dentistry, he turned to journalism in 1914, did amateur theater work, and in 1915-1917 was at the Institute of Psycho-Neurology directing the Students Theater. In 1923 he was invited by Veevolod M Eyerhold to join the Theater Of The Revolution and became the director of the State Film School. He was a pupil of Lev Kuleshov, taught and had his own studio. In 1924 he entered films as an assistant director, then directed two films and made several films of a Jewish Agricultural Projects in Southern Russia.

He received notoriety with his "Bed and Sofa" and produced the first Soviet sound film in 1930 using newsreel footage by Esther Shub and Vertov. In 1932 his next film was stopped during the filming. His next film, which was completed in 1934, was banned because it dealt with the sensitive question of equality in Soviet society. Although he continued making films, his career as a teacher ceased. Room finished his career making films of considerably less interest.

In 1996, "Bed and Sofa" was turned into a musical stage show by Polly Pen and Lawrence Klavan. It opened in an off-Broadway theater in January, 1996, and received very good reviews and a few awards.

Movies For The Masses by Denise Youngblood
The Holt Foreign Film Guide by Ronald Bergan and Robyn Karney
The Encyclopedia Of European Cinema by Ginette Vincendeau
The World Encyclopedia Of The Film by Smith and Cawkwell
The Film Till Now by Paul Rotha.

copyright 2004 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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