"Happiness" (1934)

a.k.a. "Snatchers" ("Styazhateli")

Produced by Moskombinat, a Mosfilm (Soviet Union)
Directed by Alexander Medvedkin
Cast: P. Zinoviev, Yelena Yegorova, and V. Uspensky

The film was banned in Russia for 40 years because of its anti-Bolshevik humor. "'Happiness' is a delightful slapstick comedy based on folklore but charged with (often risque ) modern humor."

Slapstick Comedy With Anti-Bolshevik Humor

Following the revolution in 1917, a new school of directors came into power and a whole number of interesting, novel, and original films were produced. Many simply failed to arouse proper response or support in Soviet Russia at the time, remaining in the shadows on the sidelines of the general process. It would take 30 years for recognition for Alexander Medvedkin's first full-length film, a slapstick comedy that had anti-Bolshevik humor, which he shot without sound in 1934. It caused a sensation in the Soviet Union and in Western Europe as a "revival" film in the 1960's when various early filmmakers were "rehabilitated." It was almost unnoticed when it was first released.

"Happiness" is the stylized Russian folk tale about a poor and lazy peasant by the name of Khmyr, who dreams of becoming a tsar, eating his fill of pork fat and doing nothing (his idea of happiness), and his industrious wife, Anna, who found real happiness on a collective farm after the revolution. The film contains drawn scenery amusingly transplanted into cinema from popular Russian wood prints, ingenious and always purposeful tricks, hilarious scenes of the wanderings around Russia of a scraggly and vicious pilgrim nun, and talented sideshows of "dreams" and "royal repasts" of Khmyr.

Alexander Ivanovich Medvedkin

Alexander Ivanovich Medvedkin began his career at the Gosvenkino Studios as scenarist and assistant director. During the 20's he was in charge of a agit-train (special trains carrying agitational materials, newspapers, pamphlets, political speakers, and film equipment, both to project propaganda films and record events) and began his training as a director as the train traveled around the big construction sites, developing propaganda shorts and posters. He was a brilliant satirist taking in influences as disparate as Mack Sennett, Gogel, and Russian folk-lore.

His best work includes the silent film, "Happiness," a grotesquely funny parody of farm life, before and after the Revolution (1917), full of rich visual invention and eccentricities. Medvedkin was criticized for his satirical view of the new Soviet society, and in 1977 he was interviewed at the FIAF Congress in Varna, Bulgaria, and again in Moscow in 1985. In answer to "Happiness," he said, ". . . it was my greatest achievement. I'd like to tell you something that seems to have escaped the attention of the critics and journalists who've written about the film. I've never managed to ensure that people understood the real meaning of this film which is as follows. . . the peasant himself - and this is just not true of our country, it's part of the social psychology of mankind in all civilized nations - dreams of ownership. He wants a prosperous life to set himself apart from his thousands and millions of neighbors; he wants to creep ahead and have his own barn, his own horses, his own grain. In short he wants to be his own boss. Of course, for every 1,000, only one will manage it; the other 999 will remain farm-hands and starve, but this dream lives on among the peasants. So happiness is a satirical picture. I made it as the nail in the coffin of this rosy dream. I ridiculed that dream because it's unrealistic; 999 people out of 1,000 get nothing from a dream like that."

Using the Cinema for Propaganda

Both Lenin and Stalin realized the power of the motion pictures, and in 1917 they began reconstruction of the Cinema. Stalin as the powerful Commissar for Nationalities, proclaimed, "The cinema is the greatest means of mass propaganda. We must take it in our hands." The restructuring of the cinema was set up under the State Commission Of Education, under the control of Lenin's wife, Krupskaya. Cinema Committees were set up all over the country to produce propaganda films, and in 1922 the Cinema Committee was reorganized into Goskino, a state run enterprise. Finally, in 1923, the last private firm, Russ, was absorbed by the government, and during the next few years the Soviet directors, turned out some of the greatest propaganda films of the silent era.

The Illustrated History Of Soviet Cinema by Zorkaya
Kino by Jay Leyda
The Film Factory by Richard Taylor and Ian Christie
Inside The Film Factory by Richard Taylor and Ian Christie
Soviet Cinema by Arossev.

copyright 2002 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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