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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

(aka "Novyy Vavilon" )

 

directed by Grigori Kozintsev & Leonid Trauberg
USSR 1929

The New Babylon is a metaphorical clash of glittering surfaces and deep social cynicism that marked the climax of Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg's experimentations with the conventions of the Soviet silent cinema. Taking their thematic inspiration from the story of the Paris Commune of 1871, the two directors fashioned a highly conceptualized allegory of social strata under pressure that transcends its historical roots to form a sardonic comment on the human condition.

Excerpt from Stephen L. Hanson, from the review at filmreference.com

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Theatrical Release: 1929

Reviews    More Reviews  DVD Reviews

DVD Review: Absolut Medien - Region 0 - PAL

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Distribution

Absolut Medien

Region 0 - PAL

Runtime 1:33:26 (4% PAL speedup)
Video

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

Audio Silent film with music (Dolby Stereo)
Subtitles English, French, German, Dutch, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Absolut Medien

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• Menus in English, German, French or Dutch
• Shostakovich score
• 24-page booklet (in German)
• Single-layer

DVD Release Date: August 3rd, 2007
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Chapters 8

 

Comments:

This is not the first time that the film has been released on DVD. A 2005 edition by the French publisher Bach Films presented the film in a 73-minute version with piano accompaniment. This new German edition from Absolut Medien is 93 minutes, and includes a recording of the original orchestral score by Shostakovich.

Beneath the German packaging, this disc is a fully multi-lingual edition. You can select English, French, German or Dutch from the opening screen and all subsequent menus will be in that language. The intertitle cards are in Russian with optional subtitles in a clear but unobtrusive white font. The English translation is careful and sensitive.

The film is presented in an interlaced transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and has a thin black border around the entire frame. Despite the inevitable damage in a film of this age, the image is often surprisingly sharp and detailed, with pleasing contrast levels and slight grain. Kozintsev and Trauberg frequently backlight their subjects with great artistry, and the deep blacks and bright whites in this transfer show this off to advantage.

The newly-recorded Shostakovich score is a delight: vivacious, playful, startling and dramatic, and at all times closely linked to the emotional shifts and rapid cutting of the images. The difficulties faced by the restorers in reincorporating this vital ingredient of the film were immense. After Shostakovich had composed the score, and just three weeks before the premiere, the film was recut by the Moscow producers: shots were excised, others were rearranged. The music no longer corresponded to the film. The premiere, unsurprisingly, was a disaster. The process of reintegrating the original score has therefore also been one of restoring the film to its intended structure.

There is a great deal of information about the historical background and restoration in the accompanying booklet, but unfortunately this is only in German. The disc itself contains no extras.

Overall, an impressive edition of an important and powerful film. Highly recommended
.

NOTE: Marek Pytel tell us in email:

"Michael said 'The process of reintegrating the original score has therefore also been one of restoring the film to its intended structure.'

This is not correct: The footage excised from the film (some 20% of the entire film ...), three weeks before its 1929 premiere when Shostakovich's score was already completed, has not been restored in this version.

At best therefore, the ARTE DVD recording, reproduces the disastrous premiere, synchronization and to judge by the earlier ARTE broadcast is possibly much worse.

However I am pleased to say that the missing footage has been discovered and the reconstructed film was premiered with full orchestra at the University of Chicago in January this year.

This performance presented the original film for which Shostakovich wrote his music, to the public, for the first time, also at its correctly intended projection speed of of 24 frames per second.

The Arte film as released is exactly the same print version of the film as the Bach release, but far better visual quality and, unlike the Bach, with music by Shostakovich. The Bach release is shorter only due to its transfer speed of 25 frames per second, as opposed to the 20 frames per second speed of the Arte. Both incidentally are wrong.

I should also add that the film has previously been released as part of a Limited Edition Book & DVD box set, in largely the same version as the Arte & Bach, but with the Shostakovich score, by my own imprint, at:

http://www.newbabylon.co.uk

I should also add that the conductor's German language web site makes free use of my original research on the film, as presented to a conference on archival sound and the cinema in Brussels, without seemingly understanding a word of what I was actually saying." (Thanks Marek!)

ADDENDUM:

Sent in email - Hello,
it's nice that you put a review of the new German DVD edition of Kozintsev's and Trauberg's "New Babylon" on the DVD Beaver website. In the original review it is said that the film has been restored "to its intended structure".

Marek Pytel added a comment saying that "this is not correct". He refers to a longer version of the film which was cut and altered three weeks before the premiere and declares that only the longer version displays the film's "intended structure".

The reference is correct. But Mr. Pytel should have added that the same reference is made and discussed in the booklet of the DVD edition. Arguing for their choice of the shorter version, the editors refer to a statement of one the directors, Trauberg, who declared during the 1970s that the film should not be shown in its longer version, but only in the shortened version. So the longer version is, without doubt, a version which everyone interested in the film would like to know; it is, however, not correct to say that the short version does not exhibit "the intended structure" of the film. Instead, the editors got a point when choosing the short version. It's the film which at least one of the directors wanted to be shown. (thanks Mischa)
 

 - Michael St Aubyn

Marek Pytel adds in email: "The last minute edit of the film, resulting in the abridged version to which Mr. St. Aubyn refers, was made under studio orders given on the 27/8th February 1929 - less than three weeks before the film's 19th March 1929 premiere. Shostakovich's score was then not only completed but arranged ready for performance. The last minute edit - in fact a censorship of the film's perceived formalism - was forced on the directors after its second, Moscow, preview and resulted in the well documented fiasco of the 1929 premiere performances. These went ahead as scheduled, although not as either Kozintsev, Trauberg, or Shostakovich had intended when submitting their finished work to the studios just a fortnight or so earlier.

Leonid Trauberg's 1982 authorization of the abridged version, which he made some 53 years after he had last seen the film with music, has since been substantially qualified in his later 1990 interviews with Natalia Noussinova and through primary source material which has surfaced from the Soviet archives since.
"

 



DVD Menus
 

 


Screen Captures


Subtitle sample

 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 


 

 

 

DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

 

Distribution

Absolut Medien

Region 0 - PAL





 

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