Opus 38: Love and Hatred (1934)

Love and Hatred, op. 38 (1934)
Film on YouTube (ten-minute segments) via SHOSTAKOVI.CH: The Page of Shostakovich

Chopped-up YouTube uploads are no way to watch a movie, if you have a choice.  But it’s the easiest way to get to Shostakovich’s score for Albert Gendelshtein’s 1935 film, Love and Hatred (the music was composed the previous year):  The movie isn’t available in any recent DVD edition that I can track down and the soundtrack is otherwise unrecorded.  Tokai, the young Japanese proprietor of SHOSTAKOVI.CH, seems sincerely to believe that the Shostakovich-scored films he’s uploaded are in the public domain in Japan.  I hope that’s correct, or at least that they remain on the web for a while, as they’re an excellent resource for exploring the composer’s film music.

Another hurdle is that the movie isn’t subtitled or translated, and I don’t speak Russian.  To some extent that is a problem.  I think of the middling submarine movie U-571, in which an American engineer played by Harvey Keitel, forced to control a commandeered U-Boat, complains desperately that “Everything’s in German!” (at 1:10 in the preview there) — Love and Hatred‘s narrative, like a foreign submarine, is almost but not quite possible for me to work out properly.  Yet, there’s a liberation in focusing on the visuals and the flow of sound while abandoning the words, particularly since I suspect much of the text is propagandistic boilerplate.  The heroes and villains are established more than broadly enough and I doubt there is much lost in the dialog that’s better than the mystery of not knowing.

I could look up John Riley’s summary of the film but, to see just how explicable it would be to me if I watched it cold, I did not; I’ll check later and write an update if I’m wildly wrong about anything.  (The actors’ names, which I can’t read, are listed on the meager IMDB entry.)  It’s a story of women in a mining town fending for themselves in Revolutionary times after their men all go to war.  (The time is clearly established by the opening shot, which solemnly considers a socialist-realist sculpture of women clearly labeled “1919”.)  Some male officers, I think anticommunist Russians, arrive and take charge of the town; the women ultimately organize, take up arms against their oppressors, and finally meet a group of soldiers who, after some tension, prove to be their returning husbands and sweethearts.

Gendelshtein’s film isn’t nearly as visually exciting as Kozintsev and Trauberg’s New Babylon or Alone, despite instances of sharp editing.  Some promising montage sequences early on largely give way to longer, more static, talkier scenes.  I’m struck most by the frank images of women laboring in the mines and fighting with enemy men:  The scenes have the unreality of propaganda but they are far less softened and sexualized than virtually anything I’m used to seeing in contemporary American film.  Without understanding the words, I understand something of the film’s ideal of the Soviet woman, who fills both the role of provider and fighter.  The women trade impassioned speeches while bathing their children; in one particularly telling scene, a shot of a woman coddling her baby cuts to another woman stroking a rifle.

On to Shostakovich.  Really, the film seems a little bit thin on Shostakovich.  The credits play out to one of the score’s longer orchestral selections, but solo and choral songs and some smaller instrumental numbers are more prominent after that.  The style accords with what little I heard of his music for The Counterplan.  It isn’t cut off completely from Shostakovich’s non-cinematic output — his incidental music for The Human Comedy most clearly bends towards his emerging film style — but to this point in his career the composer did write differently for movies, more clearly and romantically, I assume because he anticipated a broader audience, not to mention responded to the needs of that audience as laid out by the Soviet film industry’s minders.

The most interesting sonic episode in the film happens at about the ten-minute mark, in a sequence of mixed sound and silence that I doubt Shostakovich was directly involved in.  The men go marching out of town to a choral number accompanied by organ — an odd aggrandizement of the squeezebox played by the soldier at the front of the column — but this fades off into an uneasy silence as the abandoned mining facility is shown.  Women wail, briefly; then machine guns and shells provide the soundtrack as they tear up some pastoral scenery.  Finally, church bells toll, completing a mural in images and sounds of the troubles of war.

Also notable is some diegetic music that issues from the gramophone of a boorish, slovenly military officer — first an oafish march, and later a leering dance number.  The scenes make explicit what Shostakovich had in mind when he deployed such tunes in more abstract settings:

As has become typical of Shostakovich’s works by now, the music becomes more dramatic and bombastic at the end.  A stern orchestral procession accompanies the women as they arm themselves and march out from the town, carrying the bodies of their fallen comrades on an artillery piece.  The music looks forward to Shostakovich’s eleventh symphony two decades later:  It is direct, tuneful, humorless, revolutionary.

The quality of the recorded sound is obviously poor, but I like that it preserves the style of orchestral playing of the mid-1930s — More than a finer, contemporary audiophile recording, it feels like a direct line to the function of Shostakovich’s music within the film.

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