BEST FILMS OF 1917 - List in Progress
by Mike Lorefice

The Dying Swan
Yevgeni Bauer

Vera Karalli was a star with the Russian Imperial Ballet who took up acting while on the disabled list. It seems only natural that Yevgeni Bauer would eventually get around to making a film that incorporated all the skills of his favorite actress. Despite Karalli's obvious legitimate skill, what struck me is how much Bauer's refusal to cut away from his master shot adds to his films. Why did it take two unbroken minutes of a legitimately talented person on her tiptoes to point out something I should have noticed in Twilight of a Woman’s Soul or After Death? I suppose because I'm so used to the frauds that are always perpetrated on audiences today where about all that's required to be a *cough* martial artist is being able to move your arms and legs. If they want you in their film bad enough they'll chop the "action" every 3 frames then run it on fast forward until it purportedly represents a fight. Through Bauer's masterful use of lighting, he not only regularly shades the mood, but the characters walking in and out of the light subtly reflects upon their mental and emotional state. The dolly out of Gizella (Karalli) sleeping that sets the stage for the nightmare sequence is an example of a way Bauer writes in light and shadow rather than simply dressing up important scenes. This scene could have been skipped entirely, but the effects of the unseen storm, flashes of lightning through the window and the wind blowing the curtains, set the tone. As a whole, Dying Swan isn't as visual as Twilight or After Death. There's less tinting and use of decor, and surprisingly more intertitles despite Gizella being a mute. Bauer develops his deep focus technique in beautiful exteriors without much aid from artificial light, but as a whole this outing is close to a far more skillfully directed Tod Browning film. Lon Chaney could even play the painter Count Glinskiy (Andrej Gromov) who longs to possess the unattainable. There are two pathetic twisted love stories, Gizella leaves Viktor (Vitold Polonsky, the man obsessed with post mortem Karalli in After Death) after she catches him with another woman and becomes successful at her passion of ballet partially because she's so emotionally destroyed she's credible dancing tragedy. Glinskiy is a ridiculous decadent artist who, like Bauer, is obsessed with death. He can't find real death despite living during World War 1 until he views its incarnation in the alive but dead ballerina. Unfortunately, he's such a talentless painter - Bauer refuses to allow us to take him seriously overloading his lair with "paintings" that appear to be swiped from the closet of the local biology class - he can't capture her expired essence the first time she sits for him. In the interim, she makes up with Victor, who agrees to marry her, totally changing her countenance to the point she's brimming with enthusiasm when she returns to Glinskiy's. [5/8/07] ***

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