May 3-6, 2001

American Cinematheque presents...

Fantastika! The Films of Russian Fantasy Master Alexander Ptushko

Presented in collaboration with Seagull Films, with the assistance of Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Skotak, Nikita Mikhalkov and TTT Studio.

"Like Mario Bava, William Cameron Menzies and George Pal, Ptushko was part tinkerer, part inventor and part artist, whose fantastic imagination produced works of pure visual inventiveness" – Alan Upchurch.

 

This series was made possible through the generosity of The Trust for Mutual Understanding and George Gund III.

Special Thanks: Leonid Vereshchagin/TTT STUDIO; Joan Borsten and Oleg Vidov; Edith Kramer/PACIFIC FILM ARCHIVE; Alan Upchurch.

Series Compiled by Dennis Bartok, Alla Verlotsky, Natalia Birulina and Gwen Deglise, with the assistance of David Shultz at Vitagraph Films.


Tickets available 30 days in advance.

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Often referred to as "the Russian Spielberg," Soviet director and visual effects pioneer Alexander Ptushko (1900-1973) created his own epic fantasy world filled with wind demons, sorcerers and enchanted stone gardens. In 1935, Ptushko directed one of the world’s first full-length animated features, THE NEW GULLIVER -- two years before Disney’s SNOW WHITE! -- and went on to make the haunting masterpiece THE STONE FLOWER in 1946 (Russia’s first color feature), followed by ILYA MUROMETS (1956), SAMPO (1959), VIY (1967) and other astonishing fantasies. The special effects Ptushko pioneered in these films predate many of the techniques familiar to U.S. audiences from Ray Harryhausen’s JASON & THE ARGONAUTS to Terry Gilliam’s THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN and others.

Sadly, Ptushko’s films have only been available in the U.S. in long-out-of print versions that were poorly dubbed, drastically re-cut, and often re-photographed from the original CinemaScope format to distorted pan-and-scan versions. (In fact, early in his career, director Francis Ford Coppola was assigned to re-edit Ptushko’s SADKO for American release as THE MAGIC VOYAGE OF SINBAD.) This series will feature brand-new 35 mm. prints of the original Russian-language versions of the features (with English subtitles) -- the result of over 7 years’ work between the American Cinematheque and Seagull Films in New York.

 

Thursday, May 3 – 7:30 PM

Restored 35 mm. Prints – Original Russian Language Versions!!

THE STONE FLOWER (KAMENNY TSVETOK), 1946, 83 min. Dir. Alexander Ptushko. Set in the Ural Mountains, Ptushko’s dreamlike, visually ravishing fable follows a melancholy young stone-carver (Vladimir Druzhnikov) whose talents attract the attention of the mystical Queen of Copper Hill (Tamara Makarova); she seduces him into visiting her dazzling underground world, where the carver begins sculpting an enormous flower out of shimmering stone. Based on Pavel Bazhov’s folktale The Malachite Box, THE STONE FLOWER was Ptushko’s first great artistic and popular success, combining a hypnotic, almost religious intensity with images of stunning, supernatural splendor – Paradjanov’s COLOR OF POMEGRANETES meets Bava’s HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD. Russia’s first full-color feature, and winner of the International Prize for Color at the Cannes Film Festival. (Repeats May 6 at 5:00 PM).

THE NEW GULLIVER (NOVY GULLIVER), 1935, 68 min. Dir. Alexander Ptushko. One of the first full-length animated films made anywhere in the world, THE NEW GULLIVER tells the story of Petya (Vladimir Konstantinov), a young Soviet pioneer who falls asleep reading Swift’s "Gulliver’s Travels" – and awakens in a surreal Lilliput, updated to include jazz bands, mechanized tractors and (in the best revolutionary spirit) a miniaturized workers’ proletariat, who rise up with the help of the giant Petya! Ptushko’s first feature as director is an astounding hybrid of stop-motion animation (over 3,000 separate figures were used) and live-action footage.

 

Friday, May 4 – 7:30 PM

Due to technical problems with the prints, ILYA MUROMETS and SAMPO will not be shown in the series. The double feature that will be shown in its place is VIY followed by THE STONE FLOWER. The Cinematheque will reschedule ILYA MUROMETS and SAMPO at a later date when prints become available. If you bought advance tickets the box office will give you a voucher if you do not wish to see this show.

Restored 35 mm. Prints – Original Russian Language Versions!!

ILYA MUROMETS, 1956, 94 min. Dir. Alexander Ptushko. Released in a dubbed, shortened version in the U.S. as THE SWORD & THE DRAGON, the complete ILYA MUROMETS is one of Ptushko’s finest achievements, a colorful, sweeping epic of 13th century Russia, where barrel-chested hero Ilya (Boris Andreyev) takes on marauding Mongols, furry wind demons, three-headed dragons and a corrupt aristocracy to save his beloved homeland. The first CinemaScope and Stereo film produced in Russia, ILYA MUROMETS combines brilliant, JASON & THE ARGONAUTS-style visual effects with a gorgeous, pastoral vision of the Russian countryside – screeching black ravens, lone riders silhouetted against burning skies. (Repeats May 6 at 5:00 PM).

SAMPO, 1959, 99 min. Dir. Alexander Ptushko. Based on the Finnish national epic "Kalevala", a folk narrative handed down over centuries, SAMPO tells the story of the sinister witch Louhi (Anna Orochko), who kidnaps a beautiful maiden (Nina Anderson) in an attempt to force her father to hand over the "Sampo" – a magical mill that will produce endless salt, grain and gold. When the hero Lemminkäinen (Urho Somersalmi) attempts to stop her, Louhi literally steals the sun, plunging the world into darkness. SAMPO was released here in a severely edited, pan-and-scan version as THE DAY THE EARTH FROZE; this is the first-ever U.S. screening of the full-length, CinemaScope original!

 

Saturday, May 5 – 5:00 PM

U.S. Premiere – Russian Horror Classic!!

VIY, 1967, 78 min. Dirs. Konstantin Yershov & Giorgi Kropachyov. Supervising director Alexander Ptushko. On the want-list of most horror-fantasy fans for years, VIY finally makes its U.S. appearance here! Based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol, VIY tells the story of a bumbling, novice priest (Leonid Kuravlyov) who angers a demonic old hag – to take her revenge, the witch disguises herself as the beautiful corpse of a young woman, whose last wish is to have the priest pray over her for three nights. Once trapped inside the village church, the priest encounters an astoundingly-grotesque parade of gargoyles and demons, literally erupting from the walls – and the gorgeous witch herself, whirling around the church in a flying coffin! Plus, a clip from SADKO (1953, approx. 10 min.), featuring Ptushko’s most singularly-stunning creation: a shimmering half-bird, half-woman, trapped inside a maharajah’s gem-like palace.

 

Saturday, May 5 – 7:15 PM

Ptushko’s Greatest Masterpiece – the Russian ‘Wizard of Oz’!!

RUSLAN I LUDMILA, 1972, 159 min. Dir. Alexander Ptushko. A mad, enchanted combination of THE WIZARD OF OZ, DIE NIBELUNGENLIED and THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T, RUSLAN is quite possibly Ptushko's greatest masterpiece, an epic 2-part fantasy packed with surreal, grotesque characters – a sorcerous midget with a 50-foot beard, a demonic, hunchbacked witch – and jawdropping set-pieces – the midget’s shimmering crystal palace, tormented figures chained inside a cavern, a decapitated giant’s head rising up like a statue on Easter Island. Based on a poem by Pushkin, Ptushko’s final film as director follows the epic adventures of Ruslan (Valery Kosints) as he struggles to recover the feisty, resourceful bride (Natalia Petrova) kidnapped on their wedding night by the impish sorcerer Tchernomor.

Added! A clip of "The Legend of Czar Sultan" will screen before RUSLAN I LUDMILA and actor Oleg Vidov will speak for 20 minutes after that about working with Ptushko.

 

Sunday, May 6 – 5:00 PM

Due to technical problems with the print of ILYA MUROMETS it will not be shown in the series. The double feature will begin with THE STONE FLOWER as originally scheduled, and will be followed by THE NEW GULLIVER. The Cinematheque will reschedule ILYA MUROMETS at a later date when a print becomes available. If you bought advance tickets the box office will give you a voucher if you do not wish to see this show.

Encore Double Feature: (see above for film descriptions)

THE STONE FLOWER (KAMENNY TSVETOK), 1946, 83 min. Dir. Alexander Ptushko.

ILYA MUROMETS, 1956, 94 min. Dir. Alexander Ptushko.