Happiness (Alexander Medvedkin, 1934)


Cinema in the Hands of the People”: Chris Marker, the Medvedkin Group, and the Potential of Militant Film

In 1961, at a film festival in Brussels, Marker saw Medvedkin’s Happiness (Schastye; 1935), and described it as “a superb film as beautiful as Eisenstein’s, as popular as Mussorgsky’s music, deeply moving. . . . Where was the author? Dead? Alive?”30 Struck by this comedy on the difficult adjustment of an incompetent yet sympathetic peasant to his new life as a collective farmer, a film whose very emphasis on satire seemed to exceed the bounds of Socialist Realism, Marker searched mostly in vain for any information on Medvedkin. In his research, he eventually came across Kino: A History of the Russian and Soviet Film (1960) by Jay Leyda, an American filmmaker and historian who had studied with Eisenstein in the 1930s.31 Leyda’s book, in under two pages, provided one of the only English- language accounts of Medvedkin’s kino-poezd, or ciné-train, which consisted of three train carriages transformed into a film-production studio complete with projection room and living quarters.32 Leyda concisely describes the “several sided task” of Medvedkin’s “self-contained film studio” as they traveled the Soviet Union in 1932 under the orders of the Central Committee with the aim of making agitational films for and with local populations:

In addition to making instructional films to help local problems, for example, overcoming winter condi- tions to speed up freight shipments, the film crew was able to produce crit- ical films on local conditions (bureau- cracy, inefficiency, nepotism, etc.) that they or the local political workers judged to require their ungentle attention. The prime audience for these, as for the instructional films, was the local one, who would greet these barbed film vaudevilles with wel- come laughs and blushes.33

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