Eclipse Series 11: Larisa Shepitko

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Jeff
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Eclipse Series 11: Larisa Shepitko

#1 Post by Jeff » Thu May 15, 2008 7:18 pm

ECLIPSE SERIES 11: LARISA SHEPITKO

[img]http://criterion_production.s3.amazonaws.com/release_images/2035/eclipseshepitko_box_lined_w128.jpg[/img]

The career of Larisa Shepitko, an icon of sixties and seventies Soviet cinema, was tragically cut short when she was killed in a car crash at age thirty-nine, just as she was emerging on the international scene. The body of work she left behind, though small, is masterful, and her genius for visually evoking characters' interior worlds is never more striking than in her two greatest works: Wings, an intimate yet exhilarating portrait of a female fighter pilot turned provincial headmistress, and The Ascent, a gripping, tragic World War II parable of betrayal and martyrdom. A true artist, who had deftly used the Soviet film industry to make statements both personal and universal, Shepitko remains one of the greatest unsung filmmakers of all time.


The Ascent

[img]http://criterion_production.s3.amazonaws.com/product_images/24/ECLShepitkoascent_box_348x490_w100[/img]

Shepitko’s emotionally overwhelming final film won the Golden Bear at the 1977 Berlin Film Festival and has been hailed around the world as the finest Soviet film of its decade. Set during the darkest days of World War II, The Ascent follows the path of two peasant soldiers, cut off from their troop, who trudge through the snowy backwoods of Belarus evading the Nazis and seeking refuge among villagers. Their harrowing trek leads them on a journey of betrayal, heroism, and ultimate transcendence.


Wings

[img]http://criterion_production.s3.amazonaws.com/product_images/27/ECLShepitkowings_box_348x490_w100[/img]

For her first feature after graduating from the State Institute for Cinematography (VGIK), Larisa Shepitko trained her lens on the fascinating, beloved Russian character actress Maya Bulgakova, giving a marvelous performance as a once heroic Russian bomber pilot now living in quiet, disappointingly ordinary life as a school principal. Subtly portraying one woman’s desperation with elegant, spare camerawork and casual, fluid storytelling, Shepitko, with Wings, announced herself as an important new voice in Soviet cinema.
Last edited by Jeff on Thu May 15, 2008 8:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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tavernier
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#2 Post by tavernier » Thu May 15, 2008 7:46 pm

Wow--only 2 films? Too bad they couldn't just release everything she did, since there's not much more. (And it's all superb.)

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#3 Post by KeystoneCop » Thu May 15, 2008 7:59 pm

Yeah, I was looking forward to Ty i ya (1971). :(

The Ascent is incredible, though. Really shoulda been a full-on Criterion.

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#4 Post by What A Disgrace » Thu May 15, 2008 8:17 pm

Maybe her second film will get its own individual Criterion release?

I mean, it isn't like these are the only three things she ever did, or ever related to her. She did a batch of student films, a television film, plus there's that documentary by Klimov.

An odd choice, however you look at it, and whatever will become of Ti i ya. This is gonna be a thin little package.

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#5 Post by domino harvey » Thu May 15, 2008 8:25 pm

The list price is the same as a lower-tier Criterion, so for less than $10 a film at DVDPlanet, not a bad deal at all.

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#6 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Thu May 15, 2008 8:42 pm

More would have been nice, but I'm with domino. Also, I'm a Klimov fan so this is a must-buy.

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tavernier
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#7 Post by tavernier » Thu May 15, 2008 8:51 pm

No one's complaining price-wise; the problem is that this set almost certainly kills any chance of her other films getting released on disc. (I doubt we'll be seeing a second Shepitko set from Eclipse.)

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#8 Post by Tribe » Thu May 15, 2008 10:08 pm

Are these her "must see" films or are her others just as well considered? What's special about these two?

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domino harvey
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#9 Post by domino harvey » Thu May 15, 2008 10:32 pm

Everyone should be kissing the ground in gratefulness that these two titles didn't wind up in Facets Hell

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#10 Post by eez28 » Thu May 15, 2008 11:02 pm

tavernier wrote:the problem is that this set almost certainly kills any chance of her other films getting released on disc. (I doubt we'll be seeing a second Shepitko set from Eclipse.)
But they did already release another Ozu set, so why couldn't they do another Shepitko?

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#11 Post by domino harvey » Thu May 15, 2008 11:05 pm

I doubt Criterion wasn't interested in releasing it, so I can only assume either
1: They tried and it wasn't available or
2: They saved a title to give the full Criterion treatment later (though probably not in this case, since the the Ascent is higher profile).

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tavernier
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#12 Post by tavernier » Thu May 15, 2008 11:10 pm

eez28 wrote:
tavernier wrote:the problem is that this set almost certainly kills any chance of her other films getting released on disc. (I doubt we'll be seeing a second Shepitko set from Eclipse.)
But they did already release another Ozu set, so why couldn't they do another Shepitko?
Because Ozu is slightly higher-profile than Shepitko.

If they are throwing away The Ascent on Eclipse, we won't be seeing any more from her.

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#13 Post by Cold Bishop » Thu May 15, 2008 11:39 pm

I would really loved to have seen her half of Beginnings of an Unknown Era, as the Quays included it in their list of favorites.

I'm also disappointed that there are only two films, and most certainly, we won't see any anytime soon. But, like domino mentioned, we should be grateful we have these two. Maybe this will raise enough interest in her work that we can get the others out somewhere else, even if it does mean they end up in Facets hell (better that than nothing).

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#14 Post by Ashirg » Fri May 16, 2008 12:13 am

I'd like to read opinions of Fassbinder about The Ascent. I know he was really outspoken against giving the film The Golden Bear that year.

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#15 Post by pro-bassoonist » Fri May 16, 2008 1:29 am

domino harvey wrote:Everyone should be kissing the ground in gratefulness that these two titles didn't wind up in Facets Hell
O how I agree with you.

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#16 Post by Senya » Fri May 16, 2008 2:06 am

I will probably upgrade my old VHS copy of The Ascent but I can't tell I am delighted with the movie itself. I prefer the book (it was a kind of must read in Russian schools) which is more complicated.

P.S. I know, I know. This is not a "book vs movie" topic. :)

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#17 Post by What A Disgrace » Fri May 16, 2008 6:44 am

domino harvey wrote:I doubt Criterion wasn't interested in releasing it, so I can only assume either
1: They tried and it wasn't available or
2: They saved a title to give the full Criterion treatment later (though probably not in this case, since the the Ascent is higher profile).
I've still got my fingers crossed for number 2; ignorant of Sheptiko's films though I am. My guess is that Criterion may have chosen to release The Ascent alongside Wings; Ascent being the higher profile title and therefore able to grab a bit more attention without any supplements, and release You and Me later on with some supplementary materials, once interest in Sheptiko has been revived.

It seems a pity to waste that material and never hear from Sheptiko again, but...number 1 does look more likely. After all, they haven't quite leapt to their feet to release Bernard's Time of the Wolves.

On a further note, since Criterion is willing to release as few as two single disc films in the Eclipse line, there's a chance that we'll see the remaining Victor Erice films, and Yamanaka's other two films (since Humanity has a special edition coming, according to Richie), through Eclipse. I'm cool with that, too.

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Ashirg
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#18 Post by Ashirg » Fri May 16, 2008 7:27 am

The Ascent and Wings are the only two Shepitko films currently available on DVD in Russia. Wonder if it played a role of not including other films.

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#19 Post by Perkins Cobb » Fri May 16, 2008 12:38 pm

Well, this has to be it for Criterion -- the other two features are minor works and obviously the shorts & fragments wouldn't rate a separate release. Heat or You & I would never warrant a standalone if The Ascent or Wings didn't. Best you could hope for is that Facets or Ruscico/Kino drops one of the other two one day.

As I mentioned in the speculation thread, I've seen all four of Shepitko's features, and the up side here is that at least Criterion managed to correctly pick out the two really works. (Wings is a masterpiece, and The Ascent will appeal to those who dig the kind of leaden symbolism/mysticism one finds in Tarkovsky.)

I absolutely agree with everyone arguing that Criterion should've included all four features for completism's sake, but I'm guessing they felt the two lesser films weren't worth the effort, or maybe would've been a drag on the set and tagged Shepitko as something of a bore in the reviews & 'net chatter (which they would have). The reality is, if you want to see everything, you'll never do it on home video: you have to live in New York or London or Paris and stalk the rare ones obsessively.

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#20 Post by HerrSchreck » Fri May 16, 2008 1:01 pm

I wonder re the two films.. wasn't an email from Tamara just posted where she said that the next E announcement would hit in September? Of course this could have been standard CCecrecy.. but the two titles could represent a fast move i e "we can't wait until September, lets announce something good, and easy."?

Just a speculation as to the 2-title release. Interesting, and somewhat makes the step to a single-title release (if desired) easier.

Nice release btw! =D>

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Tommaso
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#21 Post by Tommaso » Fri May 16, 2008 1:23 pm

Yes, the 2-title release is promising. While my collector's heart would have liked to have something like 'The Complete Shepitko" on a 4-disc-set, I'm not sure whether I would have bought it any time soon, not having seen any of her films. But with just two films for this ridiculous price I guess many will take the chance to plunge into unknown territory (and the above comparison to Tarkovsky necessarily waters my mouth). Same would go for the two missing Yamanaka films. Put "Humanity" into the main line and the other two into Eclipse; it avoids double-dipping and angry feelings from those who have the MoC. In retrospect I'm even more annoyed that they didn't put out "No regrets" and "One wonderful Sunday" on a double-discer; but apparently, somebody at CC begins to see sense.

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#22 Post by ellipsis7 » Fri May 16, 2008 2:07 pm

The Guardian on Sheptiko from 2005...
The lady vanishes
Larisa Shepitko was glamorous and gifted, and in her heyday she had the movie world at her feet. Why has everyone forgotten her, asks Larushka Ivan-Zadeh

Larushka Ivan-Zadeh
Monday January 10, 2005

Guardian

On June 2 1979 one of cinema's greatest female directors was killed in a car crash outside Leningrad. She was 39. Her name was Larisa Shepitko, and, even if you're a film buff, the chances are you've never heard of her. Barely any of Shepitko's mesmerising films have been screened in Britain. None is available on DVD. In fact they're scarcely shown, or known, in Russia. Yet, at the time of her sudden death, Shepitko was hot property on the international film circuit: she was young for a film-maker; she was strikingly attractive; her exquisite masterpiece The Ascent had won the prestigious Golden Bear at the 1977 Berlin festival. She had all the live-fast-die-young glamour that would ensure instant icon status for far inferior artists.
So why has Shepitko's work remain buried for so long? For the answer, look no further than Lenin's declaration that "film for us, is the most important art". Shepitko did not find it easy to satisfy communism's cultural commissars.

Born in Ukraine in 1938, Shepitko was one of three children raised by her schoolteacher mother. Her father, a Persian officer, had abandoned his family through early divorce - an act that Larisa never forgave. When she enrolled in the Moscow film academy in 1955, her dramatic eyes and dark, cheekboned elegance attracted much attention. However, her sole focus was film-making, and in 1958 she studied direction at the State Institute for Cinematography (VGIK), a few years behind Andrei Tarkovsky. Her tutor was Alexander Dovzhenko, a towering figure of early Soviet cinema and contemporary of Eisenstein. His poetical imagery and passionate celebration of Ukranian folk culture were a marked influence on the young Shepitko, who called him "my mentor" and took to heart his motto: "You have to approach each film as if it were your last."

Shepitko's graduation film, Heat (1963), was an extraordinary first undertaking. A daring fusion of political drama and Western-style showdown between an idealistic high-school youth and a Stalinist farm leader, it was shot on the barren steppes in such extreme climate conditions that Shepitko fell dangerously ill. Stretchered off set, she called in another young film-maker to help complete the project; this was her fellow VGIK student Elem Klimov, whose war film Come and See (1985) Stephen Spielberg would later cite as an influence on Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan.

Elem (named from the first letters of Engels, Lenin, Marx) had previously proposed marriage to Shepitko, but, like all the others, been rejected. Now he was accepted - but only after he vowed he wouldn't try to influence Shepitko's work.

United by intelligence, introspection and a certain dash, the Klimovs, along with Tarkovsky, were at the forefront of the Russian "New Wave" that flourished under Khrushchev before the cultural clampdown of 1967-8. In 1966 Shepitko was able to create her controversial second feature, Wings, which drew a stellar performance from Maya Bulgakova as a once-famous Stalinist fighter pilot now a disenchanted provincial schoolteacher.

An ill-fated omnibus called Beginning of an Unknown Era was Shepitko's first real loss to censorship. Commissioned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, its unsentimental depiction of the early days of communism was hardly the banner-waving Bolshevik propaganda the Party had hoped for - particularly Angel, the segment directed by Andrei Smirnov, where a worker menaced by an officer with a gun comments: "How simple it is to kill and to condemn in the name of the revolution." The film was not shown until 1987.

The banning of Beginning depressed Shepitko. However, her primary concern as an artist was not political protest, but the more intimate exploration of the individual in society, struggling with that eternal question: "Why do we live?"

You and Me (1971), set in contemporary Russia, is her most experimental feature, and her only one in Technicolor. This is an existentialist narrative about two male surgeons in crisis about their ideals, balancing individual despair with hope in a wider humanity and responsibility. "I always used to think it was all or nothing," Dr Pyotr says to a suicidal girl, "But there's always somebody who needs you."

Now 35, Larisa took time off from work to have a child. It was a life-changing moment. As she said in her final interview in June 1979, "I saw death very closely. I had a serious spine injury, and at the time I was expecting a child. I could have died, because I decided to keep the child. At that time I was facing death for the first time, and like anyone in such a situation I was looking for my own formula of immortality."

The result was her numinous masterpiece The Ascent (1976). Drawn from Vasily Bykov's novella Sotnikov, it's the tense tale of two starving partisans crawling across the hostile snows of Belarus during the 1942 Nazi occupation. The film is outstanding not just for its ravishing aestheticism, but its Dostoevksian soul-wrestling and gripping central performances. The final scenes, where the Christ-like hero Sotnikov (Boris Plotnikov) dies because of his own stubborn convictions, form one of the most hypnotically powerful moments of 1970s cinema.

Despite The Ascent's success - international as well as national, although the Soviet authorities banned export of other masterpieces such as Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev - Larisa was increasingly preoccupied by death. Highly superstitious, she had her fortune told in Bulgaria in 1978, after which she immediately took her friend to a nearby church and made her swear that, should anything happen to her or Elem, she must look after their young son, Anton. A few months later, she was killed.

It was so abrupt; the Soviet film community was stunned into numbness. Tarkovsky wrote in his diary: "Larisa Shepitko was buried, and so were five members of her team. A car accident. All killed instantly. It was so sudden that no adrenaline was found in their blood."

Shepitko had been on location for a new film, The Farewell. Just a week after the accident, her husband was on set to complete it. The film, in which a traditional Siberian peasant village is condemned in order to facilitate the march of progress, is another implicit critique of modern communism. Interesting though it is (it was allegedly a favourite of Gorbachev's), Klimov's Farewell lacks the perfect pitch of the best of Shepitko's work.

Today, 25 years after Shepitko's death, her films have finally reached Britain. Leeds International Film festival, working with Soviet Export Film, has organised a retrospective of her entire oeuvre, from her four finished features to her prize-winning shorts (plus The Farewell and a tribute from Elem Klimov). All, particularly the last features, deserve an audience not as dated curiosities from another era, but because Shepitko's mysticism is rooted in an ever-relevant sense of humanity. It's time this long-lost Soviet visionary was brought in from the cold.

· The Larisa Shepitko retrospective is at the ICA, London SW1 (020-7930 3647), until January 27, and at venues throughout Britain during January

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Morbii
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#23 Post by Morbii » Fri May 16, 2008 5:02 pm

HerrSchreck wrote:I wonder re the two films.. wasn't an email from Tamara just posted where she said that the next E announcement would hit in September?
No no - the next release in September. Knowing that you felt the next Announcement would be September makes it more clear that you were definitely more serious about thinking it was going down the tubes now :)
Last edited by Morbii on Fri May 16, 2008 5:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#24 Post by ivuernis » Fri May 16, 2008 5:03 pm

I'm surprised how quickly this set has come out considering there was only a brief mention of it in last month's blog entry. I was hoping for a bit more time so I could off-load my Connoisseur VHS. Now that it's out but only with the addition of Wings I don't if it's worth selling the VHS and getting the Eclipse set. I was really hoping for more from this set. That said, it's great to finally see The Ascent get a DVD release and if I didn't have it already I'd be pre-ordering it now... and I still might once DVDBeaver reviews it.

Seagull Films who specialise in contemporary Russian film ran a great programme to Elem Klimov and Larisa Shepitko so there is some good information here for anybody who may be interested in this Eclipse set.

I'd love to see Eclipse do a Tolomush Okeev set in the future and include his debut short There Are Horses. From what little I've read about him I'm very intrigued. His use of nature shots has been compared to Malick.

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HerrSchreck
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#25 Post by HerrSchreck » Fri May 16, 2008 5:24 pm

Morbii wrote:
HerrSchreck wrote:I wonder re the two films.. wasn't an email from Tamara just posted where she said that the next E announcement would hit in September?
No no - the next release in September. Knowing that you felt the next Announcement would be September makes it more clear that you were definitely more serious about thinking it was going down the tubes now
Yeah I'm realizing thats what she probably meant-- my big ol bad esp if this release hits in Sept.

Still a line with mucho burpos. But will take w I get get naturlich.

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