Soviet Westerns? That sounds awesome.
No, seriously. ‘Wild East: The Best of Soviet Action Films,’ the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s week of Soviet “Easterns” initially sounds more than a little bit obscure. But this particular genre actually makes quite a bit more sense than an American cinephile well-versed in the Wild West cinema might think. These films, set in the wide open steppes of Asia have quite a bit in common with the quintessential American genre. The Civil War period after Revolution of 1917 and the conflicts with Besmachi rebels in Central Asia of the 1920s create the same sort of violent historical excitement as the American Civil War, and the horse-riding gun-toting heroes breaking in the vast regions to the East of European Russia can be just as compelling as any white hat to ride through Tombstone.
Communist gunfighters riding through a tremendous landscape on a Red civilizing mission to the East. Again, it sounds awesome (though John Wayne wouldn’t be too happy).
The films themselves range from the 1930s to just before the fall of the Soviet Union. The first is “Thirteen” (1936), a John Ford inspired film that takes the American filmmaker’s work and gives it a Russian stylistic and ideological twist. To this are added two films from the 1950s, “Miles of Fire” (1957) and “The Horsemen” (1950), which pits its young equestrian hero against Nazi tanks.
The further along chronologically the list goes, the more intriguing the selection seems, including “White Sun of the Desert” (1969) which involves a harem, magnificent landscapes and bandits. The ‘70s are represented by “The Bodyguard” (1979) and “The Seventh Bullet” (1974), penned by Andrei Konchalovsky who co-wrote Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev” and who helmed the 2003 re-make of “The Lion in Winter.” The last film is from 1988, “The Cold Summer of ’53,” focusing on a crime wave upon the death of Stalin.
As for me, I’ll be going to see “White Sun of the Desert” and “The Seventh Bullet,” and not just because of the great photo for the latter. Both films, fit right into the time frame to have been influenced by the great revisionist Westerns of the ’60s, and it’s even suggested on the event page that the films of Sergio Leone didn’t go unnoticed in the USSR. There’s also no better draw for a movie than “cult classic favored by astronauts,” as claimed in the description for “White Sun.” As for “The Seventh Bullet,” that picture is pretty damn exciting, and the film looks at a segment of Soviet history almost unknown here in the US, the Communist struggle to exert its authority over Central Asia in the ’20s. Though really, I’ll be honest that the edifying historical stuff is second to the promise of a fresh new thrilling wild frontier flick.
The series starts today (February 11th) at NYC’s Walter Reade Theater and runs through the 17th.