Pudovkin is often designated as the second great artist of the Soviet silent film; his accomplishments have often taken a back seat to those of his more bellicose contemporary, Sergei Eisenstein. The...
Debut as assistant director of "agitka", "Sickle and Hammer"
Begins writing film theory pamphlets, which would eventually be published in English under the titles "Film Technique" and "Film Acting"
First solo full-length directorial effort, the scientific documentary, "Mechanics of the Brain"
Awarded the Order of Lenin
Joined Kuleshov's "experimental laboratory"
Screenwriting debut, "Locksmith and Chancellor"
Film acting debut in Perestiani's agitprop film "In the Days of Struggle"
Injured in an auto accident, in which the scriptwriter of "Mother", Nathan Zarkhi, dies
Directs feature masterpiece, "Mother"
Became assistant director to school's principals Vladimir Gardin and Ivan Perestiani
Last directorial effort, "Vozrashcheni Vasiliya Bortnikova/ Vasili's Return"
Returned to filmmaking with the feature "Sons", co-directed by Mikhail Doller
Co-directed documentary, "Hunger-Hunger-Hunger"
Enrolled in Moscow's State Institute of Cinematography
Decided to leave chemistry behind after viewing D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance"
Pudovkin is often designated as the second great artist of the Soviet silent film; his accomplishments have often taken a back seat to those of his more bellicose contemporary, Sergei Eisenstein. The difference between the two directors is typified in the oft-quoted statement of French critic Leon Moussinac: "Pudovkin's films resemble a song, Eisenstein's a scream." But if Eisenstein gained notoriety as the more resolutely avant-garde film artist, it was Pudovkin who arguably made the more enduring contributions to the medium, refining the body of techniques--pioneered by D.W. Griffith--which today compose the seamless continuity of the psychological film.
Pudovkin's entrance into the arts came at the relatively late age of 27. After studying chemistry, he was drafted into the military service, was wounded in 1915 and spent three years in a prisoner of war camp. During that time he learned to speak English, German and Polish. Upon his release, Pudovkin went to work in the laboratory of a military plant, but a viewing of Griffith's "Intolerance" had a profound effect on him and in 1920 he decided to abandon chemistry in favor of a career in cinema.
Pudovkin began to study under Vladimir Gardin, one of the few successful prewar directors to continue working after the Revolution. Working as both actor and assistant director, Pudovkin's projects with Gardin included "Sickle and Hammer" and "Hunger...Hunger...Hunger" (both 1921), the latter a film which attempted to increase public awareness about a famine devastating the Ukraine.
In 1922 Pudovkin left Gardin to join the seminal group of film talents--which included Eisenstein--working under Lev Kuleshov at the State Film School. There he participated in the famous series of editing experiments designed to demonstrate how montage is responsible for the psychological coherence of cinematic cognition. For the group's first feature, "The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks" (1924), Pudovkin wrote the screenplay, was an assistant director, and played a role. He also wore several hats, as writer, designer, and actor, in the workshop's next project, "The Death Ray" (1925)--a film intended to showcase the collective's comprehensive knowledge of the medium.
Pudovkin was commissioned by "Mezraboom-Russ" to make an educational film popularizing the principles of Pavlov's studies in reflex conditioning. "Mechanics of the Brain" (1926) allowed the director to practice a disciplined application of his principles of film exposition; it also initiated his career-long relationship with cameraman Anatoli Golovnya, who worked almost exclusively with Pudovkin. Before this project was completed, Pudovkin directed a short, "Chess Fever" (1925), a comedy which incorporated footage from Moscow's International Chess Tournament of 1925.
Pudovkin's next film would secure his place in the history of cinema. Adapted from Maxim Gorky's novel by Pudovkin's frequent scenarist, Nathan Zarkhi, "Mother" (1926) distinguishes Pudovkin as a director of economy and precision. The film demonstrates his methodological differences with Eisenstein; Pudovkin advocated a theory of "linkage," in which montage "builds" not for an Eisensteinian abstraction but the impact of emotional identification. To support that theory, Pudovkin chose to structure his tale of the Revolution around its effect on an individual.
His next project, "The End of St. Petersburg" (1927), was, like Eisenstein's "October" (1928), commissioned in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Revolution. The Russian public, familiar with the rivalry between the two men, saw the films as a way of comparing the virtues of their philosophies. Pudovkin's film, the first of many to benefit from the assistance of Mikhail Doller, was well-received and its sophisticated analysis of the Revolution is considered by some critics to be superior to Eisenstein's effort.
Pudovkin's later films saw the director "increasingly seduced by the charm of the image," as in" The Heir of Genghis Khan/Storm Over Asia" (1928), a film on which Pudovkin also began to run afoul of the stringent and constricting ideological specifications of the Party. Although popular with audiences and well-received abroad, the film was officially condemned for the "formalist indulgence" of its cinematic sheen. Pudovkin's last silent film, "The Heir of Genghis Khan" achieved a level of accomplishment and recognition that the director would never reach again.
To contemporary film students, Pudovkin is perhaps best known for his books of film theory, "Film Director and Film Material" (1926) and "Film Scenario and Its Theory" (1926), which were later combined into one volume, "Film Technique." Although many of his ideas are tied to the techniques of silent film, Pudovkin's writing is still studied in many film courses all over the world.