The Dying Swan (1917)

  |  Drama


The Dying Swan (1917) Poster

A grief-stricken ballerina becomes the obsession of an increasingly unhinged artist.


7.2/10
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13 September 2011 | chaos-rampant
The dying image (of an era)
Only ten months after the January 1917 release of the film, the whole Russian worldview was going to be torn asunder. The Soviet cinema that emerged post- 1922 was going to commit itself in the pursuit of the mechanisms that drive forward the eye, a collective eye that did not contemplate any more but would set in motion by seeing.

So, this is a really precious film to have, I think; a snapshot of the world about to be swept aside, and the transfiguration of the core of that world in terms of cinema.

So, whereas with Eisenstein or Pudovkin, the heroic focus shifts on the disenchanted individual - the faces tired but resolute, the living hard but rigorously driven - who is transformed, subsumed into a mass of collective struggle redolent with immediate purpose, Bauer's films shows a life distraught with aimlessness, women as fragile, ethereal beings - a far cry from Pudovkin's Mother - and the members of a decadent aristocracy, the ruling class not quite able to even rule their own lives, as entombed in morbid fixations with images of the past. Faces are nervous, agitated, sunken from inner weights.

In Daydreams it was the image of a dead wife; here it is the image of a ballerina, the swan with broken wings, as evoking the essence of death. The young painter will eventually have to stage the picture of death he wants to immortalize.

On the whole, this one more gloomy than Bauer's rest, it evokes an atmosphere of Poe; a tragic, romantic exaltation of woe. It's potent as Gothic romance but - like Poe - rather comfortably nudged in its archaism. It's not something I will keep with me, unlike Daydreams and its Vertigo-esque dizziness.

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