A Subversive Soviet Treasure


Thanks to the Pacific Film Archive, an obscure treasure of Soviet silent cinema has been dusted off, tricked out, and sent into the world with the Beth Custer Ensemble’s appropriately jazzed-up, noise-inflected, cartoon-crazy original score—as well as an English voiceover translating the original titles. Made in Soviet Georgia under the influence of the Leningrad-based Factory of the Eccentric Actor (FEKS) and eccentric even by their standards, Kote Mikaberidze’s all-out, joyously grotesque attack on Soviet bureaucracy is characterized by abstract constructivist sets, circus makeup, references to American slapstick, trick lenses, animation, puppets, freeze-frames, and frenzied Young Communists dancing the Charleston. The movie could bottle its attitude and sell it on the black market (“grandmother” isn’t a person but a slang term for baksheesh); the final cry “Death to Red Tape!” turned out to be prophetic. My Grandmother was released in 1929—the same year as such kindred extravaganzas as Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera and the FEKS masterpiece The New Babylon—and banned for 37 years thereafter.