Russian silent movie star remembered: Vera Kholodnaya
Vera Kholodnaya, Russia’s top female movie star of the 1910s, will be brought back to the fore thanks to a Moscow theater’s silent film series, reports the Moscow Times. Beginning on November 23, 2005, four of Kholodnaya’s five extant films – including three made prior to the Russian Revolution – will be screened at the Illyuzion Theater: Yevgeni Bauer’s Children of the Century (1915) and A Life for a Life a.k.a. Her Sister’s Rival (1916), Pyotr Chardynin’s Mirages (1916), and Chardynin and Cheslav Sabinsky’s Be Silent, Sorrow, Be Silent (1918). The only missing title will be Sabinsky’s A Corpse Living (1918), based on Tolstoy’s The Living Corpse. (Image: Vera Kholodnaya ca. 1917.)
In Children of the Century / Deti veka, Vera Kholodnaya (born on August 5, 1893, in Poltava, Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire) plays a clerk’s wife who is pursued by a wealthy suitor. Mirages / Mirazhi, which will be presented with a new score by the St. Petersburg electronic duo Yolochniye Igrushki, stars Kholodnaya as a young woman seduced (and later disillusioned) by the callow son of her wealthy patron. In A Life for a Life / Her Sister’s Rival / Zhizn za zhizn, she is one of two sisters in love with the same heavily indebted prince. And Be Silent, Sorrow, Be Silent / Molchi, grust… molchi has the actress as a circus artist married to an alcoholic acrobat while wooed by a wealthy admirer.
Carmen Video, which is sponsoring the Vera Kholodnaya film series, is releasing the four titles on DVD for the first time. According to a spokesperson for the company, the films haven’t been “fully restored” because of cost issues.
Death at the peak of fame
A victim of the Spanish flu pandemic, Vera Kholodnaya died at the age of 26 – at the peak of her fame – on Feb. 17, 1919, in Odessa. Various rumors had it that Kholodnaya was killed by the Bolsheviks or by a lover who believed her to be a Bolshevik spy. According to online sources, her husband, car racer and sports news editor Vladimir Kholodny, died two months after her.
Now, Vera Kholodnaya hasn’t quite achieved the same legendary or semi-legendary status as other movie stars who met with an early death, e.g., Rudolph Valentino, Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Gérard Philipe, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood. And that’s probably because the overwhelming majority of her films is now lost. (The IMDb lists only about a dozen Vera Kholodnaya movies, though other sources state that her list of credits range between 50 and 100 titles.)
Yet, Kholodnaya’s life served as the inspiration for Nikita Mikhalkov’s 1975 drama A Slave to Love / Raba lyubvi, starring Elena Solovey as silent movie superstar Olga Nikolayevna Voznesenskaya, and she was the subject of Oleg Kovalov’s 1992 documentary Island of the Dead / Ostrov myortvykh. Additionally, Vera Kholodnaya had her image issued on a postage stamp in the early ’90s, while a life-size bronze statue in her honor was unveiled in Odessa in 2003.
Mohamed Malas’ Passion Controversy
The Morocco Times has reported Syrian director Mohammed Malas’ complaints that filmmaking in Syria “is a sector which is still governed by the State. This means that we produce no more than two films a year. The private sector doesn’t invest in the Cinema, which leads many directors, including me, to seek foreign production and assistance.” At the Marrakech International Film Festival, where Malas’ Bab El Makam / Passion tied with Jean-Marc Vallée’s Canadian dramedy C.R.A.Z.Y. for the second jury prize, the director also told reporters that government authorities have prevented his film from reaching Syrian screens, though the Syrian Cinema General Establishment has denied the accusation.
Bab El Makam offers a highly critical view of a rabidly patriarchal society. In the film, Amine (Salwa Jamil) is a Syrian woman whose passion for music becomes her fall. In traditional Islamic society, a respectable woman equals a silent woman – but Amine refuses to abide by such rules. Rather than live in dishonor, her own family decides to do away with her.