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Ginzburg, Aleksandr Il’ich

(Sometimes spelled Gintsburg; 1907–1972), Soviet cinematographer and cinema director. Born into a traditional Jewish family, Aleksandr Ginzburg took up photography, and then cinematography, at an early age. After moving to Leningrad, he began at the age of 18 to film popular science movies. In 1927 he graduated from the Camera Department of the Leningrad Technical School of Cinematography, becoming a cameraman at the Sovkino (later, Lenfil’m) Movie Studio. In 1934 he received a bachelor’s degree from the Leningrad Electrotechnical Institute.

Ginzburg’s technical mastery, his impeccable taste, and his ability to realize ideas in visual form attracted the most famous Soviet directors. He filmed Semen Timoshenko’s Dva bronevika (Two Armored Cars; 1928, together with Leonid Paltis), Aleksandr Ivanov’s Transport ognia (Transport of Fire; 1930), Fridrikh Ermler and Sergei Iutkevich’s Vstrechnyi (Counter Plan; 1932), Ermler’s Krest’iane (Peasants; 1935), Sergei Gerasimov’s Komsomol’sk (1938), Aleksandr Zarkhi and Iosif Kheifits’s Chlen pravitel’stva (Member of the Government; 1940), and Mikhail Kalatozov’s Valerii Chkalov (1941).

Ginzburg’s cinematography was noted for the graphic softness of his frames and his subtly selected light effects; the combination provided warmth and expression to compensate for the aridity of ideas characteristic of the period. His background scenes followed the conventions of the heroic genre in early Soviet filmmaking, but his close-ups demonstrated great craftsmanship. Character depiction in Ginzberg’s first works was quite vague. However, in Komsomol’sk and Chlen pravitel’stva, his camera presented the characters in greater detail. In Valerii Chkalov, Ginzburg’s talent for vivid characterization is apparent in the heroic pilot, while his landscape compositions play an important role in the construction of the film. Working with Kalatozov helped Ginzburg define more precisely his own principles of restrained poetic style, making him a leading Soviet film director in the 1950s.

In 1941 Ginzburg was evacuated to Tashkent, where he worked until 1943. The film Dva boitsa (Two Fighters; 1943), directed by Leonid Lukov, was shot in Tashkent, far from Moscow censors; perhaps because of this, it represents the height of Soviet cinematography during World War II. Films produced afterward were repetitive propaganda movies. Dva boitsa did not have a traditional plot—the love story is not consummated. The unity of visual style provided by the cinematographer gives the movie its integrity. The conciseness of the landscapes and the close-ups produce a restrained lyricism, which corresponded to the mood of the audience at that tense moment during the war.

After the war, Ginzburg shot Lukov’s film Riadovoi Aleksandr Matrosov (Private Aleksandr Matrosov; 1948), Aleksandr Faintsimmer and Vladimir Korsh-Sablin’s Konstantin Zaslonov (1949), and Faintsimmer’s U nikh est’ rodina (They Have a Motherland; 1950). The banality of these “heroic educational” movies prevented Ginzburg from working to the best of his abilities.

Because of the Kremlin’s postwar antisemitic policies, Ginzburg moved to the less prestigious Belarus Film Studios (1951–1957). Later he returned to Moscow in a new capacity, as scriptwriter as well as cinematographer. He worked on the story and directed the photography of Aleksandr Rou and Rostislav Zakharov’s Khrustal’nyi bashmachok Zolushki (Cinderella’s Glass Slipper; 1960), based on Prokofiev’s ballet Zolushka (Cinderella). The high point of his work as an independent director and scriptwriter was the movie Giperboloid inzhenera Garina (The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin, or Engineer Garin’s Death Ray; 1965), based on the novel by Aleksei Tolstoi.

Suggested Reading

Klara Isaeva, Kinooperatory igrovogo kino v dni velikoi otechestvennoi voiny (Moscow, 1999); Istoriia sovetskogo kino, 1917–1967, 4 vols. (Moscow, 1969–1978); Kino: Entsiklopedicheskii slovar’ (Moscow, 1987).



Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson; revised by Alice Nakhimovsky