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Kozintsev, Grigorii Mikhailovich

(1905–1973), Soviet film director. Grigorii Kozintsev began his career as a student of the artist Aleksandra Ekster; after the revolution, he organized large-scale street theater. In 1920 he entered the studio school of the Petrograd Academy of Arts.

In 1921 Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg founded the Factory of the Eccentric Actor (FEKS), which served as both studio and theater. FEKS issued a manifesto, Ekstsentrizm (Eccentrism), heavily influenced by the leftist art of Vladimir Mayakovsky and Vsevolod Meyerhold. The declaration celebrated the popular genres of the industrial age—revues, music halls, circuses, and movies—in contrast to the high art of the old regime. In 1924, FEKS merged with the Sevzapkino (later, Lenfil’m) film studios. Until 1945, Kozintsev and Trauberg always worked as codirectors. In their first experimental works—Pokhozhdeniia Oktiabriny (The Adventures of Oktiabrina; 1924), Mishki protiv Iudenicha (Teddy Bears against Iudenich; 1925), Chertovo koleso (Ferris Wheel; 1926), and Bratishka (Little Brother; 1927)—they employed techniques borrowed from propaganda leaflets, revolutionary posters, and American comic strips.

Among the highest achievements of FEKS were the films Shinel’ (The Overcoat, based on Gogol’s story; 1926), SVD, Soiuz velikogo dela (The Union for a Great Cause; 1927), and Novyi Vavilon (The New Babylon; 1929). The atmosphere of the postrevolutionary period influenced Kozintsev and Trauberg’s choice of literary and historical themes, as did their contacts with the literary scholars Iurii Tynianov, Boris Eikhenbaum, and Viktor Shklovskii. In Shinel’, careful shot composition and montage replaced explanatory intertitles, and what might have been picturesque became grotesque. The portrayal of Bashmachkin’s dreams, memories, and fantasies represents one of the first cinematographic attempts to penetrate into the world of the subconscious. The romantic melodrama SVD told the story of the nineteenth-century Decembrist revolutionaries by depicting the personal fates of the film’s heroes. It was shot in a studio, replacing the realism of on-location cinematography with refined stylization. In Novyi Vavilon, set at the time of the Paris Commune, the characters’ psychological features became a means of depicting social class. On-location shooting added scale to the film, as well as elements of impressionism.

Parallel to the epic politicized cinema of Eisenstein and Pudovkin, Kozintsev and Trauberg sought ways to reveal characters’ psychology on screen. Their artistic methods bore some resemblance to the style of German expressionism and anticipated French poetic realism. Many famous Soviet actors and directors studied at the FEKS school.

Stalin’s personal control over Soviet cinematography compelled Kozintsev to abandon formal experiments. Despite its political conformity, Trilogiia o Maksime (Maxim Trilogy; 1935–1939) exhibited Kozintsev’s characteristic skill, enhanced by Boris Chirkov’s excellent acting and Shostakovich’s lyrical score. After World War II, during the “low output” (malokartin’e) period, when film production dwindled practically to nothing and Stalin’s censorship became even more obtrusive, Kozintsev directed the biographical films Pirogov (1947) and Belinskii (1953), both of which were mutilated by the censor and turned into patriotic apologetics.

Stalin’s death liberated Kozintsev, who turned to producing screen versions of the literary classics Don Quixote (1957), Hamlet (1964), and King Lear (1971). He wrote extensively, developing his ideas about cinematography and literature in the books Nash sovremennik Vil’iam Shekspir (William Shakespeare Our Contemporary; 1962), Glubokii ekran (The Deep Screen; 1971), and Prostranstvo tragedii (1973; translated as King Lear, the Space of Tragedy: The Diary of a Film Maker [1977]).

Kozintsev taught at the USSR Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) from 1941 to 1964 and at the Lenfil’m studio school from 1965 to 1971, training many of the Soviet Union’s major directors.

Suggested Reading

Oksana Bulgakova, FEKS: Die Fabrik des Exzentrischen Schauspielers (Berlin, 1996); Efim Dobin, Kozintsev i Trauberg (Leningrad, 1963); Aleksandr Vasil’evich Karaganov, Grigorii Kozintsev (Moscow, 2003); Il’ia Vaisfel’d, G. Kozintsev i L. Trauberg (Moscow, 1940).



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