For much of its history, New Babylon has been a forgotten film. It was
the last production of Grigorii Kozintev and Leonid Trauberg's "Factory
of the Eccentric Actor", and due to a disastrous premiere it was
also their first major box office failure.
Dismissed as "Formalist" even by its own directors, for many
years the film was known abroad only through its shortest version - a
European and USA export edit of approx 1900 metres - without Shostakovich''s
score which had never been recorded. It was only in 1975, shortly after
the composer's death, that the Gosfilmofond archive in Moscow released
a more complete print of 2070 metres, with original titles and it was
this version which has subsequently been presented across the world with
live orchestras performing Shostakovich's original score composed for
However, recent research has highlighted the problems of restoring the
film to its original form and synchronisation. This has been caused by
the fact that only three weeks before its original premiere, and after
Shostakovich's music had been completed, the film was extensively re-cut
by orders of the head office of the Moscow Sovkino film production factory
- after it had been passed (the previous day) by the organisation's Leningrad
In what turned out to be the only accurate performances the film ever
received, the composer himself played the piano score to the film at two
In all, at the last minute, 510 metres of the original 2580 metres of
film were discarded: 178 shots out of the original 1349: In Total: 24%
was cut from Reel 1. 22% from Reel 2. 36% cut from Reel 3, 15% of Reel
4 was re-cut. 7% cut from reel 5 and 13% cut from Reel 8. Many shots were
also moved within the film. Attempts were made to re-edit the music to
match, but were unsuccessful. A widely reported comment in the visitor's
book at one cinema accused the conductor "of being drunk tonight".
The musicians responded by claiming that Shostakovich knew nothing about
music, the composer countered that the orchestra deliberately played badly
so as to sabotage the score because they were not receiving arrangement
fees. The music as a result was abandoned, the film was accompanied by
stock tunes and the score lay "lost" for over fifty years.
The 2006 centenary full size english language reconstruction of New Babylon
has been restored using digital transfers of material from two incomplete
One, 2070 metres, widely available through the Gosfilmofond archives in
Moscow and generally assumed to be the complete film -distributed in Europe
for over twenty years by Contemporary Films London.
The second, a unique 35mm German language print of 2050 metres kindly
made available by the Cinematheque Suisse who, through a stroke of remarkable
good fortune rare in film history, have preserved their highly inflammable
nitrate copy of the complete film before its re-edit, including nearly
all the footage cut just three weeks before the film's scheduled premiere,
which had been exported from the USSR for German distribution in early
1929, and retitled "Der Kampf um Paris".
The restoration work involved the re-editing of these materials to their
original order and composition so as to synchronise more accurately with
the film's scores. Of these there also existed at least two versions -
neither of which readily matched the Gosfilmofond or the Cinematheque
Suisse original incomplete prints. New full size English language inter-titles,
translated from the Russian and German of the originals, were designed
in Berthold Block font to match the visual tone of the original Cyrillic.
Lost permanently however is the original ending to the film - for which
music was also written and some of which has survived.
Fortunately, a script extract of this missing finale was published in
the December 1929 issue of the Soviet film journal Sovetskii Ekran and
enables us to understand how Kozintsev, Trauberg and Shostakovich originally
intended their film to finish.
Copyright 2007: Marek Pytel, Peter Kupfer, John Riley