THE RESTORATION

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 it.

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 office.


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 preview screenings.

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 prints:

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



New Babylon - In Performance - Restoration
Stills - DVD and Book Set