We’re in for a treat, a look at a new restoration of Fragment of an Empire, a 1929 Soviet drama directed by Fridrikh Ermler. A collaboration between the EYE Filmmuseum, Gosfilmofond of Russia, and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, this restoration combines materials held by EYE and the Cinémathèque Suisse to create the most complete version of the film available in decades.
Thanks to Flicker Alley for this review copy.
As always, these unboxing reviews are about the quality of the release and will not dig too deeply into the content of the picture but I will say that I was extremely impressed with the technical virtuosity on display and I will definitely be taking a deep dive into this picture in the future. Briefly, the picture examines Russia and Russians transforming from monarchy to communism through the perspective of an amnesiac veteran of the First World War.
Let’s get down to the release now.
As you can see, the restored image is quite lovely. The film is in black and white and features the original Russian title cards with optional English subtitles.
HOWEVER, given Ermler’s use of montage sequences, it’s impossible to convey the film’s beauty with still images, so with that caveat, here are some screenshots to give you a sample:
This release features two scores. First, there is modern music by Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius and a piano score performed by Daan van den Hurk based on the picture’s original accompaniment by Vladimir Deshevov. Both are excellent, appropriate and enjoyable so I suppose which one you select really depends on your mood. But whichever one you choose, do watch the film again with the other score.
The film comes with a brief featurette that discusses the restoration process, a commentary track from Peter Bagrov and Robert Byrne (which discusses some aspects of Russian culture that might fly over the heads of non-Russian viewers), a gallery of vintage marketing materials and, last but not least, a fat booklet full of information about the film, restoration and music.
This is a high quality release of a film that some of you may have seen before but you have definitely never seen it like this. Besides restored footage and original Russian titles, you get some fine music and a generally beautiful presentation. This is a must-see for any fans of Soviet silent film.