Home » Archive » Fantastika: Films by Alexander Ptushko

Fantastika: Films by Alexander Ptushko

Fantastika: Films by Alexander Ptushko

Among the great uncharted waters of world cinema lies the little known and seldom visited world of Russian fantasy films. The meager distribution of Soviet cinema in the West in general is itself a sad story, and is doubly so for the fantasy films, which have a long tradition of extraordinary craftsmen and unique form. Much like the French notion of le fantastique, the Russian fantastika is a more comprehensive term than we have in English. It embraces the horror film, the science fiction film and the fairy tale or folk tale film.

Alexander Lukich Ptushko( 1900 -1973 ) belongs to the rare breed of filmmakers that cinema sometime engenders - the film magician. Like Mario Bava, William Cameron Menzies and George Pal, Ptushko was part tinkerer, part inventor and part artist whose fantastic imagination combined with a technological curiosity to produce works of pure visual inventiveness.

Often referred to as "the Russian Spielberg," Alexander Ptushko created his own epic fantasy world filled with wind demons, sorcerers and enchanted stone gardens. In 1933, Ptushko directed the world's first full - length animated feature THE NEW GULLIVER , four years before Disney's SNOW WHITE ! The film was released to enormous acclaim. It won a special prize at the International Cinema Festival in Milan, and counted Charlie Chaplin among its admirers. Its inspiration gave rise to the great figures of what was to become the Chechoslovak school of stop-motion animation of the 1950's- Jiri Trinka, Herman Tyrlov and Karel Zeman.

Following the success of THE NEW GULLIVER , Ptushko continued to direct more animated features, among which is THE GOLDEN KEY, based on the story of Aleksey Tolstoy. Unlike THE NEW GULLIVER, this film appears not to have been shown in the West. This is a real loss for the film is utterly charming and would most likely be considered one of the milestones in stop-motion animation.

After enormous international recognition, Ptushko went on to direct his surreal masterpieces THE STONE FLOWER in 1946 ( Russia's first color feature ), followed by SADKO ( 1953 ), ILYA MUROMETS ( 1956 ) and other astonishing fantasies. ILYA MUROMETS introduced another remarkable innovation to the Soviet cinema: stereophonic sound. The special effects developed for those films predated many techniques familiar to U.S. audiences from Stanley Kubrick's 2001- A SPACE ODYSSEY, Terry Gilliam's THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN and others.

Sadly, some of Ptushko's films have only been available in the U.S. in long-out-of print versions that were poorly dubbed, drastically recut, and often rephotographed from the original Cinema Scope format to distorted pan-and-scan visions. In fact, early in his career, director Francis Ford Coppola was assigned to re-edit Ptushko's SADKO for American release as THE MAGIC VOYAGE OF SINBAD ! Several of Ptushko's films, including THE NEW GULLIVER and THE TALE OF TSAR SULTAN, have never been seen in the United States in any form.

Comprehensive retrospective of Ptushko's work aims to commemorate a unique life and career, to reclaim the origins of near-lost masterworks and simply to wow the public, once again, with their pure and joyous showmanship.

Fantastika: Films by Alexander Ptushko