The New Babylon | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The New Babylon

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Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg's exciting, extremely physical 1929 film about the 1871 Paris Commune takes its name from a huge Paris department store at the center of an armed struggle between working-class communards and French soldiers. It's odd that the movie isn't as famous as the revolutionary classics of Eisenstein and Pudovkin, because it's every bit as stirring and richly detailed. (Appropriately, it received a major rerelease in Paris soon after the civil unrest of May 1968.) A large-scale production, it grew out of the groundbreaking Soviet theater-and-film workshop Factory of the Eccentric Actor, better known as FEKS. It's brutally honest about class hatred, using its lightning-quick montage to clarify the connections between all the characters (ranging from the department store's proprietor to a shopgirl and from a washerwoman to a soldier), and its dazzling tricks with lighting and focus dramatize Paris's opulent high life as well as its poverty. In Russian with subtitles. 80 min. A 35-millimeter print will be shown; David Drazin will provide live piano accompaniment. Gene Siskel Film Center.

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