A Kiss from Mary Pickford (1927): Soviet and American cinemas in dialogue
In the year of the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution, when Eisenstein makes his famous October: Ten Days That Shook the World (Октябрь: десять дней, которые потрясли мир), a frivolous comedy film A Kiss from Mary Pickford (Поцелуй Мэри Пикфорд,1927), directed by Sergei Komarov, appears on the Soviet screens. I find it worth attention because not only this film doesn’t have a slightest reference to the Red October, it obviously glorifies Hollywood stars.
Heavily relying on the elements of slapstick, the film tells a story of Goga Palkin (Igor Ilyinsky), cinema theatre usher, who is in love with a snooty young girl Dusya (Anel Sudakevich). Dusya is not at all interested in ordinary Soviet lads and is yearning for the sex symbols of American screen, in particular Douglas Fairbanks. The way Doug kisses his partners on screen drives Dusya crazy. In order to attract the girl’s attention, Goga decides to become as famous as Fairbanks, and, after a lot of perturbations, ends up working as a stuntman for a film studio.
Suddenly everybody is carried away by the sensational news: Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks are coming to the USSR. Despite common belief, the Hollywood stars did not physically participate in the shooting; the footage of the famous couple was shot during their visit to the Soviet Union in 1926 and then successfully edited in A Kiss from Mary Pickford. In the diegetic world of the comedy, Pickford and Fairbanks come to shoot a film on the Soviet studio, where Goga is working.
Now the following sounds like a wet fantasy of the 1920s, but Pickford notices Goga’s charisma and asks him to act in a love scene with her that culminates with a kiss. Goga becomes a local celebrity, is chased around by women almost like Buster Keaton’s character in Seven Chances (1925), and finally wins Dusya’s love.
A Kiss from Mary Pickford perfectly conveys the overall feeling of the NEP (New Economic Policy) that was carried out in the Soviet Russia in the 1920s, and, apart from everything else, had a massive influence on culture. The so-called “nepmen” – those who made a fortune out of their private businesses during this short period of state capitalism, – were not much concerned with the spirit of the Revolution, being drawn towards light forms of culture and setting the trend. Hence cabarets and vaudeville theatres flourished in the Soviet Russia of the 1920s.
The kind of culture originated during the NEP times was usually apolitical, simple and unpretentious, meeting the philistine tastes of the public. However, sometimes behind the visible facility irony and satire were hidden, and A Kiss from Mary Pickford is no exception: largely based on physical jokes in the best traditions of slapstick, it also satirises the public’s craze over Hollywood stars.
A Kiss from Mary Pickford is a very interesting and dynamic dialogue between Soviet and American cinemas. The film handles American film idols both with affection and jest, showing that the uncertainty of a young Socialistic state towards the outer world. This uncertainty was crushed by Stalinism in the 1930s. Socialist realism put a period to apolitical art, oppression ended all the frivolities.