MIL OSI Translation. Region: Russian Federation –
We set off on a voyage with the letter carrier Dunya, examine the Northern River Station and find out what the film owes to Charlie Chaplin.
On April 24, 1938, the musical comedy “Volga-Volga” was released on the cinema screens. Like the previous joint works of the creative and family union of director Alexandrov and actress Orlova, the new film was a huge success. The director wanted not only to entertain the audience, but also to show in his film the achievements of the Soviet Union: steamships, airplanes, airships, and most importantly, the recently opened Moscow-Volga Canal (now it is the Moscow Canal) and the newly built Northern River Station were captured in the frame. We set off on a voyage through the history of the creation of the film and, of course, to the Moscow filming locations.
Struggle for amateur performance
Volga-Volga is a Soviet road movie, a travel film that tells the story of two amateur ensembles that sail on steamers to the Moscow Music Olympiad (this is the name of the amateur art show). Each ensemble has its own leader: one is led by the letter carrier Dunya, nicknamed Strelka (Lyubov Orlova), and the other is led by Alexei Trubyshkin (Andrei Tutyshkin). On the way, funny stories and incidents happen with the heroes and, of course, there is a place for a romantic line. The journey is accompanied by songs written by the composer Isaac Dunaevsky and the poet Vasily Lebedev-Kumach. The audience left the halls, humming easy-to-remember lines: “An amazing question: why am I a water carrier?” above a river”.
The idea for the film came from Grigory Alexandrov several years before the start of filming. In the 1930s, in the USSR, much attention was paid to amateur performances. Many groups appeared, creative competitions, rallies, shows and Olympiads were held throughout the country. There was even a slogan “Fight for amateur performance”. At one of the inspections, Aleksandrov met a talented village girl and learned that the authorities did not want to let her go to Moscow, despite an invitation from the capital.
The director decided to take this story as the basis of the plot and in the film ridicule the die-hard bureaucrats who interfere with folk art. This is how the hero of Igor Ilyinsky appeared in Volga-Volga – the head of the small handicraft industry Ivan Ivanovich Byvalov, who refuses to send artists to the music Olympiad until Trubyshkin cunningly persuades him.
Several of the funniest scenes of the film are associated with Byvalov. For example, when the residents of Melkovodsk are trying to prove to an official that there are many talents in the city, and everywhere they begin to pursue him and show their numbers. Even the policeman, to whom Byvalov turns for help, begins to play trills into his whistle. Another comic scene – a jump from a steamer in clothes – was given to Igor Ilyinsky very hard – from the seventh take, and this is in October! The role of Byvalov for the actor became a new impetus in his career, who had not acted in films for a long time. And the name of the hero became a household name: the inert people who were opposed to everything new were accused of byvalovshchina. By the way, Ilyinsky will play a very similar character – Serafim Ivanovich Ogurtsov – in Eldar Ryazanov’s “Carnival Night” almost 20 years later.
Orlova, Nielsen, Chaplin
As for the performer of the main role, there were no questions here. Of course, Lyubov Orlova. The actress danced beautifully, sang and even performed acrobatic stunts. Alexandrov met his future wife and main muse in 1933. Seeing Orlova in the play “Pericola”, he realized that he had found an actress for the lead role in his upcoming film. “Merry Fellows” was published in 1934 and was a success not only in the USSR, but also in the West.
The main members of the film crew came to the picture from “Merry Fellows”: screenwriter Nikolai Erdman (on “Volga-Volga” he worked with Mikhail Volpin), composer Isaak Dunaevsky, cameraman Vladimir Nielsen. The work was complicated by the fact that Erdman and Volpin recently returned from exile, where they had been sent for anti-Soviet satire. Both were forbidden to work in large cities, so the script was discussed in Tver. Aleksandrov’s permanent cameraman Vladimir Nielsen did not have time to finish filming – in October 1937 he was arrested on charges of espionage, and at the beginning of 1938 he was shot. The film was finished by Boris Petrov, Nielsen’s assistant. For a long time he was mentioned in the credits as the chief operator, Nielsen was rehabilitated posthumously only in 1956.
According to one version, the name for the film was suggested by Charlie Chaplin himself. Aleksandrov, being Sergei Eisenstein’s assistant, was with him on a creative tour of Europe and the United States from 1929 to 1932. There he met the great film generalist and comedy master. Once Aleksandrov sang a song to Chaplin about Stenka Razin “From behind the island to the rod …”, and he really liked the line “Volga, Volga, dear mother …”. He suggested to Aleksandrov to name one of the future films that way, and the director remembered the idea. However, perhaps this is just one of the myths with which Aleksandrov, as his contemporaries said, liked to embellish his biography.
Volga – Moscow
The shooting of the film went on on a large scale: they worked in Moscow, Kamyshin, Gorky, Sarapul, the upper reaches of the Chusovaya River, on the Volga (in the Zhiguli region), the Moscow Sea, the Khimki reservoir and on the Moscow-Volga canal. The 128-kilometer canal was completed in 1937, just at the time when Aleksandrov was filming his film. The director shows very effectively the eighth gateway of the channel. It is crossed by the bridge of the Riga direction of the Moscow railway, also known as the Bachelis bridge (named after the engineer Alexander Bachelis). The reinforced concrete arch bridge was built in 1935-1936 and for a long time remained the largest in terms of span length – 120 meters. Also, the bridge was distinguished by the elegance of architecture and bold construction.
“The seventh and eighth locks are located in Pokrovsky-Streshnevo, this is the southern slope of the Moscow Canal,” says Maria Kalish, a senior researcher at the Museum of Moscow. – Both locks have the same design and were designed by the architect Vladimir Krinsky. By the way, for a long time he was considered a co-author of the Northern River Station, but in the process of searching for materials for restoration work, it turned out that after all this building was the work of Alexei Rukhlyadev alone. In the film, we see a classic shot of the lower chamber of the eighth lock and the Bachelis bridge. This frame later became an advertising image of the channel, it could be seen on stamps, postcards and a wide variety of souvenirs. “
Another famous channel gateway, the third, is captured in the frame. True, it is not located in Moscow, but in Yakhroma. You can recognize him by the models of the ships-caravels of Christopher Columbus “Santa Maria”, made of red copper.
Also in the film there are scenes filmed in the river port, which is located near the passenger section of the station. The cargo port was built together with the passenger part of the complex. The author of the port was Vasily Petrov.
Of course, the main structure, which Aleksandrov shows the viewer from various angles, is the Northern River Station. This is a magnificent example of the Stalinist Empire style, graceful and airy, it is not surprising that the director shows it so many times – this building, renovated in 2020, and today attracts the eye like a magnet.
“There are a lot of Italian motives in the architecture of the station. Many people compare it to the Doge’s Palace in Venice. And the structure of the building itself resembled a steamer: the three tiers of the station symbolize decks, and the central tower with a high spire resembles a pipe. Moscow at that time was not yet a port of the five seas, but gradually received access to sea spaces. This idea was also reflected in the architecture of the building. Both wings of the station end with courtyards with semicircular colonnades. The right courtyard, facing the northern slope of the canal, is decorated with the North fountain, and the left courtyard, facing the south, is the South Seas fountain by Ivan Efimov, ”says Maria Kalish.
The structure is crowned with a five-pointed star, which was installed in 1937. There is a myth that this is a star from the Spasskaya Tower of the Moscow Kremlin, but this is not the case. The star was made specially for the river station, like the Kremlin ones, from gilded brass and gems.
According to the script, an amateur art show takes place in the building of the Northern River Station. The wide staircase of the building enters the frame – along it Byvalov drags Dunya to the public’s judgment. Further action takes place on the roof-terrace near the tower. Here the choir once again sings the famous song about the Volga, and Dunya finally gets a well-deserved prize.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.