The Bizarre, Surviving Scene from the 1933 Soviet Animation Based on a Pushkin Tale and a Shostakovich Score

Hot dumplings! Mar­i­nat­ed apples! A bar­rel of cucum­bers!

Want to add some quick col­or to your per­for­mance or film? Slip in a quick non-nar­ra­tive ven­dor scene. No need for char­ac­ter or plot devel­op­ment. The audi­ence will be quite con­tent with the hawk­ers’ musi­cal recita­tion of their wares.

The Gersh­win / Hey­ward opera Por­gy and Bess’ com­ic “Ven­dor’s Trio” makes a nice break from the tragedy.

The live­ly mar­ket num­ber Who Will Buy? tem­porar­i­ly side­lines Oliv­er’s orphans to show­case the tal­ents of the adult cho­rus mem­bers.

When the Simp­sons’ 179th episode took Homer to New York City back in 1997, he was able to pur­chase such exot­ic del­i­ca­cies as Khlav Kalash and canned crab juice from a col­lec­tion of push­carts at the base of the World Trade Cen­ter.

Less well known is the above bazaar sequence from The Tale of the Priest and of His Work­man Bal­da (1933), a clas­sic of Sovi­et ani­ma­tion. This short clip is the only part of direc­tor Mikhail Tsekhanovsky’s unfin­ished fea­ture-length work to sur­vive. The rest was destroyed in a fire at the LenFilm archives in World War II, the seem­ing­ly final chap­ter in its trou­bled his­to­ry.

The film was based on Alexan­der Pushkin’s poet­ic retelling of a Russ­ian folk tale about a greedy priest, who strikes an ill-advised bar­gain with a brawny work­er. It was pub­lished posthu­mous­ly, and only after cen­sors had changed the priest into a mer­chant.

As he began work on the pro­duc­tion, Tsekhanovsky invit­ed Dim­it­ry Shostakovich to com­pose the score, an inno­va­tion at a time when musi­cal accom­pa­ni­ment was added to com­plet­ed silent films. Shostakovich start­ed, but was derailed by Prav­da’s 1936 denun­ci­a­tion of his work in an arti­cle titled “Mud­dle Instead of Music.”

Even­tu­al­ly Tsekhanovskiy threw in the tow­el, too.

It does not end there, how­ev­er.

After Shostakovich’s death, his wid­ow got his stu­dent, Vadim Biber­ga, to com­plete work on the unfin­ished score. The Russ­ian Phil­har­mon­ic Orches­tra released it in 2006, as part of a Shostakovich cen­ten­ni­al.

A com­mem­o­ra­tive live per­for­mance that same year drew fire from the local dio­cese of the Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church, who object­ed to the mock­ing por­tray­al of the priest. The the­ater bowed to pres­sure, stag­ing sev­en priest-free num­bers from the opera.

This recent his­to­ry adds an air of defi­ance to the grotes­queries of the sur­viv­ing clip, with top hon­ors going to the smut ped­dler enter­ing at the one minute mark, to extol the virtues of “a Venus with no gar­ments and fat thighs.”

You can lis­ten to Shostakovich’s full score here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Three Ani­mat­ed Shorts by the Ground­break­ing Russ­ian Ani­ma­tor Fyo­dor Khitruk

Sovi­et Ani­ma­tions of Ray Brad­bury Sto­ries: ‘Here There Be Tygers’ & ‘There Will Come Soft Rain’

Watch Sovi­et Ani­ma­tions of Win­nie the Pooh, Cre­at­ed by the Inno­v­a­tive Ani­ma­tor Fyo­dor Khitruk

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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