Vladimir Mayakovsky as a Film Actor: a “Star” or an Amateur?

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The article investigates Vladimir Mayakovsky’s activity as an actor. The author defines the characteristic features of the poet’s acting and assesses his artistic capabilities based on the analysis of the film ‘‘The Lady and the Hooligan’’ and accounts of his contemporaries.

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 Abstract: The article considers the activity of V.V. Mayakovsky as a film actor. In 1918 he starred in three films: Not for Money Born, The Young Lady and the Hooligan, and Shackled by the Film, of which only one survived — The Young Lady and the Hooligan. This film was a success, and the reviewer of the magazine “Rampa and life” highlighted exactly Mayakovsky, who “has made a very good impression and promises to be a very good typical actor”. Basing on the analysis of the film The Young Lady and the Hooligan and the testimonies of contemporaries, it is possible to identify the characteristic features of Mayakovsky's acting. He was “a good object for cinema”, “cinematic sitter”: “a man with a characteristic appearance, with a certain, pronounced character”. 

Mayakovsky's ability to “save movements” and “not to invent deliberate gestures”, bypassing the usual, machine, on the one hand, seemed to contradict the general aesthetics of silent cinema, coming from the expressiveness of gesture and facial expressions, but, on the other, it fits well into the tradition of pre-revolutionary “Russian style”, characterized by “minimalist technique of playing of a Russian actor”.Thus Mayakovsky tries to bring in it more dynamics — so, from the first shots in hands of the hero there is a cavalry whip with which he manipulates, gestures expressing an emotional state of the hero: twirls fingers (carelessness), knocks down a grass and branches (excitement or anger), breaks off a fraction (impatience). Separate attention deserves glance-as a special gesture, extremely important for dumb Cinerama.

In The Young Lady and the Hooligan the Mayakovsky’s character often rather watches than performs something. But the most expressive is a direct look into the camera, and there are only two such gesture- images: the first in the scene of love confession in the classroom; the second — in the scene of the death of the hero. Thus Vladimir Mayakovsky could not become a professional film actor because of his organic impossibility to reincarnate, but his acting was not accidental — because the desire to manifest himself to the world was part of his nature as an artist, and he could and played his own way. Today this type of behavior could be associated with that of a “media person”, like the writer Zakhar Prilepin, who also sometimes appears in films.

About the authors

Alexander A Pronin

St. Petersburg State University

Author for correspondence.
Email: editor@vestnik-vgik.com

Russian Federation, Saint-Petersburg

Doctor in Philology, Associate  Professor of TV Journalism


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