Fragment #34: A Scene from Novvy Gulliver

For your amusement and amazement, I present a sequence from Aleksandr Ptushko’s excellent Novyy Gulliver (“The New Gulliver”, 1935), which retells Jonathan Swift’s 18th-century satire for its contemporary Soviet audience. During a break from sailing lessons young Petya Gulliver falls asleep while reading Gulliver’s Travels, and dreams that he has been washed ashore in Lilliput. Armed with an array of rote-learned communist slogans, he eventually instigates a proletariat revolution to overthrow the pompous aristocrats who rule over the island. The Marxist speechifying seems rather blatant now, but the film’s main attractions lie in Ptushko‘s incredible animated sequences, often using hundreds of individual puppet figures for the Lilliputian crowd scenes (publicity at the time reported that he’d used three thousand miniature figures, but this may be a slight exaggeration). See, for example, this clip from Gulliver’s arrival in Lilliput, a well-known scene made even more striking with a long tracking shot that incorporates fluid movement through space and efficiently establishes the hierarchical communities attending the scene.

Born in 1900, Ptushko had begun working for Mosfilm in Moscow by 1927, making puppet models for other animators to use, but by the following year he was working on his own stop-mo films. He was developing his own craft, and testing the integration of puppets with live action. Novyy Gulliver was his first feature; he began production in 1933. Halfway through the production, Ptushko saw King Kong and, convinced that it was showing the way forward for stop-motion animation integrated with live-action, incorporated some of the same techniques. The film was a big success, and Mosfilm allowed Ptushko to set up his own stop-mo team, known as the Ptushko Collective, which made 14 shorts between 1936-8.

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