White Sun of the Desert (film) -- interesting 1930s Russian guns


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MatthewVanitas
January 1, 2006, 11:54 PM
Just finished watching one that's been on my "to watch" list for years: White Sun of the Desert.

I believe it falls in the "Red Western" category: films made in the Soviet Bloc, which were heavily influenced by American Westerns. Some were actual cowboy films shot on the plains in Hungary, etc., while others were films with Western-style plotlines, set in Soviet Central Asia.

WSotD was one of the latter: the story of a lone-wolf Soviet officer wandering in Central Asia, had much resonance with American West themes of loyalty, perseverance, etc. It was really intriguing to see that strange mix of Soviet and Muslim mentalities melded into a Western plot. You could kind of squint and see the classic "burned out drunk sherrif who no longer enforces the law" character in the Tsarist customs clerk. Scenery was bizarre as well: set on the shore of the Caspian sea, so huge expanses of desert, ancient fortresses and mosques, contrasting with Soviet oil rigs and bright blue ocean.

The guns in the film were pretty interesting, being carried by Central Asian bandits, post-Tsarist sell-outs, and far-flung Soviet patrols. Lots of Moisin Nagants (many carbines?), Nagant revolvers, of course. But also tons of C96 Broomhandle Mausers, various revos (did I see a S&W Russian in one scene?), an RPD machinegun, and a Lewis gun. Also one brief scene with a lever-rifle.

If you're into odd foreign films, unusual historical time/places, or are curious about images of Central Asian (Uzbekistan/Turkmenistan), it's a decent little film. Anyone else seen it? Any better descriptions of the guns in the film?

-MV

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White Horseradish
January 2, 2006, 02:28 AM
I like to call it the original Russian Eastern. I think it's one of the best movies ever made.

A minor bit of trivia - for Pavel Borisovich Luspekaev, the actor playing the customs officer Vereschagin this film was the last. He was very ill and died right after it was finished. It took an ubelievable amount of effort for him to make it as he had his feet amputated and walked on prostheses.

I remember seeing some discussion of guns of this movie on some Russian boards I visit. I'll see what I can dig up.

henryiv
January 2, 2006, 03:49 PM
Thanks for the movie tip. I just put it in my netflix que. I have already watched a few other russian "easterns". I find the motavation and actions of the characters sometimes very strange when viewed from a 21st century american vantage point. A russian studies background would seem to be needed to really understand a lot of the actions and undercurrents in these films.

dasmi
January 2, 2006, 03:53 PM
Moisin Nagants (many carbines?)
Like this one?
http://sixforsure.org/gallery/albums/uploads/longguns/m44_case_%28Small%29.jpg

Oleg Volk
January 2, 2006, 04:07 PM
I find Russian war movies pretty weird to watch...some, like "trials on the roads" (Proverka na Dorogah) combine really neat moments with bizarre or fake-sounding sequences. The issue of motivation is pretty important...I'd sooner understand mercenaries than some of the heros shown. Same is true of most Finnish and US war movies.

I remember seeing the posters for "Come and See" (Idi i smotri) back in 1985 Lithuania and my father telling me it was the usual propaganda junk. Never did watch it.

MatthewVanitas
January 2, 2006, 04:40 PM
Tak i dumal! Vsegda nash geroj udaloj otvechaet, i vsjo yasno!

Nothing like getting opinions from the source. I imagine Americans experience Russian cinema on a different level, and the post Cold-War context does change a lot around.

I do agree that the whole "motivation" issue was patchy in White Sun, but that's part of what made it interesting. Characters just seemed dragged along by circumstance, which I'd argue is not unknown in American Westerns. Sukhov does vaguely resemble a wandering cowboy, and the basmachi are pretty standard bandit villains.

I really do need to check out some more modern Russian films, but all I've seen recently is Brat', Vozvrashcheniye (excellent art film), and that film about the pro boxer who goes blind yet defends an beautiful girl who was an accidentla witness to a Mafia rubout.

Though Brat' did have some really cool gun scenes. My favorite is the one where the protagonist buys his neighbor's shotgun, and there's an extended scene of him sawing it down, loading his own ammo, etc. Not necessarily high art, but a good crime film. Also loved the running lines: "What did you do in Chechnya?" --"I was a supply-clerk..."

-MV

gripper
January 2, 2006, 05:02 PM
Are there dubbed(in English( versions of these fils available??
I don't speak Mandarin,Aramaic or German;either,but I did love Hero,the Passion and Das Boot as far as these things go.Just wondering...

MatthewVanitas
January 2, 2006, 05:39 PM
My copies of Brat' and White Sun were subtitled. I imagine that most DVD copies you'd run across in the States will be subtitled, unless you buy bootlegs from a Russian bakery.

The King County library system (Seattle Eastside) has Brat' and White Sun, maybe check your local library? The libraries in the Seattle area are outstanding.

-MV

White Horseradish
January 2, 2006, 07:33 PM
Like this one?
<picture of an M44>

Not quite. A period carbine for the movie would be a M1907 carbine. No bayonet, old-style arched rear sight and a blade front sight without a hood. Those are pretty rare, I've yet to see one in the flesh, so to speak.

Dr.Rob
January 2, 2006, 07:57 PM
Russian Cinema of any generation defies conventional logic... from the art films of the pre-revolution like "Cabaret 13" to the Sci-Fi epics like "Solaris".

Even Sergei Eisenstein breaks into straight up propoganda at times... I for one am curious to see what post-soviet 'red westerns' and mobster movies look like. One great read I came across was a little known book called "Lets Put the Future Behind Us"... almost an Elmore Leonard story set in post Soviet Russia.

MatthewVanitas
January 2, 2006, 08:01 PM
That was my question too; thanks for covering that, Horseradish. I wasn't even aware that there was a 1907 MN!

Speaking of which, any idea what year WSotD was set it? Clearly post-1917 and pre-WWII, but I'm not sure after that. I must have been mistaked on the RPD, as that's a WWII era piece... But Sukhov's MG was a Lewis, was it not?

I assume that the Russians on the basmachi crew were disaffected Whites, monarchists, etc., since their uniforms were different from those of the Soviet patrol, no Red Stars, etc. I was thinking that the film would have taken place in the 1920s, otherwise you'd think that Tsarist uniforms would be pretty passe.

Any good shots at narrowing down time period from uniforms and weapons?

Alexey931
January 3, 2006, 01:09 PM
The issue of motivation is pretty important...I'd sooner understand mercenaries than some of the heros shown. Same is true of most Finnish and US war movies.

Motivations are pretty much the same, but in Soviet movies usually (though not absolutely always) outright lies creep in, due to propaganda obligations. WSotD is not a lie free thing, though lies are kept at a healthy (acceptable for a Western/Eastern?)minimum.

Best regards, Alexey

White Horseradish
January 3, 2006, 03:14 PM
That was my question too; thanks for covering that, Horseradish. I wasn't even aware that there was a 1907 MN!

Speaking of which, any idea what year WSotD was set it? Clearly post-1917 and pre-WWII, but I'm not sure after that. I must have been mistaked on the RPD, as that's a WWII era piece... But Sukhov's MG was a Lewis, was it not?

I assume that the Russians on the basmachi crew were disaffected Whites, monarchists, etc., since their uniforms were different from those of the Soviet patrol, no Red Stars, etc. I was thinking that the film would have taken place in the 1920s, otherwise you'd think that Tsarist uniforms would be pretty passe.

Any good shots at narrowing down time period from uniforms and weapons?

The "pacification" of the Asian parts of the USSR went on until about 1928. From the fact that Vereschagin was still around, I'd say it's the earlier days. The MG was, indeed, a Lewis. I'd have to re-watch the movie to check the RPD, but it's possible that it was an anachronysm introduced by the prop department.

As far as uniforms, we're talking a band of smugglers. They could wear anything and everything that took their fancy. There wasn't exactly a burgeoning clothing industry back then and uniforms were a good choice since they were usually well-made and lasted a while. Some bandits could definitely be ex-imperial soldiers, some just common criminals. Also, sometimes these guys would wear military gear to make themselves more official-lookng and therefore more intimidating to their prey.

mcg-doc
January 3, 2006, 04:01 PM
'Белое солнце пустыни'

This movie is indeed on of the most popular Russian films. According to the unbroken tradition, Russian cosmonauts watch this film the night before liftoff. I have its tune on my cell phone. (http://www.muzoff.ru/pages/45/4567.shtml (click on the speaker icon)

BTW, the main character Suhov is a private.

Вот что ребята... Пулемёта я вам не дам. http://perlodrom.ru/kino/bsp/m/04.mp3

mcg-doc
January 3, 2006, 04:07 PM
Speaking of which, any idea what year WSotD was set it?

The Basmchi revolt started in 1916 as an Islamic movement against the infidel Tsar. The uprising became widespread in Russian Turkistan in 1920 and was finally put down in 1926

MatthewVanitas
January 3, 2006, 04:58 PM
BTW, the main character Suhov is a private.


Identifiable by the uniform? I suppose he didn't have any insignia besides the Red Star, so the equivalent of a U.S. "slick-sleeve" private? I didn't hear anyone call him "ryadavoj", just "tovarish", so I'd just assumed he was an officer.

Did his white uniform signify anything? The patrol had the tan uniforms, and the ex-Whites had the white trousers with blue tunics, IIRC.

This is probably just speculation, but is there any explanation or assumption as to why he's such an expert at everything? Is he supposed to be a Lawrence-esque Central Asia man, or is this just some propagandistic tribute to the ingenuity of the average Soviet worker?

As a post-Cold War American, I didn't find the propaganda aspect of the film to be at all cloying.

I was pretty sure that Vereschagin had an RPD, the one that Sukhov wanted to borrow from him. I suppose anachronism is quite possible. Aren't Russians known for tricking out an StG-44 to look like an M16 in their films?

Good show overall though. If anyone wants to reccommend any other Central Asia setting "Easterns", that'd be great. -MV

mcg-doc
January 3, 2006, 06:20 PM
Identifiable by the uniform? I suppose he didn't have any insignia besides the Red Star, so the equivalent of a U.S. "slick-sleeve" private? I didn't hear anyone call him "ryadavoj", just "tovarish", so I'd just assumed he was an officer.

Did his white uniform signify anything? The patrol had the tan uniforms, and the ex-Whites had the white trousers with blue tunics, IIRC.

This is probably just speculation, but is there any explanation or assumption as to why he's such an expert at everything? Is he supposed to be a Lawrence-esque Central Asia man, or is this just some propagandistic tribute to the ingenuity of the average Soviet worker?

As a post-Cold War American, I didn't find the propaganda aspect of the film to be at all cloying.

I was pretty sure that Vereschagin had an RPD, the one that Sukhov wanted to borrow from him. I suppose anachronism is quite possible. Aren't Russians known for tricking out an StG-44 to look like an M16 in their films?

Good show overall though. If anyone wants to reccommend any other Central Asia setting "Easterns", that'd be great. -MV

I have read the novel. Sukhov is “krasnoarmejetz,” a private of the Red Army. After the October Revolution, all personal ranks were abolished in favor of positional. Personal ranks were reintroduced in 1935.

Sukhov has served in the Red Army for many years and in the beginning of the movie is on his way home after being discharged. His uniform is sun-bleached.

BTW, my mom use to work with one of the extras of this movie, the “fat” wife from the harem :-)

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