October 22, 2002 [Russian Ark]

After Jurassic Park, Russian Ark makes the surest promise that digital technology is as important a part of the cinema-worker's toolbox as dollies and Steadicams, lenses and mics—even at the risk of being stuck with Imagineered panoramas and figurines, smooth and bland or improbable in their geography or postures and trajectories; but my disbelief in Spielberg's sure-footed dinosaurs and Aleksandr Sokurov's Winter Palace long-long-long-take-dream-tour melts away: I'm not seeing a special effect, I'm seeing a dinosaur—and in Russian Ark I stopped marveling at the complex dance necessary to keep everyone on their marks and cues, the stamina of new cameras that never have to take a break, even blink, and I just followed the unseen man and the European ghost as they traveled through space and time in gliding ease with the multitudes of strollers and schemers and dancers hypnotized by their place in the dream—and hypnotizing me to sway and steal along the passageways opening to one impossibly beautiful room after another, the Winter Palace itself the only real special effect calling attention to its Imperial self, a big-budget fantasia bankrolled by Russian movie-moguls two hundred years before Edison; and this Ark, rising and swirling on waves of dancing gowns and bright faces, sails through whatever snows may come next for a world sculpted in marble and dressed in gold, with paintings.


  1. Some viewers get a little bored--but it's impossible for me to resist such a beautifully staged sustained effect: a continuous movie-long take in a stunning, unique environment. Museum tours will never be the same for you.


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