The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. This is a different list than the 100 Greatest English-Language Films one, although a few entries overlap. — Dennis
Potomok Chingis-Khan is a little difficult to rank. While it contains the best material that Pudovkin ever shot, its level of achievement is far less consistent than that of either Mother or The End of St. Petersburg (both, see above) or of Pudovkin’s outstanding sound film, Deserter (1933). Moreover, some viewers are likely to view as gratuitous the fact that the cheating fur trader in the film is an American.
An opening shot, however, is the single most awesomely beautiful evocation of sheer topographical remoteness in all of cinema. The shot, angled, captures what appears to be the top of the world as mysterious light shimmers across the curving horizon. Also, the film’s portrait of the faces and nomadic lifestyle of Mongolians is indelible.
It is 1920, in Soviet Asia. Storm Over Asia charts the pilgrim’s progress of a Mongolian boy, a fur trapper, who, descended from Ghengis Khan, is installed as a figurehead ruler but who matures to become an anticolonialist national leader. Lovely and leisurely until a rushed ending, the film occasions a stylistic lightness that accumulates into a metaphor for spirit, providing the hero with continuity even as he undergoes radical growth. The film is momentous for another reason. Early on, its highly specific detail and sense of spontaneous observation, while delaying the film’s ability to take shape dramatically, succeeds in blurring the distinction between fiction and documentary. This blur, or blend, of elements stakes out one of the main trails—documentary nudged in the direction of fiction (see Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, 1927); fiction nudged in the direction of documentary—that authentic cinema has followed.
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