Scriptwriters: Roman Karmen, Aleksandr Novogrudsky
Directors: Roman Karmen, Vasily Katanyan, Leonid Makhnach, Iosif Poselsky
Cameramen: Vladimir Tsitron, Igor Bgantsev, Leonid Kotlyarenko
Composers: Aleksandr Lokshin, Aleksey Muravlev
Narrators: Tamara Vdovina, Leonid Khmara
In 2016, Ilya Kopalin’s film “15 Years of Soviet Cinema” (1934), the first anniversary review opus about the achievements in the field of cinema, was shown at the Belye Stolby film festival. Unfortunately, “The Magic Beam” was the last of a series of such films; subsequently nothing as thorough was done in the field of documentary filmmaking about the history of Soviet cinema (except for Katanyan’s short film “At the Exhibition “60 Years of Soviet Cinema””). Back in the 1920s, Grigory Boltyansky urged filmmakers to make films that summarize the previous stages in the development of cinema. He was not heeded then, but years later several such films appeared: “20 Years of Soviet Cinema” (1940), “Our Cinema” (1940), “20 Years of Soviet Sound Cinema” (1947), "30 Years of Soviet Cinema” (1949). This film, made by famous documentary filmmakers Roman Karmen, Vasily Katanyan, Leonid Makhnach, and Iosif Poselsky unites them, “takes” a little from each, trying to embrace all types and genres of cinema: the avant-garde of the 1920s, newsreels, film epics, dramas, adventure films and musical comedies, hand-drawn and puppet animation, and popular-science films. Strictly following the chronology of the history of Soviet cinema, the filmmakers abundantly spice it up with excerpts from iconic films: “The Battleship Potemkin”, “Mother”, “The Road to Life”; they include newsreel footage showing Shorin and Tager, the inventors of the Soviet sound film systems; Maxim Gorky, giving a speech on the development of cinema; they show the work of various film studios around the country.
Of special interest are the episodes, “scattered” throughout the film, showing behind-the-scenes moments of shooting famous films: Ermler working on “The Counter-Plan”, Lebedev-Kumach performing the song to “The Rich Bride” to the accompaniment of Isaak Dunaevsky, Vera Maretskaya delivering her famous speech in a test take from the film “Member of the Government”, Bondarchuk directing a crowd scene on the set of “War and Peace”, Evgeny Eney on the set of “Hamlet”, built according to his sketches.
But no less than directors and movie stars, “The Magic Beam” celebrates the moviegoer. As in Leenhardt’s “The Birth of Cinema”, there is also a reconstruction of early film screenings (a symbolic “Illuzion” theater is depicted, where “The Waterer Watered” is screened), and yet, for the most part, the film is replete with newsreel footage: the crowds of spectators going to watch “Chapaev” or to the Circular Film Panorama, gathered at a national film festival or at audience conferences. In one of the episodes, we see a film screening somewhere in a distant mountain village, and in another, Innokenty Smoktunovsky appears, reading letters from fans that he receives in bags. This kind of “eulogy” to the moviegoer goes quieter in an unexpectedly heartfelt, specially filmed scene: middle school students write an essay about their favorite movie hero, and we see what kind of heroes they could dream of.
Cinema’s technical component is also present in “The Magic Beam”. It shows how shots are put together, how special effects are made using models. It should be said that it was with such “revelations” that the history of documentary films about cinema actually began years before. In the 1920s, both in the USSR and in Germany, the USA, and other countries, educational kulturfilms were released that told in detail about what a movie camera consisted of, how a film was made. Despite the seeming specificity of such material, at the time such films enjoyed great success with audiences, and film newspapers in the USSR even argued that such films should be released as often as possible in order to enlighten viewers about all the details of filmmaking and abolish the widespread belief that any person can easily make a film or play in it on their own.
Anniversary films have always found their grateful audience. Although “The Magic Ray” had a limited release, it nevertheless attracted attention: there was a lot of written about it, it was recommended for schools for the benefit of both students and teachers. Some flaws were found in it, but at the same time, the diligence of its creators and its energetic editing were noted.