Europe's greatest forgotten filmmaker

The Films of Yuri Gadyukin

"Where the Tractors Roam" 1954 (USSR)

"Waiting..." 1957 (UK)

"The October Wedding" 1959 (UK)

"The Graven Idol" 1960 (UK) – unfinished

Yuri Gadyukin’s work has often been characterized by its unusual breadth, in terms of genre and theme.  In his six short years as a director of feature films Gadyukin made a satirical paean to Soviet Realism, an art house “remix” of a Dadaist theatre classic, a British kitchen sink crime thriller and (although incomplete) an ensemble drama with noir elements.

However, if you look a little closer at his oeuvre (which is difficult due to the unavailability of good prints and DVD releases, especially in the States) you will find recurrent motifs and themes.  All his films share a concern for the most vulnerable and adrift members of society – poor farmers, unemployed laborers, persecuted couples, immigrant workers –those at the fringes of society who nevertheless find themselves at the centre of momentous events.  Satirical comedic strands are constantly woven into darker turns of events, the mood changing often between scenes or even cuts.

A unique (for its day) aspect of Gadyukin’s oeuvre is his early use of improvization, in terms of dialogue (in “The October Wedding”), action (some of the scenes in “Waiting…” were created on-set) and, it is rumored, even in plot construction (“The Graven Idol”).  In this he was a contemporary / precursor of our own Cassavetes and Altman and of Europeans such as Fellini and Godard.  However, improvized cinema was a much rarer phenomenon in English cinema of the 1950s.  In utilizing such techniques within the UK, Gadyukin was both controversial and (eventually) influential.

Music is key, whether it is the be-bop of “The October Wedding”, the Prokofiev-influenced score of “Where the Tractors Roam” or “Waiting’s” discordant use of treated piano and microtonal string passages.  Each film takes popular genres – Socialist Realism, Kitchen Sink Drama, Film Noir and subverts it with a highly ambiguous take on expected approaches. 

On a smaller scale, abandoned shoes, spirals, the failure of machinery, the fear of imminent war, exile or conflict are all recurring elements.

Gadyukin is perhaps better understood as a precursor to a director like Stephen Soderberg, an omnivorous storyteller, keen to work in different modes while maintaining an obsession with subversion, experimentation and a failure to compromise.  All the more tragic then that his life was cut short before he could have given us the many and varied films his surviving notebooks hint tantalizingly at.  What would Gadyukin’s biopic of Tristan Tzara have been like, his adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man”, his children’s film about a caveman found frozen in a glacier?  We have only his brief notes and our own speculation.

Still from 'The October Wedding'