The Road to Life. 1931. USSR. Directed by Nikolai Ekk. Screenplay by Ekk, Regina Yanushkevich, Alexander Stolper, based on the writings of Anton Makarenko. With Nikolai Batalov, Ivan Kyrla, Mikhail Dzhagofarov. 35mm. In Russian; English subtitles. 105 min.
In 1932 Lincoln Kirstein assumed the position of regular film columnist for the short-lived Arts Weekly, and his first contribution was an encomium to Nikolai Ekk’s The Road to Life, the first Soviet feature written and directed for sound. He hailed it as unforgettable, and compared the picture favorably to his beloved newsreels. Once described as a communist Wild Boys of the Road, Ekk’s drama concerns the street gangs of children—orphaned after years of war and conflict—roaming the streets of Moscow, and the efforts to conscript them into the enterprise of building a new society. Though the film has since been neglected relative to other Soviet works of the period, at the time of Kirstein’s piece it was enjoying a lengthy run at the Cameo Theatre in Times Square, to packed, enthusiastic houses. “It is a story full of extraordinary humor, brutality, physical energy and a tragic exhilaration,” Kirstein remarked, “that makes Hollywood afterwards seem like a disease.” Print courtesy of Harvard Film Archive