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News

“Virgin Soil Upturned”: the First Attempt to the Film Adaptation

27.02.2019

This year, it is the 85th anniversary of the day when the work on the film script “Virgin Soil Upturned” (the film director N.M.Shengelaya) was completed. Though the plans of the creative group including M.A.Sholokhov remained unfulfilled and the film was not shot, the script is considered to be one of the best film drama works of its time.

Shengelaya was almost the first among the film directors of his generation to see great opportunities hidden in the novel. He accidentally bought a book by Sholokhov in the newsstand of Tiflis railway station without linking this fact with his film director’s plans, but reading the last pages he knew he would make a film based on it.

Knowing that M.A.Sholokhov was going to come to Moscow the film director went to the capital to gain the consent of the author on the screen version of the first book of the novel. They met in May 1933, and Mikhail Alexandrovich gave his permission to film the novel and took an active part in the screenplay preparation.

This aroused great interest among the writers and cinematographers. On his returning to Stanitsa Vyoshenskaya M.A.Sholokhov received a letter from A.A.Fadeyev, who supported the planned film adaptation: “I write this letter especially so that you can start working on the film closely.”

In that September the film directors Nikolay Shengelaya and Nikolay Sanishvili together with M.A.Sholokhov began their work over the film script. N.Shengelaya noted at once that “Sholokhov can become a very capable playwright, because he can reveal people in action. Besides, he is a master of dialogue…”

Both the film directors together with the cameraman Anton Polikevich came on invitation of Sholokhov to Stanitsa Vyoshenskaya.

They identified the filming locations, chose participants in the crowd, discussed the sketches of the costumes and scenery. Later Sanishvili remembered: “Sholokhov never opened the book – such an excellent memory he had. He wrote the scenes for the film from his memory.” The final script was almost completely written by the author of “Virgin Soil Upturned” himself.

On February 22, 1934, the newspaper “Kino” published an interview of M.A.Sholokhov, where he noted: “Having completed the literary work over the screenplay I boldly entrust it to the film director… Our joint work over the screenplay showed that Shengelaya understands me and thinks the same about the heroes of “Virgin Soil Upturned”.

Before the film shooting, on Sholokhov’s recommendation A.Polikevich made several photo pictures of the local Cossack men and women looking like the personages of the novel. The stores of the Museum-Reserve of M.A.Sholokhov keep the copies of those photos made in 1988, by Y.Nemirov, a member of the department of rare books and manuscripts of the Republican Library in Tbilisi.

Actor’s tests took place in Moscow: for the role of Lushka – Nato Vachnadze, Davydov – N.Bogolyubov, Nagulnov – B.Dobronravov, Shchukar – V.Dorofeyev.

However on April 14, a letter came to Vyoshenskaya from the Moscow film factory. It read about stopping the work over the film without giving reasons.

All the film crew members regretted not being able to film “Virgin Soil Upturned”, and the author for a long time lost his interest in participating in the preparation of cinema and theatrical productions of his works.

 

Larisa Bukina