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Light Comedy, Moscow Style: 'The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom'

Silent Soviets sell cigarettes, discover romance.

The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom

Director: Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky
Cast: Yuliya Solntseva
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1924
USDVD release date: 2011-8-30

Pretty young Zina (Yuliya Solntseva) sells cigarettes outside Moscow's Mosselprom Trade Center. Every day, a hapless accountant (major comedy star Igor Ilyinsky) buys a pack from her, even though he doesn't smoke. He's the subject of much broad comedy and pratfalls in his off-and-on relationship with a large man-hungry secretary. A fatcat American industrialist (M. Tsybulsky), one of the era's stereotypes in Soviet cinema (and American cinema too), offers Zina a job as a model. A tall cameraman (Nikolai Tseretelli), the most likely suitor as the youngest and handsomest, wants her to get a job in the movies, and this leads to behind-the-scenes action and budding postmodern film-within-the-film antics.

You could say that Zina is the hardworking soul of the new young Russia, and she's being courted by middle-class respectability, wealthy foreigners, and the new image-making media that in this film represent the future. There's not a collective farmer or factory-trained proletarian in sight.

This light comedy of the modern Moscow isn't a masterpiece like, for example, Bed and Sofa. The stolid direction, composition and editing are devoid of flourishes, unless you count the tilting when the clerk feels queasy. In his book Kino (1960), historian Jay Leyda briefly discusses director-photographer Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky, stating that during this period he made a prominent folk tale, Morozko, and that his most famous film is his following production, based on Pushkin's story The Station Master. Surely those are begging for rediscovery.

The movie's primary value is as a kind of city film, full of street shots of a bustling place that's also half empty by today's standards--hardly any traffic around the Kremlin and plenty of parking on the streets. It's a world of transition; the American is stymied by a horse-drawn carriage (he's too heavy for it) and waits for an automobile. It also catches a spirit of freshness and youth amid the comic types, as though the carefree world is full of giddy possibilities. The silent film comes with a new score that's more slow and reflective than "fun". Mastered from a 35mm print from a cinematheque in Toulouse, France, it looks good, not eye-popping.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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'Curb Your Enthusiasm' S9 Couldn't Find Its Rhythm

Larry David and J.B. Smoove in Curb Your Enthusiasm S9 (HBO)

Curb Your Enthusiasm's well-established characters are reacting to their former selves, rather than inhabiting or reinventing themselves. Thus, it loses the rhythms and inflections that once made the show so consistently, diabolically funny.

In an era of reboots and revivals, we've invented a new form of entertainment: speculation. It sometimes seems as if we enjoy begging for television shows to return more than watching them when they're on the air. And why wouldn't we? We can't be disappointed by our own imaginations. Only the realities of art and commerce get in the way.

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Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?

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