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COMPANION PIECES with Thomas Jane

The Cranes Are Flying (1957) / Come and See (1985)


Ever since his breakout (and scene-stealing) performance as Todd Parker in P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights in 1997, Thomas Jane has barely left our screens. He’s fought sharks in Deep Blue Sea (1999) — swimming with real ones, I might add  robbed banks in Stander (2003), faced/off with John Travolta as Frank Castle in The Punisher (2004), become a staple Stephen King star  Dreamcatcher (2004), The Mist (2007), 1922 (2017)  and played everything from a suburban gigolo in Hung (2009-2011) to a space detective in The Expanse (2015-2022)  one of the best science fiction TV series out there. “Multi-hyphenate” Jane  through his production companies Raw Studios (alongside writer Steve Niles and artist Tim Bradstreet) and Renegade Entertainment (with producer Courtney Lauren Penn) not only stars in film and television projects but also writes, publishes, produces, and directs… forever on the lookout for great characters and storytelling.


With all the above in mind, this is exactly how he approached his choices for Companion Pieces, delivering nothing short of a masterclass for you all. After a production down under and welcome break fishing in Montana, I happened to catch him wrestling a broken air con. But none of that prevented a warm welcome "Thom" delivering not just the most important double bill to date, but, as a cinephile himself, created an enriching conversation on Soviet cinema and performance... including its lineage and impact on the West.


So, you’ve just wrapped the second season of Troppo in Australia. How long do you tend to be away for on a project like this?

 

I’m down there about five months from beginning to end. It takes a long time because I’m also producing, so things tend to be in development and then, with this season, I also directed a couple of episodes.

 

Excellent! Where in Australia is the series filmed?

 

We’re in Queensland, which is northern Australia. It’s hot! There’s jungle… so you get a lot of crocodiles and giant spiders. Just incredible wildlife. Driving to work, you’ll see three-foot-long lizards hanging out on rocks and in the trees. It’s interesting, you know, but I’m just ready to go home by the time the damn thing is finished.

 

Was it Australia that attracted you to work on the series or was it the material?

 

The material; the original novels. There’s a really great Australian crime fiction writer named Candice Fox. Her series is called Crimson Lake and deals with these two very different fucked up detectives. I play an American cop who’s been living in Australia but he’s accused of a terrible crime and he has to disappear because of the tabloids. So, he disappears in order to take the heat off of his family, losing himself in northern Queensland and just drinks. There he meets this crazy young girl who just got out of prison for killing her best friend… and this chick decides to open a detective agency and attempt to recruit him. Season one is really good and season two comes out soon. It’s never ending as right now we’re plotting season three!



Trouble down under. Thomas Jane stars as ex-cop Ted Conkaffy in TROPPO. Hiding in Oz, he is drawn back into a life he left behind with Amada Pharrell (Nicole Chamoun).

 

You’re so consistent. It feels as though you’ve never dropped off since Boogie Nights, whether we see you in an indie movie or a TV series. You’re so hard-working. The fact that you’re producing and directing movies along with your comic book projects over at Raw Studios shows how committed you are to projects of all shape and size.

 

Oh, yeah. I’ve got a new comic book called The Lycan that comes out towards the end of the year. I’m doing that through ComiXology. Mike Carey is writing it and was originally through our mutual friend Liam Sharp. Liam is such a great artist but he’s so busy, obviously. We did find a wonderful artist out of Argentina called Diego Yapur, so we’re about halfway through the art on that book. So I’ll be going down to San Diego Comic-Con in July to promote that project.

 

Fantastic. Good old werewolf stories. Not enough of them!

 

I’d love to see another good movie. It’s really tough when you have such high benchmarks. I like this one because it takes place in the late 1700s and it’s actually on an unnamed British isle that’s been overrun with a little bit of a “wolf problem”. I’m really proud of it. I know how hard it is producing comic books and it takes a specific kind of discipline to sit down and help build a world with the artist having to draw dozens and dozens of pages.

 

Absolutely! I look forward to when it’s out — it sounds right up my street. So, you’ve lived in L.A. for the past 25 years, mainly out of necessity, I would assume. You must have seen huge changes.

 

Massive. But it’s essentially all the same, you know. This neighbourhood, in particular, nobody ever moves out of. Silver Lake was built in the early ’40s and before that, it was just all hills… and there was also a reservoir around here. But once you buy a house in this area, no one sells. So you’re literally waiting for people to die. What started happening, in the late nineties, is that the old folks back then were starting to die. I used to drive around here with my crappy 1962 Ford Falcon and look up at these houses and go, “This would be a cool place to live.” So when I could afford one I told my real estate lady to find me a place here. This one opened up… and I never looked back.

 

Owning the screen. BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997), STANDER (2003), THE PUNISHER (2004), THE MIST (2007),


I was around that area then only had an afternoon in Downtown L.A. I wish I had had more time to explore but my priority was to visit the Bradbury Building.

 

Oh, Yeeahhh… and did you get there?

 

I got there and it didn’t disappoint… even with only having access to the ground floor it was still a stunning experience. I recognized so many Blade Runner angles.

 

People are still living in the building, right?

 

I’m sure they are on the other floors, hence not being able to go up in the elevators. I made an effort to just absorb that space as much as possible because I felt like I was experiencing L.A. through the lens of a camera most of the time. I really made an effort with that building because it was right up there on my bucket list.

 

That’s awesome. Well, Downtown has gone to hell, man. It used to be this thriving, hipster community when the real estate went through the roof and now it’s just gone back to even worse than what it was before. Did you see any of that? Did you see the disaster areas of downtown?

 

I didn’t venture enough out from where the Bradbury Building was. It was literally through the tunnel, park up, visit and back out. I didn’t even have time to visit Bunker Hill, which was only around the corner. I was taking it in as a visitor coming into the city. I was blind to it… but I think all the major cities have the same problem if I’m honest. The entire planet is fucked.

 

It’s everywhere. It’s crazy.

 

Anyway… cinema! I think the films you’ve chosen are so relevant to now. They really dig into social commentary and the human condition on a profound level. I can detect already based on what we have just mentioned, where you are coming from in choosing these films. I mean, I would have had no idea you were interested in old Soviet cinema…

 

[Laughs]

 

… but I mean, how can you not be? These movies are astonishing. I had not seen The Cranes Are Flying, so it was new to me. Come and See I watched about ten years ago. Larisa Shepitko’s The Ascent was also recommended to me (by Gala Avary) which makes for a perfect triple bill.

 

You told me you were going to watch it, so I watched it, and I was surprised to learn that she was Elem Klimov’s wife; the director of Come and See.


Familiar echoes. THE ASCENT (1977).

 

Yeah… and she died two years afterwards, which is just so sad.

 

Totally. What’s also sad is that these Soviet filmmakers had to wait decades sometimes to get approval to make their movies. That’s why Klimov’s repertoire is so small, you know. He said he spent eight years waiting for approval to make Come and See… and then it took him years after that to get it going. If you wanted to make a film in the Soviet Union, you had to have a dedication and a passion to see a story through like no other.

 

It feels as though, culturally, it is always about struggle and hardship. They’re not known for their comedies! The material is blistering and has to mean something. It’s all so brutally truthful.

 

And that all sort of went down after the death of Stalin in ’53. Before that, you couldn’t make any movies about the human experience before his rule. It was all propaganda in terms of he wanted to create this sort of utopian worker’s world where everyone was the happy peasants; the happy farmers working together — dozens of tractors ploughing through the fields — I mean, it was like Soviet cinema didn’t really have a face during Stalin’s rule. It was hard to tell personal stories and I think that hurt the way the world viewed the Russians but when he died, and Khrushchev took over — they call it the “Khrushchev Thaw” — where people started making more personal stories about human experience and Russia became sort of a humanistic view of who these people were. We discover that they’re just like every other human being on the planet with the same trials and tribulations and personal stories of loss and all that… and I think that’s where The Cranes Are Flying came out of in ’57. You couldn’t make that movie when Stalin was in power because it was about loss and the tragedy of war on the home front.

 

I was really surprised (in a good way) that you chose some examples of Soviet cinema.

 

I’m not a huge Soviet cinema expert in the way I am a Francophile — I can talk a lot more about French movies or to a lesser extent Italian films — but the Russians have never ceased to blow my mind with their depth of feeling and the intimacy and skill. There’s an outrageous skill in both of these films I’ve chosen; in two completely different viscera. You can see with The Cranes Are Flying that Eisenstein’s montage is inherent and nailed to perfection. I still marvel at how the effects were achieved… and it’s all film and editing; there are no particularly wild special effects at all… instead, all done in-camera.


“... the Russians have never ceased

to blow my mind with their depth

of feeling and the intimacy and skill.

There’s an outrageous skill in both

of these films I’ve chosen.”


— Thomas Jane

 

It’s meticulously designed, isn’t it? The angles, the through-lines drawing you towards the characters. There’s all the Deconstructivism but clearly leading towards a new era in filmmaking. It blew my mind. In comparison to Come and See the camerawork in The Cranes Are Flying felt more like a character.

 

Right.


Perfect design. In THE CRANES ARE FLYING (1957) director Mikhail Kalatozov's regular collaborator Sergei Urusevsky demonstrates impeccable lighting and gravity-defying camerawork.


You could imagine Come and See as more of a document.

 

More subjective. There are definitely vivid characters and the documenting. There is this godlike laser-eye camera that becomes this revealer where you sort of see through the characters… and I guess with Come and See — if it’s known for anything — it’s known for those incredible close-ups where the characters are looking at each other but the camera makes it appear as though they’re looking into us. The camera just sits there and we’re able to study these individuals… and they don’t even seem like actors. That’s an incredible achievement. I’m not thinking wow, what a great performance… EVER… until the very end when you see the transformation from this rosy-cheeked peasant boy to this broken person who has become a ‘witness to hell’. It’s just absolutely stunning. The first time I watched the movie, I was like, “Holy shit, that’s a performance. Oh, my God.”

 

It’s like he set out to break the actor as much as the character.

 

Yeah… yeah. On set Klimov created something very physical and put the actors through hell with fire and mud and rain. It just looks like a hell of a shoot, that’s for sure. He said that he wasn’t worried about the actors’ safety, he was only worried about the actors’ sanity. Especially Aleksei Kravchenko who plays the lead character Flyora who delivers one of the most profound character transformations ever committed to film. 


War-torn feature(s). In COME AND SEE (1985) lead character Flyora goes from fresh-faced teenager to a man... aged beyond his years by the trauma of war.

 

Traumatised would be an understatement. You’d have a tough time recapturing anything close to this, that’s for sure… physically and emotionally.

 

Klemov actually attempted to hypnotize Kravchenko during some of the more extreme apocalyptic scenes at the end [laughs]. Hypnotize him so that he wouldn’t remember.

 

Really?!

 

Yeah, but he said it didn’t work. [Laughs]

 

I think anyone would want to be hypnotized after filming Come and See. It just feels so raw and real… as close to what war is.

 

Right. But I do feel the filmmaking is just as precise in both films. I think the fact that the two of them go together so well is that they’re super emotional and super precise in the style that they choose to tell their stories. Cranes is sort of lyrically romantic with the compositions and in the softness of the light. Mikhail Kalatozov, the director, was able to tell the story with pure composition and highlight how actors exist within the frame… in such a gorgeous way. As we’ve mentioned, Come and See is almost like a document. I wouldn’t call it a documentary, but it’s a document of the reality of war. One film follows a woman at home — mostly — so it’s a story about her longing and desperation and not knowing what her lover is doing or where he is. So we spend most of our time with her. In Come and See we spend most of our time on the home front, in the trenches or in the line. But it’s very unconventional, in that we don’t have your traditional battle scenes, you know?

 

No, not at all… and there is very little violence but when it happens, it’s nasty. But, saying that, there is actually a lot that plays out off-camera and makes you feel you have ‘seen’ more than you think you may have seen. It plants images in your head as much as exposing you to them. I’m really interested to hear how you came across these films.

 

The Cranes Are Flying I just came across it in Amoeba which is still a really popular place to go and dig for movies.

 

Amoeba looks great. Top of the list on my next L.A. visit.

 

It has some really deep cuts in there. I found that Criterion had put Cranes out, and I hadn’t seen a lot of Russian cinema in general, so I thought, let me check this out. I mean, if this interview serves to turn one or two people on to watching The Cranes Are Flying then we’ve done our job… because when I finished that film, I was like, “Wait a second. How is this not one of the most well-regarded ‘Top 100 Movies in Cinema’ or on people’s lists in general?” I had never heard of it… and when I talk to friends and bring the film up, 99% of them have also never heard of it. I know one other guy: novelist Cole Haddon who wrote the episode I directed for Troppo. I love his writing and, of course, he is a big fan of Cranes. But that’s it… no one else.

 

It certainly won a lot of awards at the time.

 

It was well regarded when it came out and such a stunning achievement in cinema; winning the Palme d’Or at the 11th Cannes Film Festival along with a special mention for Tatyana Samojlova; the actress who plays Veronika. In ’57 it was the symbol of a changing Soviet Union — that they sort of… ‘came out’ — now Stalin had been dead a few years they were joining the rest of the world in world cinema and world art in a more humanistic portrayal of themselves. People were flowering, right? Like I said, they call it the Khrushchev Thaw. This film played all over the world; it was a huge success and then completely forgotten, which is amazing to me, because it’s the story and the performances that also stand out. The actors are all (in my mind) well-versed in the Stanislavski system, which I found wonderful to see those connections to that style of acting. Are you familiar with Stanislavski?

 

I only know about it via Brando and his contemporaries.

 

All of that started with Stanislavski in the ’20s and ’30s at the Moscow Art Theater and he kind of perfected and transformed the art of acting in Russia… and it was a massive… a massive cultural revolution because it was all about the intimacies of performance.

Konstantin Stanislavski (far left) in The Lower Depths at The Moscow Art Theatre,1902 Credit: BBC via Stanislavski Centre/ArenaPal.


Shorthanded as “The Method”.

 

Right. So, Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg started the Group Theater in New York during the ’30s and they had a whole team — Stella and Luther Adler, the playwright Clifford Odets — and they basically imported the Stanislavski system, changing the name to “The Method” and, subsequently, started the Actor’s Studio. Via Stanislavski’s “method” it revealed new vistas of the soul to theatre and film and made the older style of acting look wooden and stale in comparison.


“... we have Russia to thank for this

revolution of the soul that sort of took

over and gave us Tennessee Williams,

Eugene O’Neill (by way of Anton Chekhov)

and so many other great playwrights,

stories and films.”


— Thomas Jane

 

We have to remember though that that was the predominant style of acting before the Stanislavski method… but this new approach really helped give birth to the greatest actors of our generation or any other: Brando, Jimmy Dean, Paul Newman and Montgomery Clift. Even Marilyn Monroe studied with Strasberg at one point. Then there’s Eli Wallach and Karl Malden; so many of the truly great actors and acting, came out of Strasburg’s method including the second generation such as Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, and Robert Duvall. All of these individuals changed the way we view ourselves through story… and that all originally came out of the Moscow Arts Theater and all the great playwrights and directors that sort of ascribed to this system. It was a cultural revolution that started in Russia. So, we have Russia to thank for this revolution of the soul that sort of took over and gave us Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill (by way of Anton Chekhov) and so many other great playwrights, stories and films.


Inherent cool. Left to right: John Garfield, James Dean and Marlon Brandon.

 

Watching The Cranes Are Flying you can really see the continuance of that Stanislavski method that was being practiced in Russia. Albeit, by that time, we were looking at Marlon Brando on the big screen in ’57 but across the Russians are layers deep into the system by then; these actors on display here playing as Stanislavski system recruits, if you will.

 

The performances are off the charts. It also starts to cross over with the other new waves in cinema sweeping across Europe.  You can see it in France and Britain — especially the latter’s kitchen sink realism.

 

Sure. Look Back in Anger and all that…

 

Yeah, certainly elements of all of those films are inherent, despite it being a war-torn backdrop. There is a fascinating crossover of influences. It’s great to hear as much about the style of filmmaking as much your point of view from being an actor — really digging into the source and the impact on performance in America and that transition from the East.

 

It changed the world.

 

It really did.

 

And these changes in filmmaking and performance really came into fruition after World War Two because the whole world was broken and wounded… hurting. We were ready for some introspection.

 

You see it repeated. There is this creative cycle of collective trauma such as World War One leading to German expressionism, which then during the inter-war years migrated to America, which then morphed into what we now call “film noir”.

 

Right, right. I’m a huge film noir fan, including German expressionism… so, the use of composition and editing, for me, is true filmmaking; that you don’t always need dialogue to tell a story. I’m a fan of all that and I feel The Cranes Are Flying combines the two; it combines this really soulful personal (and simple) acting with the poetic lyricism of the camera work and the editing. Now, for me, that’s the perfect balance.

 

I deliver Hollywood courses over here in the UK at my local cinema and I’m currently focusing on the ’40s via a handful of movie stars and their work. One of the ones who stood out via my session on Lana Turner was John Garfield who felt like a proto-Brando.

 

Oh, yeah. Coming back to performance, he was the first to be credited as a “method actor”.

 

He was unbelievable. I didn’t even realise — in rewatching the films for the course how great he was. Gentlemen’s Agreement with Gregory Peck really stood out.

 

He also did the Hemingway story To Have and Have Not, which Michael Curtiz directed. It was called The Breaking Point — it’s a great movie. But, yeah, Garfield was part of the original Group Theater with Strasberg and Clurman and was really the first method actor to become a movie star… and then Brando comes along ten years later.

 

He’s kind of overshadowed and so tragic when he became a victim of the blacklist, which, ultimately, killed him.

 

Yeah, because a lot of those people were left-leaning, you know, and were persecuted for having adopted what they called this communist/socialist style because of their politics. Elia Kazan received his “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the Oscars in 1999 and people still wouldn’t stand up for him; still butt-hurt over the fact that he had named names; this horrible witch hunt that they had to go through in Hollywood. You only have to look at the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who had to write under a different name and Jules Dassin who fled the US and went onto to make some incredible films in Europe.

 

Coming back to the double bill, was there something even more specific that helped you pair these films?

 

You were like, “Let’s talk about a couple of movies,” so I landed on The Cranes Are Flying because I’m such a big fan and, as I say, it’s just not spoken about and was hoping that we could turn some people on to some feats of cinema. And then I thought, okay, well, what would be a good Companion Piece and landed on Come and See for its diametrically opposite style of storytelling and also the subject matter.

Brutal document. Although peppered with surrealism throughout, Klimov pulls no punches with the realism.


So, you’ve got The Cranes Are Flying, which deals with love and loss and the vulnerability of losing people during war and the tragic collapse of the family during this time… and the chaos of all that. And then Come and See — which all takes place behind the front lines — you’re following the collapse of innocence in this one juvenile who wants to fight for his country. He’s patriotic and he’s digging up a rifle that partisans have buried in the sands at the beginning of the film. It’s an opening that plays out more like an absurdist farce by Samuel Beckett than anything else… you’re like, “What the hell are we watching here?” And then whoof it just takes you off this (literally) surreal journey that reminds you of Apocalypse Now, which also sort of digs into this incredibly surreal take on the horror of war. Well, Come and See takes all of that to another level. For stark realism and the emotional terrorism of war, it doesn’t get much better than this film and, in my opinion, is one of the best anti-war films (or dramas) of any kind ever made.


 “War always strikes at home,

and whether ‘at home’ happens

to be your home or not

is inconsequential.”


— Thomas Jane

 

I mean, they go so far the other way. Clearly war movies, but set within that period and become about so much more that they’re impossible to define simply as a ‘war movie’.

 

At the end of the day both films are about the searing of the human soul and the damage that that this machine that we call “war” does to the individuals. Men, women and children. So it’s human. It’s a human story. And in choosing these films I thought, well, that’s a good idea because right now we’re on the verge of war with Russia and reminding people that there is no “over there”; that war is always at home and that it’s always personal and that there is no difference between what happens to a Russian family in war and what happens to any other nationality. All of that kind of crap falls away — the jingoism, the patriotism, all that stuff — the flags are different, but the soul is exactly the same everywhere. These two films remind us of that. War always strikes at home, and whether ‘at home’ happens to be your home or not is inconsequential.


With all of this in mind, how important do you feel cinema is in communicating the folly of war?

 

War is perhaps the supreme human folly and with no equal. One of the only ways to communicate this is through art. Of course, cinema, but also music and literature. I would go as far to argue that every film ever made about war is an anti-war film, even if not intended to be. Obviously, it was Nazi propaganda — let’s make that perfectly clear here — but even Leni Riefenstahl’s hugely controversial film Triumph of the Will from 1935, if nothing else, serves to remind us of the horrors mankind is willing to inflict upon itself. Come and See (as a counterpoint) punctuates this more than anything.

 

The dehumanisation of it all…


I mentioned earlier that Stalin dug his own grave by dehumanizing Soviet citizens in the way that they were portrayed in film; portraying them as this collective of utopian workers — happy… but faceless and soulless — and in the West we still view, or want to view (or we are encouraged to view) the Stalinist Soviet vision because it helps us maintain Russia as a failed state. And this was why, when Stalin finally died, Khrushchev gave something that he called this “secret speech” on February 25th, 1956. This was a year before The Cranes Are Flying, at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Soviet leadership. The stain of Stalin is still felt to this day.


So he gives a secret speech behind closed doors just with his Congress of politicians and basically destroys Stalinism as part of this power struggle for leadership. He wanted to return to sort of an idealized Leninist vision because Lenin had actually warned that Stalin was going to abuse his power and become a maniac… and he was right. Stalin had this great purge in the ’30s, killing millions of innocent communists, who he accused of sabotage and espionage. He was chopping heads off left and right and ruling through nothing but fear. This is where they often talk about Stalin’s “cult of personality”. He’s essentially this irrational maniac… and somehow that stain hasn’t left our cultural Western vision of the Russian state and the Russian people.


The fact that Khrushchev sort of allowed this thaw to happen and helped to humanise the people is often skirted around. It took decades for things to get better, but it really was the beginning of this wave of creativity with the likes of The Cranes Are Flying finally being allowed to be made. I don’t think that the power of that can be understated. This film was really the banner that Russia was allowed to fly throughout the world saying, “Here is a new vision of who we are.” There really couldn’t have been a better film to do that with.

 

It’s an incredible thing to witness when a dramatic shift in politics changes art and storytelling. It’s the same when you think of Spain when Franco died and suddenly there were more liberal (and visceral) films being made as it became less and less conservative. Who Can Kill a Child? Christ, they’re really leaning as far the other way as possible. It’s fascinating. Whereas, more so in the West, we can tend to play it safe and become too comfortable. Bubblegum movies. Cinema as pure entertainment.

 

Certainly, now, you know.

 

We have to look to the indie movies for social commentary.

 

As you alluded to, it’s a cultural pendulum. When method acting took the world by storm after World War Two it was a direct result of the horror of what had been inflicted upon man… all of which opened us up to this sort of introspection. We began asking ourselves: “Who are we? Are we inherently evil? Are we inherently selfish? Can we truly sacrifice parts of ourselves for another human being?” And all these questions started to produce some of the best films, plays and novels that have rarely been surpassed. All of that reached its apotheosis in the ’70s, you know, with Coppola and Scorsese and all those young Turks who rose up… before it shifted again with Jaws in 1975.

 

The first blockbuster.

 

Right… then you had Star Wars and both those films just kickstarted an era we’re (sort of) still in now.

 

Definitely. We’ve never really pulled away from it. Our generation has grown up with all of that and obsessed with this nostalgia, which has just kept it constantly churning. In turn, the same sense of nostalgia the Movie Brats passed down with their obsession with the ’50s and Old Hollywood. It’s a regurgitation. You really have to dig, I think, to find those interesting stories and acting.

 

That’s always been true to some extent. A movie like The Cranes Are Flying stands out today, but when it came out in ’57 it was surrounded by a bunch of turkeys and commercial films. And I’d also like to say that as far as “entertainment” is concerned both these films are stunning in terms of taking your consciousness away to another universe for a couple of hours.

 

They’re like an endurance test. Come and See, in particular. But there is a scene in The Cranes Are Flying that is astonishing: where she’s running up the stairs while the entire interior burns and then she crashes through the doors and the whole top of the building is blown away. Unforgettable. No effects. Real. This is happening.

 

Yeah, at least a couple of scenes that are absolutely stunning. There’s a crane shot that a lot of people talk about. It begins with Veronika on the bus and she’s looking for Boris, who’s going off to war. We are with her as the camera follows and chases her through the crowd where she ends up on the street where, suddenly, massive tanks roll by with a parade. Veronika runs into the street and the camera goes up and up and up. You don’t really think about it until it’s over and then you’re like, “Wait a second, that camera was just on the bus! Where’s the cut?” And you play it again and there is no cut. He had run off the bus with a handheld camera and then the cameraman steps onto a crane and then the camera rises up and that’s where we see thousands of people as Veronika weaves her way around these massive tanks… looking, you know… which only emphasises the futility of finding one human being in this war machine. A stunning sequence.

 

It’s full of so many unforgettable sequences. Are there any specific moments that stand out to you in Come and See?

 

There’s a great moment where Flyora repairs the cracked stock of his rifle with medical gauze, as though it’s become a part of him. There is also this beautifully off moment when he is separated from the partisans in the forest and meets a young girl, Glasha, played by Olga Mironova. She appears to be only a couple years older… at first they cry like children together before laughing at each other crying… then the forest explodes with German bombs and he tries to protect her; he builds a little lean-to made of pine tree branches and ferns. And there’s this poetic moment in the aftermath where a crane sticks its head in and looks at them. This is incredibly potent and, obviously connects both films. In Russia, cranes became a symbol of the fallen soldiers of World War Two. So much so that a lot of memorials in the former Soviet Union feature the image of flying cranes. The poet Gamzatov wrote a famous poem that begins:

 

“I sometimes feel that the soldiers

Who have not returned from the bloody fields

Never lay down to earth

But turned into white cranes...”


Crane shots and rainbows. Both films hold onto the bird (and a rainbow) as an important emblem of hope and freedom.


Later Glasha dances giddy on a box in the pouring rain as Flyora watches entranced. Somehow, we sense that these two have traded pieces of their souls. From that moment on, Flyora will do anything to protect her.

 

Both films show powerful motifs, Kalatozov’s stylisation in particular.

 

Absolutely. There is a visual motif of Veronika in Cranes using sheer curtains as a veil. She is hiding while at the same time seeing the world differently. She says, “When you’re with me. I’m not afraid of anything. Not even of war.” She talks about getting married in a wedding dress with a long, long veil… which only accentuates that moment all the more. Beautiful. I will add — as I was reminded when watching this again — that Veronika’s nickname is “Squirrel”, which happens to be my nickname for my daughter.


Thinly disguised. The conflict home and away as we witness what remains of domesticity... and the cost of it all.

 

And then the other scene is with Boris’ cousin who has a crush on Veronika. Of course, he’s sneakily got himself an exemption so he can stay home while Boris and the rest of his buddies run off to war. She’s in the apartment and he’s playing the piano as he attempts to drown out the sound of bombs. We cut between her and the piano and him… and then the bombs start and the glass shatters and the curtains start fluttering. Then it’s like a strobe effect of explosions going off followed by the sound of glass… and the piano keeps going until he grabs her… and these series of close-ups let us know that he’s going to rape her in the midst of this chaos. We now have close-ups of eyes and faces as the cousin grabs Veronika’s face and turns her toward him. He tries to kiss her (and she tries to run) as he professes his love for her. It’s made all the worse as she cries out, “Niet! Niet! Niet!” over and over again… slapping him as the bombs crash and flash and the curtains flail around them.


It’s an incredibly powerful montage of sight, sound and emotion. What appears to be love and war in full flower. Then at the end, he’s carrying her over the debris while she’s passed out and we see his feet walking over broken glass to the bed. And then you cut to soldiers’ boots slogging through mud… and you’re with Boris and his troops in the middle of a mud-strewn desolate World War wasteland. It’s just… something else.

 

The journey of the characters is phenomenal… and to see a female perspective without her becoming a cliché. These films don’t always have to be about men.

 

That scene you mentioned about when she’s running up the stairs and the whole building is bombed out is even more powerful when you see it’s her apartment where her family used to live. All the walls are gone and the city is on fire and she’s standing there with nothing. Boris has run off to the war and now her family is dead.

Louder than bombs. An unforgettable moment as Veronika (Tatyana Samoylova) witnesses the cost of war.

 

Searing. It also triggered memories of an old British TV movie called Threads from 1984.

 

Oh yeah, I’ve heard about Threads a couple of times recently. I haven’t watched it yet.

 

Oh, God… Thom… seriously, it’s so harrowing; it pulls no punches. Game-changing television. I think it was so powerful that Reagan was even more shook up about nuclear weapons after seeing this and ’83’s The Day After the year before. Just watching something that close to your doorstep is so powerful. It’s one thing watching a nuclear bomb go off in Terminator 2 but this is on another level entirely. When it’s that real and it’s a small island and an even smaller town that gets wiped off the face of the earth, it’s really disturbing. But it’s more about the fallout of it all… the sickness and how they attempt to survive in the aftermath.

 

Reminds me of a great British book called No Blade of Grass [The Death of Grass, UK] by John Christopher.

 

I’ll make a note of that one!

 

They’re basically going to nuke London and a couple of families find out early and they’re able to get the fuck out of the city into the countryside.

 

And when was that written?

 

1956, if I recall.

 

Rings a bell. Did Cornel Wilde make a film of it?

 

There is a film… and I think it is Cornel Wilde. The book is fantastic… in that you watch the people and the countryside turn to feudalism. Like The Walking Dead but without the zombies. All that is left is the reality of what would happen with these people trying to survive and get to someplace that’s safe before the world crumbles. It’s a really strong book.

 

Top of my next book purchases. So, in wrapping all of this up you’re responsible for screening The Cranes Are Flying and Come and See. Is there a particular order you would screen this double bill?

 

I think you should play them in order, for sure. Start with The Cranes Are Flying and then you’d give people a nice long break and gather themselves and then go into Come and See… because after that experience you’re not ready to watch another movie [laughs]. I mean, I will say that Come and See… it’s harrowing… I almost turned it off about an hour in during that surreal sequence where he hooks up with the crazy partisans as they go on this food run and they’ve got buckets, and they end up trying to steal a cow… [laughs] and it goes on for about 20 minutes… but I’m so glad I didn’t turn it off. So, people who watch Come and See, don’t be dissuaded at this point — where you’ll be like, “What the fuck am I watching?!” — don’t turn it off, because the second half of the film will change your life. Permanently. It’s a window into the soul all humanity. And that title, it’s biblical, so that says a lot. Especially as it was originally going to be called Kill Hitler.

 

That’s right… I remember — it’s like a New Testament title, isn’t it?

 

The Book of Revelations: “The Lamb of God opens the fourth seal of the scroll of Revelations and John hears the voice of the fourth beast… and the fourth beast says, ‘Come and see’. And I looked and behold a pale horse and the name that sat on him was Death and hell followed with him.” I always hear Johnny Cash when I read that. [Laughs]

 

Yeah! So, you could screen these in a church! [Laughs]

 

[Laughs]

 

If you ever did have the opportunity to present this double bill, the same way you have to me, where are you going to screen them? Any specific cinema?

 

There used to be a couple of the old cinema palaces downtown but I’m pretty sure they are no longer there and have been converted.

 

Any independent cinemas, maybe?

 

We’ve got one right down the street from me called the Vista Theater that they’ve recently reopened.

A new century begins. Bought by Quentin Tarantino in 2021, The VISTA THEATRE in L.A. reopened at 100 years old with a screening of TRUE ROMANCE hosted by the man himself.


Ah, the one Tarantino has invested in.

 

Yeah, I think you’re right.

 

I was there in April, it’s fantastic… and he has Pam’s Coffy next to it.

 

Well, that’s definitely the spot where I’d present these films… and it would actually be an incredible evening of film. You know, I love the sort of the incongruence of this lyrical story in The Cranes Are Flying; a very feminine story about loss and heartache and also the triumph of it all and being able to live with that, overcome it all… how people are changed by war, but that hope is strengthened because of it. It’s a beautiful story.

 

If it’s anything to go by what you’ve been talking about for the past hour and the way you’ve articulated it all, it would be like having the ultimate movie lecture. There is so much to go away with and study. If everybody experiences the same as what I’ve experienced in this conversation and watching this double bill it would be an incredible night.

 

And we’ve barely scratched the surface, so it may be worth readers looking over some other details via my notes.

 

We’ll make it even more like part of a thesis [Laughs]. It’s phenomenal…. and this has been a phenomenal experience exploring your thoughts on these films. I hope we can direct more people towards these incredible films.

 

Right! They deserve to be seen by more people. So are you a fan of Visconte? Does this idea come from his film Conversation Piece?

 

No, it’s more a play on my website “Rich Pieces”… and also the idea that the guests are the companions in discussing cinema as much as it is the pairings.

 

Ah, okay. Well, I really like your stuff, man — keep it up!

 

Thanks, Thom, that’s really appreciated.

 

I can tell you enjoy it.

 

Love every minute. I’ve literally come right off recording a new extra feature on a top-secret project for Arrow Films just before our chat.

 

Right on.

 

This has been absolutely incredible. Thanks for the education and hope your air con gets fixed!

 

[Laughs] I’m sweatin’ over here!

 

Make sure you take some downtime. Happy fishing!

 

Thanks, buddy.


 

Thomas Jane’s latest TV series, Troppo is about to start its second season on July 25th on Amazon Prime. You can follow him over on Instagram @cardcarrying_thomasjane along with Renegade Entertainment @wearerenegades and Raw Studios via the official site.

 

Cover photo by Allan Amato

 

You can read Thomas Jane’s original notes that formed our discussion here. It is highly recommended, not only for additional context, but in highlighting his appreciation of these films. A true scholar.




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