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Film Review: The Steamroller and the Violin (1960)

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

FILE PHOTO: A Still Image of THE STEAMROLLER AND THE VIOLIN (1960). ©Mosfilm Children's Film Unit
FILE PHOTO: A Still Image of THE STEAMROLLER AND THE VIOLIN (1960). ©Mosfilm Children's Film Unit

This student film is a master piece! All film students must see this Soviet film The Steamroller and the Violin (1960; Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky and written by Andrei Konchalovsky).

Two film masters cooperated to made their remarkable diploma film at VGIK where founded by Lev Vladimirovich Kuleshov under Lenin's film policy. Both Andrei Tarkovsky and Andrei Konchalovsky became successful directors in film history.

Of course, this film followed the Socialist Realism style. However, many advanced and innovative film technics were used. The most obvious one is "Person-wipe'' which later used in JAWS (1975). Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky created the person wipe for the first time in this film.

In the music school scene, the protagonist Sasha (Igor Fomchenko) plays the guitar, the teacher is in the wide shot, in which she walks across the frame and then the same action continues in the next tighter shot by slightly overlapping. This is what consciously and sophisticatedly used in JAWS (1975) later. Steven Spielberg saw this film. Student art film actually influenced the first blockbuster genre film.

Fig.1 Person wipe was used in this scene for the first time.

Typical Eisenstein cutting solution is also used in this film. When Sasha stands next to the steamroller in a single shot, it cuts into wide two shot and Sasha is switched from foreground to background, and suddenly Sergey is in the foreground facing the steamroller. Akira Kurosawa in earlier films used this solution typically in Seven Samurai (1954). Quickly switching perspective and reposition of both foreground and background are typical features of Eisenstein cutting.

Fig.2 Switch of foreground and background

This film story is a simple and moody but actually a conflict driven story. The protagonist Sasha (Igor Fomchenko) and worker Sergey (Vladimir Zamansky) make friends and promise to see the socialist realism master piece film Chapaev (1934) together however a bad kid and Sasha's mother (Marina Adzhubei) are dramatic obstacles.

For cinematographic achievements, there are several aesthetically astonishing expressions. This is typically one camera operation and off screen actions and reframing are mainly used but not a long take dogmatic style. Moreover, it is very poetic, and Russian formalistic expression is memorable.

One is gradually enter into ''out of focus'' frame of a cup of water, and it is suddenly refocused when the teacher warned Sasha for concentration. This music class shot becomes the psychology of Sasha. Audience can see his psychological status visually. It is a typical example of Defamiliarization. On the other word, it's poetic.

The other one is when Sasha and Sergei watch a wrecking ball demolishing a decrepit building, revealing one of the Seven Sisters in the background. The POV of wrecking ball reminds us Dziga Vertov. Furthermore, the revelation of the Seven Sisters is also highly intellectual montage. It actually created the image of revolution by using the old building and the best architectural creation of Soviet.

I think use of Christal filter at the split frame like mirror reflection sequence is not so meaningful. However, the dramatic technic of creating an imaginal action and imaginal time is astonishing.

Fig.3 Use of Christal filter creates split frame-like image.

Many people would refer to the use of water motif. The reflection of puddles is an imitation of Sergei Eisenstein's Strike (1925). It is not a new expression. Eisenstein already achieved its creation.

FILE PHOTO: A GIF Image of STRIKE (1925). ©Goskino Proletkult
FILE PHOTO: A GIF Image of STRIKE (1925). ©Goskino Proletkult
Fig4. Water motif and puddle shot were stylistically used by Sergei Eisenstein

Its dramatic achievement above mentioned is about an apple which Sasha leaves on the chair in front of the music class room door. The girl looks at his apple, then after Sasha leaves the class room, camera reveals the rest of the apple. During this scene, camera switches their objective and subjective views by reframing. Finally, it visually implies that she ate it.

Fig.5 Apple motif is used for creating vivid action image by off screen.

This student film, a shot film of 45 min. is a real Soviet film master piece.

This film is a technical synthesis of SOVIET films before Andrei Tarkovsky. You must see if you are a film student. Highly recommended.


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