From Russia to Hollywood : The 100-Year Odyssey of Chekhov and Shdanoff is about two legendary actor teachers who for many years influenced and helped along the careers of numerous Hollywood actors.
Put together by Frederick Keeve the 90 minute documentary focuses on Michael Chekhov a great actor who left Russia during the revolution and took up shop with fellow Russian George Shdanoff in Germany where they developed an acting workshop. The workshop became famous because they were producing quality actors and, perhaps too, because they taught a different style of acting than the Stanislavsky's 'emotional memory' method.
They escaped Germany before World War II and came to the United States picking up a good reputation along the way. Eventually they ended up in Hollywood where they had a big influence and became actor coaches for such actors as Anthony Quinn, Gregory Peck, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Palance, Robert Stack, Patricia Neal and Leslie Caron to name a few.
The documentary is full of numerous interviews from the likes of those listed above as well as many other lesser known actors from the period of the 50's and 60's Hollywood. The documentary really makes the case for Chekhov and Shdanoff's method over all the other more famous actor methods most notably the 'method' developed by Stanislavsky and professed throughout Hollywood by Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler.
The Chekhov and Shdanoff's method seems to be as important and influential as Stanislavsky's method but for some reason didn't get as much hype. Their method was also less difficult on actors since it relied on actors developing an ego through the characters they played not through their own personalities. In other words they trained actors to act not to manifest some internal psychological trauma to develop a character.
Chekhov died in 1955 but Shdanoff carried on his tradition until 1998. The film seems to be a sort of tribute to Shdanoff but it's really more about Chekhov. And for this reason the film seems to at times be scattershot in its focus.
From Russia to Hollywood is very informative even though it begins to feel a bit like a testimonial halfway through. Plus, it is too long and has some old Hollywood remembrances that aren't necessarily related to the main focus of the documentary. Most viewers, though, won't be bothered by this since the stories are generally good ones.
The transfer is poor. There is a lot of compression artifact noticeable from start to finish. This is particularly true with the film clips that are shown from older films. This could be because of the source material they used. But the interviews – all done in 1998 (I believe) – are rather poor image quality too.
The sound is okay at best. Often the interviews come across too quite.
There are two outtakes used from the interviews (one from Leslie Caron the other from Anthony Quinn) and another section from George Shdanoff's 92nd birthday. There is also an audio commentary track by Frederick Keeve that is very difficult to hear. For some odd reason the regular audio has not been turned down so the two tracks compete with one another. I was unable to finish the audio do to this error but it seems to be somewhat informative.
From Russia to Hollywood is an excellent piece of Hollywood history even though its gets a little long and overly praiseworthy of the acting methods professed by Chekhov and Shdanoff. Still it should be seen by anyone interested in acting and anyone curious about Hollywood in the 1950's. The DVD transfer is rather poor and the audio needs work.