Bauer was one of the two leading figures in pre-Soviet Russian cinema; he trained in fine arts and made films prolifically for only five years before dying in an accident. This lugubrious melodrama, evidently quite representative of his output, suggests that he was a big fan of Dorian Gray, Salome and other Wilde perversities. The mute Gizella Raccio, raised in the countryside, longs to dance in Moscow. Her father (a dead ringer for Boris Yeltsin) persuades an impresario to give her a break, and she becomes a star as the Dying Swan. This attracts the attention of painter Valerian Gliiniski, a talentless psychotic who believes that perfect beauty is found only in death. Gizella innocently poses for him. She later has recurrent nightmares, but a reunion with her first love Viktor helps her to shake them. Valerian, however, is enraged by the new light in her eyes. He lures her back to his studio. Within the limiting conventions of the period, Bauer's staging and the performances remain valid and in some ways surprisingly fresh. Vera Karalli, an Imperial Theatre ballerina, is even quite touching as Gizella. But it's the necrophilia motif - developed in the skull-strewn design of Valerian's studio and the starkly Freudian dream scene, not to mention the no-concessions ending - which gives the film its lasting interest.