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Archive for the 'cinema' Category

Dr Phil Cavendish at Grad London

By Blog Admin, on 29 March 2016

Dr Philip Cavendish spoke at the recent GRAD Eisenstein exhibition on the introduction of colour film to Soviet cinema.

The overarching title of the Gallery for Russian Art & Design’s (GRAD for short and based in Little Portland Street, London) series of public lectures this Spring is a play on the well-known slogan, ‘A Cinema, Understood by the Millions’. This became associated with Soviet cinema of the 1930s.
Dr Phillip Cavendish: SOVIET COLOUR FILM, 1929–1945: AN EXPERIMENT UNDERSTOOD BY VERY FEW

Courtesy of GRAD

Since the drawings of Sergei Eisenstein are the subject of the exhibition currently being curated at GRAD, it might be worth pointing out that the title also makes reference to the title of a newspaper article which Eisenstein published alongside Grigorii Aleksandrov in early 1929. Entitled ‘Eksperiment, poniatyi millionam’ (An Experiment Accessible to Millions), this was published in the film journal Sovetskii ekran to accompany the release of the film Staroe i novoe (The Old and the New) – also known as General’naia Linia, which they had directed together.

By suggesting that colour cinema was an ‘experiment understood by very few’, I don’t mean that Soviet audiences experienced conceptual confusion in relation to the phenomenon of colour. Instead, it is that the complexity of the scientific processes that underpinned the development of colour technology was generally grasped poorly. This is true of the direct consumers of film culture, the vast majority of film critics and correspondents who reported on that culture, the senior managers and employees of Soviet film studios and the bureaucrats that were responsible for the film industry as a whole.

This lack of comprehension had dire, if not tragic, consequences for some of those involved in colour-film production in the Soviet Union. It also produces significant challenges for the film historian who seeks to understand the phenomenon and its implications for the development of Soviet cinema and Soviet culture more broadly.

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Courtesy of GRAD

The reasons for being interested in this subject are nevertheless various and compelling. (more…)

A prayer for the Russian dead

By Blog Admin, on 29 April 2015

Tim Beasley-Murray considers Emmanuel Carrère’s Retour à Kotelnitch and what it tells us about death in contemporary Russia. 

Retour à Kotelnitch (Back to Kotelnich) is a documentary film, made in 2003, by Emmanuel Carrère, a French writer of Russian descent, that tells of life in a small and unexceptional town eight hundred kilometers east of Moscow. The ending of the film is almost unbearably sad. Beneath the soundtrack of Carrère’s tender and unaccompanied singing of a Russian lullaby, Lermontov’s Bayushki Bayu, the images show us the desolate forecourt of Kotelnich’s railway station, under darkened skies, covered in frost and snow, an empty bench, leafless trees. We have already seen this place earlier in the film. In the earlier scene, Anna, a young woman whom Carrère has befriended, is with Lev, her baby boy of about four months, in a sling on her chest. She is talking animatedly and distractedly to the camera, proud, bubbling with the love of a mother for her child. Carrère, behind the camera, at this point in making the film, has begun to lose interest in Anna in terms of her value for his project. Nevertheless, in a cutaway from middle distance, Carrère sits on the bench and plays happily with the baby. In the book that accompanies the film, Un roman russe, the reader finds out that it is at this moment that Carrère sings the Lermontov lullaby to Lev in his arms. It is summer and the sun gently shines through the leaves of the trees on the station forecourt.

Kotelnich train station (Photo: Wikicommons).

Between these two scenes and these two views of the same place, one wintrily desolate, the other sunlit and full of a love that is low-key but self-evident, something terrible has happened: Anna and her baby have been brutally murdered. Anna, strangled in her flat with the cord of her telephone; Lev, hacked to pieced with an axe. Summer has turned to Winter. The viewer cannot but superimpose her or his experience of the two similar, but cruelly opposed scenes. (A clunkier film-maker would intercut a flashback here.) What we see through the falling snow on the empty Winter bench is the absence of this mother and child and the crushing presence of their death. The lullaby that Carrère had sung to a living, sun-dappled Lev, a lullaby that tells of a mother’s hopes for her child as he grows up, has now, sung again at the end of the film, become a grave-song for a life brought to an end, so soon, so unimaginably violently.

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Poland’s Jewishness: the Polin Museum of Polish Jews and Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida.

By Blog Admin, on 3 February 2015

Poland’s new museum of Polish-Jewish history and Paweł Pawlikowski’s film Ida are signs of a shift in Poland’s understanding of its Jewish past, writes Uilleam Blacker.

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Still from Ida, source: http://www.ida-movie.com/gallery

The opening, in October 2014, of the permanent exhibition of Warsaw’s new ‘Polin’ Museum of the history of Polish Jews marked a shift in Poland’s memory of the loss of its Jewish population. Until now, the key memorial sites in this regard have been sites of Jewish death, such as the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and the former Warsaw ghetto in Muranów, Warsaw. The new museum has been located in the centre of Muranów, next to the famous ghetto uprising monument, precisely in order to rebalance the commemorative discourse away from the image of Poland as a ‘vast Jewish cemetery’ and towards recognition of it as a place of flourishing Jewish life, which, of course, it was for hundreds of years. As programme director Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has noted, “We have a moral obligation to remember not only how Jews died but also how they lived.”

The museum is not an isolated phenomenon, but rather the culmination of a long process of the recovery of Jewish heritage and culture in Poland that has its roots in the efforts of activists and intellectuals in the late communist period. Today, there are many small museums in Poland celebrating Polish-Jewish culture and history alongside the many Holocaust memorial sites, as well as countless Jewish-themed cultural events. One of the important achievements of this tendency is to move towards an understanding of Poland’s Jewish heritage not as something alien that needs to be looked after on behalf of someone else, but as part of the Polish story. As Kirshnblatt-Gimblett told the FT last year: “We’re trying to show the history of Polish Jews as an integral part of the history of Poland.” Thus, the museum tells stories such as that of Michał Landy, a Jewish student who was killed during an anti-tsarist protest in Warsaw in 1861 as he lifted a cross that had been dropped by an injured fellow protester.

For decades, memory of Poland’s Jews has, of course, been dominated by the Holocaust. This powerful, transnational discourse inscribed the memory of Polish Jews into a wider Jewish story, in which the different cultural backgrounds and experiences of the victims – among them the Polish-Jewish experience – faded into the background. This situation was compounded by the reluctance of the Polish communist authorities to allow discussion either of the anti-Semitic nature of the Nazi occupation or of Poland’s Jewish heritage, meaning that for decades the traces of that heritage crumbled, and the Polish-Jewish story remained untold.

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