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Monday, 28 October 2013

Andrei Platonov as a script writer.


With the gradual publication of Andrei Platonov's published works in Russian, there is now finally a chance to view his work in film. It's true that the six screenplays published offer only a limited selection of what he actually wrote for film (many others may still be discarded in some obscure corner of a film archive). As far as I know one of these scripts, Father and Son has been translated into English. The review introduces it thus:



Father-Mother’ seems to have been written in parallel with Platonov’s unfinished novel Happy Moscow, whose protagonists yearn to transcend their existing selves while around them the Soviet capital is being physically remade. The upheaval of demolition and construction also forms part of the backdrop for ‘Father-Mother’. The screenplay’s main narrative strand is enclosed in one paragraph of the novel, but ‘Father-Mother’ otherwise stands further from Platonov’s prose than the rest of his film scripts—making it an even more unusual document of his response to the brutal reforging of the world going on around him. Littered with Socialist Realist tropes, it consistently subverts them with its humour, sadness and intense engagement with the fears and contradictions traversing its time.

Platonov was not unique in terms of writers turned script writers in the 1920s and 1930s- Mayakovsky, Shklovsky, Babel, Tynyanov, Sergei Tretyakov, Kirson, Shershenevich, Erdman Zazubrin, Mariengof and even Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (to name but a very few). Platonov, himself, replied to an appeal for screen writers after a 'script famine' in the mid 1920s. Platonov replied to this appeal and worked very enthusiastically. the enthusiasm was mutual. In letters to his wife he talked about the reaction of the film studio to his first script Песчаная учительница (The Sand Teacher). At one point, Pudovkin was expected to shoot the film and in another letter Platonov informs his wife that "I was told that I could become a great screenwriter and as soon as Eisenstein gets back from Leningrad then they'll introduce him to me." However, the work on the scenario during the second half of 1927 proved to be a long and unsuccessful one and he was called on to do many rewrites. Even though it was in keeping with the general line of proletarian the film wasn't released until it went under a completely reworking by another scriptwriter Maria Smirnova as Айна (Aina, 1930). The film theme was the transition of nomads in the peripheries and their transition to a more settled way of life. Alas, even in the film Aina (directed by Nikolai Tikhonov) has not been preserved.

Whether Platonov was introduced to the "maker of obscure films" (as Platonov had referred to Eisenstein in a short story) is uncertain but his enthusiasm did not dim immediately. Platonov sent in suggestions for turning practically all of his tales from 1927-28 into films. Some of the names of other scripts known about but not published or accepted for publication have come down to us. One of these was entitled Лампочка Ильича (The Lenin Lamp). In many ways Platonov's scripts represent documents through which we can interpret his prose given that so many of them as reworkings of some kind.

One such script is Машинист (The Engine Driver) is very much related to the tale of Котлован (The Foundation Pit). Because of the impossibility of staging this text, he was to reuse much of what he had written in new texts. This screenplay was, in many ways, an original development of the themes and heroes (especially in the Kolkhoz part) of Kotlovan. In 1930 Platonov was working on several scripts about the year of the Великий Перелом (The Turning Point or the Great Break) both related to village and city life. However, it was Platonov who in an unpublished article in 1931, was to call for a turning point in cinematography calling the Great Blind One. He was to write that "our cinema is blind, like a new-born creature; the majority of pictures say nothing at all to the pressured consciousness of contemporary man". This great ignorance of life could only continue under Stalin's socialist realism: art's role was to produce reality and not to reflect it by this time.

Platonov's break from script-writing and, it seems, his disillusionment would last a few years. But in the mid 1930s the film factories renew their work with Platonov. A contract is signed in May 1936 for a screenplay written in the framework of a state-inspired project to create works about railway heroes and entitled Воодушевление (Enthusiasm). Unlike his previous film this was written for sound cinema. It, too, had to be rewritten four times and while it gained a positive response from the film studios it wasn't sent into production even if Platonov continued to fight for it.

A similar fate was to await a screenplay originally written for Soyuzdetfilm (the film studio for children's films) and for which a contract was signed in 1938. The script eventually entitled Неродная Дочь (Step daughter) was never to see production in spite of rewritings and a change of genre which would be sent to Viktor Shklovsky at Mosfilm in 1941. Other scripts from Platonov were laying in the script studio, not one of which was accepted.

After the war, in December 1945 another script was contracted by Mosfilm, entitled Семья Иванова (The Ivanov Family) but once again, tragically, nothing come of this either.

The story of Andrei Platonov and film seems one of the many but most depressing stories to emerge in the history of Soviet cinema. One could only imagine what could have been and yet was not to be.
Films based on the imagination of one of the Soviet Union's most original writer whose works will live on while others are forgotten.
 

3 comments:

  1. Very glad to see some attention being paid, at last, to Platonov's film scripts. I would just like to add that our own translation of 'Father' or 'Father-Mother' (Platonov seems to have been hesitating between these two titles) is included, together with other related texts, in the volume titled HAPPY MOSCOW. This is published both by NYRB Classics and by Vintage Classics.

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  2. Thank you for your comment. It would be nice to find out something more about the many scripts by Platonov which were not printed in the Russian volume of plays and film scripts. Is all hope gone that they may turn up somewhere? I have yet to read Alexei Varlamov's biography of Platonov (are there any others worth reading?) - it would be interesting to see what he has to say. A quick search on the Russian internet just came up with this article from Seance http://seance.ru/n/25-26/andrey-platonov/nesnyatoe-kino-andreya-platonova/ - It's certainly a subject that deserves a lot more research into though I can imagine that someone somewhere must be working on this intriguing subject.

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  3. I've discovered that there is a book about Andrei Platonov and Cinema written by a local Voronezh historian and film scholar named Stal' Nikandrovich Penzin published in 1999. Unfortunately a quick search suggests that it's not available on Alib.ru but definitely seems to be worth hunting around for.

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