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Saturday, 28 August 2010

Summer break, Danelija and new themes on this film blog (Danelia at 80)

Having been almost computer-less for the past two months and even having been away from almost any technology has meant that I haven't posted on this blog and my 'Soviet cinema thinking hat' has become rather rusty. I haven't managed to search through the Russian papers or listen to broadcasts of 'Kulturni Shock' on Ekho. No trawling, precious little reading and no films. Intead, any reading has been literary (an attempt at reading Velimir Khlebnikov in Ripellino's Italian translations ended in incomprehension but momentary joy at isolated images- reading him in Russian will have to wait for more courageous and dedicated moments) and I have lapsed into a mood in which my previous enthusiams have reasserted themselves. Re-reading Juan Rodolfo Wilcock (an Argentinian writing in Italian) with his marvelous grotesque portraits has no equivalence in Russian cinema (maybe there is a Wilcockian fantasy running riot in Muratova or perhaps Khrzhanovsky or maybe not). The recent death of another Argentinian author, the legendary Rodolfo Fogwill, has reminded me that it is time to read his 'A Film Script for Artkino' in which an Argentinian scriptwriter writes a script imagining a Soviet Argentina in the year 2018. Fogwill's parodic vision of a Soviet Argentina though having nothing to do with Soviet cinema itself intrigues me (Fogwill is the name of both the author as well, apparently, as the main character-the script-writer- and narrator of the novel).

Georgiy Danelija has recently celebrated his 80th birthday. Danelija is one of those masters of cinema who manage to bridge the gap between popular cinema and more elite forms of cinema. His career has been more prolific than many directors of his weight and some marvelous comedies have been made. Alas, the Soviet comedy has never travelled far: Protazanov, Barnet, Ryazanov, Gaidai, the early Klimov and Danelija are all too rarely mentioned outside Russia or the former Soviet lands. Medevedkin's 'Happiness' is, perhaps, the only major Soviet comedy which has achieved broad critical reappraisal abroad alongside the musical comedies of Grigory Alexandrov. Danelija, though, is deserving of more serious reappraisal. His truly absurd sci-fi dystopia 'Kin-dza-dza' is, perhaps, his only film that has recently travelled a little and gained some recognition. His superb 'Autumn Marathon' deserves more widespread recognition as one of the very best films of the late Stagnation period (his tale of the alcoholic plumber 'Afoniya' is also a truly superb account of certain unglamorous aspects contemporary life in late seventies Russia and his 'Mimino' in the same period attempts to reconjure for us the Don Quijote and Sancho Panchez story by replacing them by a Georgian and Armenian in their quest through seventies Moscow). The earlier 'I stroll through Moscow' was a popular success and portrayed a lighter-hearted look at contemporary youth than Khutsiev's 'I am twenty' (or 'Lenin's Gate' as it was originally known). His satire 'Thirty Three', with the truly magnificent actor Evgeny Leonov who starred in many of Danelija's films, ran into censorship difficulties. Strangely enough like Klimov's 'Adventures of Dentist' it uses teeth to describe the difficulty of individuality in Soviet society.

Danelija is a superb storyteller when it comes to his own life too. His two volumes of autobiography are full of some very splendid and hilarious tales. Were they all true? As with fellow Georgian Iraklii Kvirikadze one doesn't really care in the end. As they say in Italy "Se non e' vero, e' ben trovato" (paraphrasing rather broadly 'If it's not true, it's a great story anyway').

I am hoping to be back to my usual three to four blogs a month (if not more). As my longer term ambition is to write some large piece on Boris Barnet I imagine I'll be looking at his ouevre more closely in this blog too. I also am beginning an attempt to look for literary works that are inspired by Russian and Soviet cinema. Feuchtwanger's chapter on reactions to watching the 'Battleship Potemkin' (in one of his novels) is one example and Mandelshtam's poems on Chapayev is another but I am sure there are many more fascinating literary reactions to Soviet cinematic masterpieces. Otherwise I'll try to give more accounts of films, directors, actors and aspects of Russian and Soviet cinema as well as of significant publications dedicated to Russian and Soviet cinema.